Poland’s political and economic reforms of the past 20-plus years have transformed this former Eastern-bloc country from an industrial has-been into a dynamic and forward-looking nation.
As the first of the central European countries to overthrow Communist rule back in 1989, it has continued to lead development in the region, forging ahead with innovations aimed at making it a truly global player. In 1996, Poland achieved full membership of the OECD, followed by membership of NATO in 1999. In 2004 it became a full member of the EU. It joined the Schengen Area in 2007, enabling it to dismantle its borders with other EU member states, to allow full freedom of movement for its citizens within most of the EU. The country reinforced its dominance of the region in July 2011 when it replaced Hungary as holder of the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU. It’s now in the final countdown to the UEFA Euro 2012 soccer tournament, which it is co-hosting with its neighbor, Ukraine.
Picture of prosperity?
Today Poland has one of the EU’s fastest-growing economies – not bad for a country that was weighed down by massive foreign debt and on the verge of economic collapse in 1989. Its high-income economy is now one of the healthiest of the post-Communist countries and one of the fastest-growing in the EU. Its strong domestic market, low levels of private debt, flexible currency and lack of dependence on a single export sector have helped it achieve the considerable feat of being the only European economy to have avoided the recession of the late-2000s.
Market liberalization, the establishment of the Warsaw Stock Exchange and the introduction of other competitive measures have all helped drive developments in sectors such as banking, telecoms and retail. One of the country’s biggest privatizations was the sale of Telekomunikacja Polska to France Telecom in 2000. Plus its banking sector has become increasingly dynamic over the years with foreign-owned banks playing an increasing role.
Significant investments in airports, road and rail infrastructure are transforming its economy and improving links between cities, helping drive economic growth and improving prospects for citizens – all key to boosting disposable income and expanding market demand for new technologies. “Next year’s UEFA tournament has helped focus minds on completing tasks by the start of the event,” says Dominik Radziwiłł, Poland’s Undersecretary of State, Ministry of Finance. He emphasizes that the country’s rapid economic expansion is no flash in the pan, explaining: “Stability is a key feature of our economy. Current prime minister Donald Tusk was appointed in 2007 and in 2011 he became the first Polish premier in history to be democratically re-elected for a consecutive term.”
A question of pride
Poles are proud of how their country has progressed since the days when the Solidarity Movement and Gdansk shipyards dominated Western news media. In fact government and business representatives never fail to remind you that this is a country of highly skilled, educated and technically savvy people. They follow that up with the killer statistic that one in 10 of all students in Europe is Polish.
What does this mean for the contactless sector? Well, it shows that the fundamentals are in place to help drive market demand for new technologies. Specifically, it establishes that some of the factors required for contactless technology to gain traction are already in place: people who want to spend money; a pool of young, technically savvy and enthusiastic citizens who demand new products; the necessary investment in transport infrastructure; market liberalization; growing competition; and a lack of legacy systems making it easier to leap straight to the latest technologies.
And it’s not just us that have noticed Poland’s potential. In 2010, UK publisher Haymarket agreed to license its gadget title Stuff to Ginza Media Group, reflecting the country’s growing market for new technologies and devices. The Polish nation’s enthusiasm for contactless and mobile payments was highlighted by research commissioned by First Data in October 2011, in which 51% of Poles surveyed said they would use a mobile device to make payments compared with just 25% of respondents in the UK/Ireland. Additionally, nearly a third of Polish consumers said they would like to use a mobile wallet right now.
Unlike other European countries that have focused their contactless deployments on specific cities, Poland has taken a more broad-brush approach to rollout. It has launched schemes nationwide, which makes sense for a country that is investing in state-wide developments.
The rollout of contactless has included a broad cross-section of applications such as payments, public transport, parking, education/campus cards and festivals. The roll call of merchants now accepting the technology includes Aldo, Esprit, Mexx, Mango, New Look, Hugo Boss, River Island, Wallis, McDonald’s, Coffee Heaven, Matras book store, Zabka, Kolporter, Empik, Sferis and Shell petrol stations. Banks deploying the technology include Bank Polski, Pekao, BZ WBK, ING, Alior Bank, mBank, Multibank, Citi Handlowy, Deutsche Bank PBC, Invest-Bank, Millennium, Polbank, Raiffeisen Bank, Getin Noble Bank, BNP Paribas, Fortis and GBW.
