Collaborate to innovate: The journey to becoming digital-first

Jelena Ristić, Country Manager for Serbia, Montenegro and BiH, Mastercard, outlines the importance of cross-sectorial cooperation to ensure that the current digital impulse benefits the entire offline and online market in Serbia

If the need for businesses to go digital was ever in question, the events of the past 16 months have decidedly ended the debate. In 2021, it’s more important than ever for companies to take a digital-first approach, following digital vision and anticipating the ever-evolving dynamics of customer expectations.

Jelena Ristić, Country Manager for Serbia, Montenegro and BiH, Mastercard

First and foremost, consumers – and that means all of us – expanded our e-commerce presence, with a two-digit increase in the number of new online shoppers in the country alone and numerous SMEs joining in the game. One year of pandemic brought the Serbian online market to where it would have organically been in five years, and we also have the improving user experience and top security mechanisms to thank for this momentum. Without the safety and simplicity of the digital payment process, and their seamless integration with the shopping experience, not even the most innovative product offer would be sufficient to sustain a business. Consumers are leading the real-time digital transformation and it is a sink or swim market for merchants now. Luckily, the swim portion of the equation is more easily attainable through technologies. Technologies provide the reach, capacities and security that merchants need.

Reaching the state of the sustainable digital economy – one in which businesses of any size, origin and industry can thrive, relying on the benefits of modern innovation – can only be done through a partnership between the public and private sectors, which is a mechanism that ensures the most advanced technologies and solutions that the private sector typically develops can be scaled across the markets and with adjustment to and of regulations. I’m particularly mentioning the latter because practice shows that business is done most successfully when the public, regulatory sector listens and is open to the real needs of businesses that stem from the variable market conditions.

Next steps

Let us not also forget that technologies have a role to play in both offline and online environments. The compatibility of tech and online is self-evident, but think of it, POS terminals and card payments which we already broadly use are technological achievements themselves, are they not? The benefits of electronic payments for merchants, banks, governments and consumers are documented so it makes sense to continue expanding them further through growing the acceptance network and leveraging the available solutions, even if they are not exclusively financial. A case in point is Tap on Phone, an innovative solution for contactless acceptance which went global in 2019 and which we expect to see in Serbia this year. Tap on Phone is an app that a merchant downloads onto their Android smartphone or tablet, and after registering with a bank that provides this option and entering a code into the app, that device becomes a POS. In other words, there are no initial investments into new hardware or subsequent maintenance costs – the phone that is already in the merchant’s pocket becomes their ticket for a new, cashless age of business and new revenue streams. The practicality, intuitiveness and cost-efficiency of the solution make it ideal for micro-merchants such as those at open markets, florists, plumbers or couriers, so do not be surprised when soon you start tapping your contactless card or mobile phone against a merchant’s phone when paying for a kilo of apples. Finally, with the new digital fiscalization law coming to power in January 2022 which expands the list of merchants obliged to fiscalize, Tap on Phone with its unprecedented simplicity and multi-applicability adds to the state’s efforts for making money flows in the commercial sector more transparent.

“One year of pandemic brought the Serbian online market to where it would have organically been in five years”

Serbia, just like countries all over the world, is realising that a vibrant digital economy requires real-time movement of money to remain globally competitive. We have to take a magnifying glass to each step within the payment process and look at how we can reduce friction and improve efficiencies. Mastercard’s suite of real-time payment solutions, which integrate seamlessly with a financial service provider’s systems, enable all these use cases and more. We will continue partnering horizontally and vertically to create a system that empowers all people, businesses and governments to send and receive payments and to put their money to use however they like, agnostic of infrastructure or payment rail. As we go from digital-first to digital-only future, capacities that we offer to public and private partners will lay the groundwork for a more efficient, safer and more accessible ecosystem where money works harder for everyone, everywhere, and that, well, that is priceless.

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