Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sent shockwaves around the world – and the fintech industry has not been immune to the reverberations. As Axios noted last week, fintechs such as money transfer giant Wise and financial services company Brex have limited or halted fund transfers altogether to Russia and Ukraine. The reasons given for the service changes have varied, with some organizations emphasizing solidarity with Ukraine and others citing operational challenges. But the fact remains that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has forced many fintechs, in Europe especially, into scramble mode is impossible to deny.
The crisis in Ukraine also has brought renewed interest in the role of cryptocurrencies. As economic sanctions – including the expulsion of a number of Russian banks from global financial messaging service SWIFT – take their toll on the Russian economy, the idea that Russia and the country’s elites could turn to cryptocurrencies to limit the financial damage may be edging from possibility to probability. The Ukrainian government has asked cryptocurrency exchanges to freeze the accounts of Russians and Belarusians and, at this point, it appears that some of the world’s biggest cryptocurrency exchanges are moving in that direction.
Ukrainian fintechs are also committing their technology and talent to the cause of defending their country from Russian aggression. For one, the country’s leading neobank Monobank is accepting SEPA transfers to help fund the Ukrainian army, and announced that it has raised more than 11 million Ukrainian hryvnia ($395,830) to date.
That said, one of the biggest concerns from Ukrainian tech companies in general and fintech companies in specific is panic from these companies’ customers. TechUkraine’s Nataly Veremeeva urged clients of Ukrainian firms to maintain their relationships, noting that the income from these partnerships helps support both the Ukrainian economy and the Ukrainian military. Importantly, the fact that Ukraine has been under threat from Russia for nearly a decade has helped Ukrainian companies develop a resiliency that is being brought to bear today, Veremeeva explained.
This point was underscored by Senka Hadzimuratovic, spokesperson for one of the more famous Ukraine-founded tech companies, Grammarly. Backup communications and temporarily transferring certain critical business responsibilities to Grammarly team members living outside of the country have been among the precautions taken by the company.
Ivan Kaunov, Head of Growth and co-founder of Finmap.online, a Ukraine-based financial management app for SMEs, spoke for many of his fellow Ukrainians late last week. “Today Russia (has) invaded Ukraine. All our teammates (are) in safe places, We, as a nation, unite(d) and ready to resist.”
A brief primer on fintech in Ukraine
There is a wide variety of fintech companies in the Ukraine. These firms range from neobanks like Monobank, a five year old financial institution with more than four million customers, to payments companies like IBox and EasyPay, to financial services technology companies like Neofin and Wallet Factory, to cryptocurrency exchanges like Kuna. One way to get a broad cross-section of the country’s fintech sector is via the Ukrainian Association of Fintech and Innovation Companies (UAFIC). The organization, founded in 2018, is a membership-based NGO designed to support the development of Ukraine’s fintech industry. Approximately 66% of the association’s members are fintechs, with another 14% representing IT companies and MFOs, and banks making up 6%.
Last fall, the UAFIC announced a collaboration with leading financial sector associations in Ukraine- including the Independent Association of Banks of Ukraine (NABU), the Association of Financial Institutions, the All-Ukrainian Association of Credit Unions, and the Insurance Business Association. The goal of the alliance is to help design legislation to support the development of open banking and payment services in the country.
“Recently, fintech companies and banks have realized that working on the basis of OpenBanking technologies is much more profitable than competing with each other,” UAFIC Board Chairman Rostislav Duke said. “The financial ecosystemn is receiving new signals of openness and willingness to cooperate and partner in the market. Our work will promote greater access to information for all financial market participants.”
Another way to learn more about the Ukraine fintech industry is via TechUkraine, a platform dedicated to supporting the country’s technology ecosystem. A spin-off from the Export Strategy of Ukraine for ICT Sector, TechUkraine is geared toward encouraging what Director Veremeeva called “a great story of government and business working together to achieve a truly significant goal – Ukraine (as) an innovation-driven, universally recognized tech destination that delivers high value for the global economy.”