The conference was organised on the occasion of World Consumer Rights Day by the ministries of economy and finance, the Croatian National Bank (HNB) and the HANFA regulatory agency for the supervision of financial services.
HANFA Steering Board vice-president Ilijana Jeleč said that digitalisation provided a number of opportunities for consumers as well as pitfalls.
Access to financial services is simpler but there is a large amount of information which is not easy to absorb and consumers are not always willing to sufficiently study the services they buy, she said, noting that this was especially problematic when purchasing financial services and products.
Since those services and products usually imply long-term investments, it is very important to study them before buying them, she said, mentioning also investment fraud on social networks and offers for investments in cryptocurrencies.
Jeleč said that HANFA had warned on a number of occasions that such investments were not regulated and were very speculative, advising consumers to avoid highly risky, speculative products and invest in what they understand.
Underlining the importance of consumer education, she said HANFA was investing significant effort in that regard, was cooperating with schools and universities on youth education and had launched a portal called “Novac za sutra” to inform citizens about financial services and improve their financial literacy.
Minister underlines importance of consumer protection associations
Economy Minister Tomislav Ćorić pointed to the 2021-2024 National Programme for Consumer Protection and the new law on consumer protection, to go into force on 28 May, as documents addressing problems faced by consumers living in the digital society.
He said the ministry’s services last year answered more than 6,000 phone calls by consumers and replied to more than 3,000 queries.
He underlined the important role of consumer protection associations, notably in the context of the coming introduction of the euro, set for 1 January 2023, noting that the ministry had granted HRK 350,000 to strengthen their institutional capacity.
Consumer protection central principle of euro introduction bill
The State Secretary at the Finance Ministry, Stjepan Čuraj, commenting on the euro introduction bill, noted that the principle of consumer protection and the ban on unjustified price increases had central place in the bill.
Speaking of financial literacy, Čuraj said that according to an OECD survey from 2019, financial literacy in Croatia had increased mildly compared to 2015, when a survey on that topic was carried out by the HNB and HANFA.
The average grade for the financial literacy of consumers in the OECD survey was 12.3 out of 21 points or 59%, while in the 2015 survey it was 56%. However, despite the improvement, the lack of financial competence and skills was the biggest among young people aged 18-29, Čuraj said.
HNB official: Elderly most evident victims of digital revolution
Data by the European Commission show that in the first week of the coronavirus pandemic the use of digital applications in banking grew by 72%.
Commenting on this, HNB vice governor Bojan Fras said that it was interesting that those figures did not change more significantly after the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions.
The digital revolution suits equally banks and their clients, Fras said, but noted that elderly citizens were the most evident victims of the digital revolution, being unwilling to use not only online banking services but also ATMs and bank cards.
Speaking of consumer complaints, Fras said that the HNB in 2021 received and processed 906 complaints and that none referred to digital banking services.