According to Merchant Machine, 88% of Belgians had access to the internet in 2021. Of all Belgians using the internet, 79% used the internet for online banking in 2019, which was 13% above the EU average. Belgium ranks 6th in the integration of digital technologies and 16th for digital public services among EU countries.
Belgium falls under the PSD2 legislation and has adopted STET and Berlin Group’s NextGenPSD2 standard. PSD2 is a European Directive that regulates electronic payment services and was implemented in all EEA countries in 2016 and went live in September 2019.
In their European Open Banking league, Yapily ranked Belgium 9 out of 18 due to notable progress in Open Banking over recent years, with banks increasingly enabling access to Third-Party Providers (TPPs). According to Yapily, Belgium is taking positive steps towards a mature Open Banking ecosystem. However, enforcement is still very much done at the EU level. Participants have also identified a lack of clarity around TPP access to payment accounts, specifically, the qualification of credit card accounts, as a potential obstacle. A swifter approach to enforcing PSD2 standards would benefit the implementation of Open Banking. At the moment, Open Banking complaints or notifications are slow to be answered, and incumbents have made Open Banking journeys more difficult. Regulators need to specify more detailed criteria for TPPs and banks to understand how user journeys should look and feel.
The EU Commission has announced its intention to adopt an Open Finance regulatory framework.
The Association of 7 and 8 (A78) was announced in 2020. A78 unites Belgian payment institutions licensed by the National Bank of Belgium. Its mission was to unite all Belgian payment institutions that are licenced to provide payment initiation services and account information services.
According to The Global Findex Database, 99% of Belgians had bank accounts in 2021. Belgium has been one of the forerunners of online and mobile payments. Mobile payments in Belgium increased from 1.2% in 2017 to 17.5% in 2021, which was slightly above the European average of 14.4%. In 2021, 70% of Belgians said that they were familiar with contactless payments. Banks and credit/debit card companies now offer apps for more convenient digital payments, and there are also digital wallets and a range of new mobile payment providers on the market.
Belgian consumers are particularly interested in the benefits that Open Banking payment initiation services can provide and how access to aggregate financial information and storing it in one place. In a recent study researching the Open Banking adoption among consumers, 31% of Belgian consumers were interested in receiving intelligent assistance to manage payments, 29% were interested in having their data used to develop convenient new payment methods and 29% in aggregating financial information and storing it in one place.
According to Yapily, the regulatory supervision and guidance around implementation are very minimal, and support is slow for Open Banking in Belgium.
According to Tracxn, there are 380 Fintechs in Belgium as of 2022. According to Fintech Belgium, which is the association of Belgian Fintechs, the two largest banks in Belgium saw Open Banking as an opportunity; however, a smaller bank perceived it more as a threat. One of the four large Belgian banks has identified opportunities that they intend to capitalise on, taking a strategic approach to Open Banking.
In order to access the data, TPPs require customers’ authorisation and a licence granted by the regulator, which is the National Bank of Belgium (the BNB). While it is done to guarantee security, some TPPs still see the regulator as an obstacle to the development of new services, as the procedure for obtaining licences is perceived as time-consuming. Fintech Belgium states that this may result in the risk of some Fintechs migrating to other EU countries.
Belgium ranks 13th in human capital among EU countries in the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) 2022. The human capital measures digital skills, the proportion of employed people working as ICT specialists, female ICT specialists, and enterprises offering ICT training.
The Belgian financial regulators, the FSMA (Financial Services and Markets Authority), and the BNB (National Bank of Belgium) have established a Fintech Contact Point, where regulators can support Fintechs and assist them in understanding applicable regulatory frameworks.
Belgium has adopted STET and Berlin Group’s NextGenPSD2 technical standard.