According to Financial Times specialist division on intelligence fDi Sofia, Bulgaria is named number one Fintech location of the future when costs are concerned.
Sofia offers competitive landscape regarding the amount of salaries for engineers, low corporate taxes and membership in the European Union which guarantees security. Having this in mind, it’s not a surprise that companies like Tide & Financial Times opened their engineering offices in recent years. Here’s what John Furse technical director of platforms at FT says about Sofia:
“Sofia is a thriving city of over a million, with a burgeoning tech scene, a three hour flight from London airports and one of the best value locations in Europe”
Additionally, here’s what Oliver Prill the CEO of Tide says:
“Since Tide’s inception, we have had a highly talented team in Sofia, Bulgaria, working closely with the London team to build the mobile and web apps. We are dedicated to building our team in Sofia, hiring skilled customer service professionals, as well as tech and product talent.”
Bulgarian GDP is steadily growing with more than 3% from 2015 onwards. The population is slightly more than 7.1 million. Sofia as a city is nearly 1.5 million people and on working days it may peak to 2 million. It’s a very green city, right next to the Vitosha mountain with lots of parks, many young people and good public transportation and infrastructure. The traffic jams aren’t as big as in other European capitals which results in less wasted time in commuting. Bulgaria holds one of the top positions in EU for speed of the internet used in the cities. Rents aren’t high and for a very good apartment in a good neighbourhood, one pays on average 500 euros per month. Sofia offers rich social, cultural and nightlife experiences. There are many foreigners nowadays living in the city which makes it more colourful and inclusive.
The IT Sector
There are more than 27,000 people employed in the software industry in Bulgaria. Most of them are in Sofia. The city is turning into a power house in the Balkans and was named a digital champion of the new markets by Forbes. The sector is growing fast with more and more Bulgarians coming back from abroad to work in the sector.
Sofia was named one of the top 10 cities to start your startup by Forbes. It all started in 2012 with the opening of the first two pre-seed and seed stage funds – Eleven and Launchub. From then on it’s all positive news. The biggest exit of Bulgarian company came in 2014 when Telerik was sold to Progress Software for $262.5 million. This triggered the spark and nowadays we have more and more startups. We still have Eleven and LAUNCHub but they are not alone. In Sofia now there are active angels, funds like BrighCap that can invest up to 2 million euros in startups and Fund of Funds that is managing around 600 million euros part of which are to support the local startup ecosystem.
There are 27 registered banks in Bulgaria. Of those, 9 are Bulgarian but only 2 are part of the biggest 10 in assets. The biggest is UniCredit Bulbank. The bank sector is stable and due to the good economic times, the banks are giving more loans to households. As in all European countries, there are heavy regulations that banks must follow. The payment system most of the banks use is called Borica under the name of the company Borica which is owned by the major Bulgarian banks. Moreover, we have offices of Visa and MasterCard in Sofia. Bulgarians are also at key roles for the Balkan region in both companies.
One of the first fintech companies that opened its R&D office here was Skrill which was later bought by PaySafe. Nowadays, PaySafe is the biggest fintech player in Sofia with more than 1000 people employed in the city. Its Bulgarian office is named one of the best 25 offices in the world. Funnily, Daniel Klein who was one of the founders of Skrill started another company called SumUp which now again has a big R&D team in the city. These two are currently the biggest players regarding number of employees in Sofia.
However, we are now experiencing a promising startup scene. Startups like Payhawk, Klear and Nexo are some of the early success cases. To boost the number of successful companies, Eleven together with Visa started a Fintech Innovation program that aims to help local talent to develop next generation payment solutions. Young, talented, motivated people coupled with financial support and the connections & knowhow of Visa have bright futures. Bulgarians are really open to innovation and the 10,000+ users of Revolut gained with no paid marketing, signifies this.
I truly believe that Sofia provides amazing opportunities for fintech companies. It is truly an R&D hub for such firms. It will be great to see more of them like Monzo and 11:FS opening their offices here. It will lead Sofia to the next phase -> to be the main city for piloting fintech innovation.