DUBAI: The pandemic has ravaged businesses worldwide across many sectors and continues to do so in a way that nobody anticipated, pushing some of the strongest economies into recession. At the same time, it has proved a blessing for some business models, particularly in the technology industry, driving unprecedented growth over the past few months.
Among the lucky ones is the fintech market, which has made significant gains. The pandemic forced physical outlets to shut down for an extended period, and concerned consumers avoided traditional shopping even as stores reopened, paving the way for remote and cashless payment solutions. Europe saw a 72 percent increase in the use of fintech applications in just one week early during the pandemic, as per a study by deVere Group.
A similar trend was observed in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) bloc, where the fintech market is projected to hit $2.5 billion by 2022.
“As a result of the recent pandemic, online shopping spiked 55 percent globally as people tend to shift more towards contactless interactions and started using pickup areas and delivery services to avoid the risk of being infected,” said Ashraf Sabry, CEO of Fawry Banking and Payment Technology Services.
A digital payments cum fintech platform, Fawry recently became Egypt’s first-ever technology unicorn — its market value hit 20 billion Egyptian pounds ($1.3 billion) after quadrupling during the pandemic.
Given the developing nature of the region’s fintech sector, the pandemic was also an opportunity for local ventures to solve new problems and prove their offerings worthy to wary customers.
Companies from the region have been working hard to revolutionize the payment experience for shoppers. Among other things, their efforts have made the concept of paying in instalments popular again and more accessible to both consumers and businesses.
“In collaboration with the government and central bank of Egypt, fintech companies have contributed to increasing awareness among customers of using (credit) instead of cash and emphasizing more that this kind of transactions are secured, eliminate fraud and have more benefits than cash,” Sabry said when describing the scene in Egypt.
His company currently operates a portfolio of services enabling cashless payments for government services, utility bills, university tuition fees, retail stores and even donations. Fawry payments are accepted in a network of more than 165,000 points of sale across the country, in addition to the FawryPay online payment gateway.
Both platforms allow credit-card holders to seamlessly split transactions into fixed equal instalments based on available three-, six-, nine- and 12-month plans. This option eliminates much of the complexities and added costs of working with banks and makes buying now and paying later much more accessible to customers.
Launched in 2019, Tabby is a fintech company from the UAE that also enables businesses to offer shoppers delayed payment options without the need for any bank transactions or even a credit card.
Consumers can either pay 14 days after product delivery with no interest or pay in instalments over several months. Three months after the pandemic hit the region, Tabby secured $7 million in a funding round led by Raed Ventures. The company needs capital to finance its growth and expansion into Saudi Arabia.
“The importance of a solution that addresses slowing consumer demand became even more apparent,” Tabby CEO Hosam Arab told Entrepreneur Middle East magazine as he explained why it has become more important to have these simple credit payment options in the region following the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fintech shows no signs of slowing down in this part of the world. Egypt’s Vision 2030 targets complete digital transformation as a strategic objective to achieve development goals and enhance the country’s position in the global economy.
“With a 42 percent emerging population, (with) age ranging between 15-40 years, (it) presents an attractive and growing market of early technology adopters,” Sabry said.
Other MENA nations show similar population dynamics and development goals. Throw into the mix a smartphone penetration rate estimated at 40 percent to 50 percent, and the region has every chance of becoming a gold mine for fintech services in a few more years.
*This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.