Thumbs up all round?
Mobile Network Operators (MNO) in the Polish market are also firmly behind the technology. T-Mobile, Plus, Play and Orange have made moves towards introducing a common standard for mobile payment services based on NFC. T-Mobile has recently announced plans to introduce contactless payments to the country via NFC-enabled Samsung Wave 578 handsets. Orange has unveiled mobile contactless payments in the country through its Polish company PTK Centertel. The commercial pilot enabled several thousand participants to use their mobile handsets to make low-value payments at the point of sale (POS) by tapping and paying at the estimated 50,000 contactless readers now deployed across the country, representing over 20% of all POS readers in the country.
Poland also saw the 2011 launch by Orange of NFC-enabled Samsung Wave 578 handsets. Other handsets expected to follow include LG and Nokia contactless-optimized smartphones. More recently, the mobile giant has confirmed it aims to begin offering NFC-based mobile payment services before the Euro 2012 soccer championship. It is currently testing its NFC services with the help of Bank Zachodni WBK.
Polkomtel, Poland’s leading MNO, also has big plans for the technology. It has been trialing NFC mobile payments in a project involving more than 500 users in the cities of Warsaw, Wroclaw and Poznan. The scheme enables customers of Polkomtel and Bank Zachodni to make payments using payWave with their Samsung handsets. Transport ticketing, coupons and loyalty applications are likely to be added as well. Cell phone operator PTC and internet bank Inteligo have also held a nationwide PayPass trial based on Samsung NFC.
Poland has been at the vanguard of using alternative form factors such as watches and stickers in addition to NFC-enabled handsets. In November 2011, Warsaw-based Bre Bank launched a trial of NFC-enabled attachments for the iPhone 4 and 4S via its mBank and MultiBank brands, enabling customers and employees to use these devices to make payments at around 35,000 terminals across the country. Banks and issuers are also boosting demand for Oberthur Technologies’ FlyBy contactless stickers, which can be attached to a cell phone or MP3 player. Plus the Watch2Pay scheme, in which consumers wear a wristwatch which enables them to tap and go to make contactless payments, is already up and running in Poland.
In its capital, Warsaw, residents can use contactless cards to ride by bus, tram and subway as well as pay for on-street parking, thanks to a scheme introduced by its public transport department. This has been used as a springboard for the deployment of the technology on transport networks across Poland in cities such as Gdynia, Plock and Rybnik. In another move Swedish firm Cale Parking Systems has been testing the use of NFC parking systems based on MIFARE in the country. The Cale MIFARE system’s pilot project involves two web terminals accepting contactless payment, one for parking and another for public transport.
Educational establishments throughout the country started large-scale deployment of contactless student eID cards in 2007. More than 115 universities and high schools now issue them, with 1.1 million people using them daily for access to campus facilities, dormitories, workshops and labs. The cards can also be used on public transport and as a digital wallet. An estimated 300 universities are queuing up to join the program and issue eID credentials.
MasterCard and Visa have both made a considerable investment in contactless in Poland; their efforts have helped to ensure the infrastructure is in place to enable the rollout of some of the latest projects. This investment includes the installation of more than 50,000 contactless POS terminals capable of accepting Visa and MasterCard’s contactless applications nationwide. The country’s banks are also getting in on the act and showing that they mean business when it comes to the technology. For example, Bank Zachodni, the country’s third-largest bank, has issued more than 180,000 EMV cards supporting Visa payWave and 54,000 MasterCard PayPass. PKO Bank Polski is adding payWave to its more than 6 million Visa debit cards, and Polbank EFG, Bank Zachodni and ING have launched passive PayPass stickers.
Poland’s largest financial institution, Bank Polski, which has more than 8.5 million customers, 1,211 branches and 1,938 agencies across the country, is migrating its portfolio of Visa debit cards from magnetic stripe straight to EMV contactless based on Gemalto products. It started mass deployment in 2010 and an estimated 6.5 million Visa payWave cards will have been issued to customers by the end of 2011. In addition, MasterCard Europe has provided PayPass to a number of music events in the country, enabling more than 100,000 revelers to use the technology at three major festivals.
Whether you’re into soccer, politics, music, economics or contactless, Poland is one of the countries to watch in 2012. Its forward-looking and highly educated young populace expects success – and its banks, telcos and retailers are lined up to give them what they want. These days are poles apart from 1989!