TBY talks to Berna Ülman, Senior Vice-President and Regional General Manager, Visa Europe, on the growth of electronic payment means in Turkey, and the new projects.

Berna Ülman
Berna Ülman has a BA in Business Administration from Boğaziçi University and an MBA in finance from the University of Tennessee. Ülman began her career in 1987 at Tokai Bank in New York, before later becoming a US-based financial analyst and consultant. Prior to joining Visa, Berna Ülman was a System Planning Manager and then Credit Card Manager at Koç Finans for five years. Berna Ülman joined Visa Europe Turkey in 2000 as Deputy General Manager, and in 2003 became the General Manager of Visa Europe Turkey. In May 2008 she was assigned as Senior Vice-President and Regional General Manager.

What is the significance of Turkey to Visa Europe and the company's global operations?

Turkey has been part of Visa Europe from the very beginning, and over the years it has become one of Visa's most critical markets. It is strong in terms of size—the Turkish market has the largest number of cards within Visa Europe. We have 79 million cards, 30 million of which are credit cards, and 49 million are debit cards. In terms of total usage, we are fourth after the UK, France, and Spain. In terms of credit card usage, we are number one in Europe. In Turkey, we have generated €63 billion worth of sales volumes in 2011. Not only do we have card numbers that are of a significant size for Visa Europe, we also bring major volumes to the table. On top of that, Turkey is a high-growth market, and we have achieved an annual growth rate of 25% in terms of sales volume. We are also an important market because Turkey has become an innovation hub. Our center of excellence is working on R&D projects and cutting-edge payment solutions.

How will Visa tap into Turkey's growth potential given that roughly 50% of the population is unbanked?

If you look at personal consumption in Turkey, 16% of expenditure is made via a Visa card. Our competition is centered on the use of cash. To compete with cash, we have to do several things. We need to reach more people and places where cards can be used. For the unbanked, we need to find channels and products that reach them. We are considering pre-paid and mobile options, as many of the unbanked use cell phones. Financial awareness and literacy is very important in Turkey, and to support this, we are working with the Ministry of Development, the UNDP, and the Habitat Center for Development and Governance. We have collectively started a corporate social responsibility project called “I Can Manage My Money" with the support of our member banks. Since its inception in 2009, the main objective has been to raise the financial awareness of young people, increase their levels of financial literacy, and assist them in contributing to a more sustainable economy. Also, the project will enhance the socio-economic empowerment of young people and assist Turkey in reaching its Millennium Development Goals. At the end of its second year, the training sessions are being delivered by 234 trainers in 59 cities, reaching 13,000 young people directly from all across Turkey.

What trends can you identify in Turkey's payment sector?

We have many debit cards that are not being used at the point of sale. In fact, 95% of people use their debit cards at ATMs, which leaves a gap and a big opportunity—as big as the opportunity for credit cards to perform direct purchases. It is a really simple product; people have money on their cards and the money is in the bank. It is important to note that taking out cash does not benefit the consumer or the economy; when cash is in your pocket, it cannot become investment or credit. This creates an environment that is prone to an unregistered economy. Turkey represents the most exciting debit growth opportunity in Europe, as one in seven card transactions are done via debit cards. In September 2011 we launched a cash-back service that was designed to grow debit card usage in Turkey. Cashback was launched on Visa Electron debit cards in leading super markets chains and bookstores. By the end of 2012, the service will be available at 1,800 sales points. Later in 2012, we will commence Balance Checker, an SMS balance service to help consumers stay in control. Also, e-commerce is opening up to debit on popular online shopping web sites, and we will start rolling out contactless cards. In terms of credit, Turkey has traditionally been a credit market. However, there are more than 1 million SMEs in Turkey, and the right product for them is a commercial card with an improved management information system (MIS) and more control. In 2011, we saw a growth in debit card usage of more than 50%, and 50% in e-commerce and commercial usage. Our total growth was 25%, and debit cards, commercial solutions, and e-commerce are becoming strong growth drivers.