Saudi Arabia’s new instant payment system seen as catalyst for e-commerce, fintech sectors

Saudi Arabia’s new instant payment system seen as catalyst for e-commerce, fintech sectors
 The arrival of the Kingdom's first instant payment system (IPS) has been hailed as a major breakthrough by retailers and financial experts. (File/SPA)
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Updated 22 February 2021

Saudi Arabia’s new instant payment system seen as catalyst for e-commerce, fintech sectors

Saudi Arabia’s new instant payment system seen as catalyst for e-commerce, fintech sectors
  • Transactions can be completed instantly and around the clock
  • Local payment processing had traditionally been limited to bank business hours

JEDDAH: The arrival of the Kingdom's first instant payment system (IPS) has been hailed as a major breakthrough by retailers and financial experts.

Saudi Payments’ managing director, Fahd Al-Akeel, said on Sunday that the launch of IPS was the result of several months of “meticulous efforts” with all partners. “Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the speed of the instant payment system’s deployment across all the local banks is the fastest of its kind worldwide,” he added.

The system will allow financial institutions, companies, and people to complete transactions instantly across various banks, around the clock.

Mazen Al-Sudairi, head of research at the Riyadh-based financial services company Al-Rajhi Capital, said the move would have two main benefits for retailers and consumers. First, it would help boost consumption and make the monetary supply chain more efficient. “It will reduce the use of cash in the economy,” he added. “The more electronic trade in the economy, the more it means a lower shadow economy and more data-based economy, the more it is a transparent economy.”

Instant electronic payments are described by the Euro Retail Payments Board as electronic retail payment solutions available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year, with payments processed between accounts within seconds, according to Talat Zaki Hafiz, an economist and board member of the Saudi Financial Association.

He said that local payment processing had traditionally been limited to bank business hours and did not take place beyond these hours or on weekends and holidays. The new payment system would mean that these limitations will no longer apply.

“Its introduction is a major milestone in the history of payment systems in Saudi Arabia,” he told Arab News. “It will help to promote safety and improve efficiency for the main stakeholders in the Kingdom’s development of its financial ecosystem, including SAMA (Saudi Central Bank), Saudi Payments, and all the financial institutions and customers who will benefit from this latest development.”

Yasser Al-Ammari, a Saudi entrepreneur who founded the online platform coffinado.com last year, explained how the new IPS would benefit e-commerce. “To own an e-commerce platform means to inherently have the advantage of unlimited operations - 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all year long,” he said. “Considering that services and goods are offered around the clock, unlike brick-and-mortar establishments I believe that the new real-time Instant Payment System would help facilitate and speed up the operational process of e-commerce, specifically in online payment and refunds for both partners and customers.”

For e-commerce customers who depend on a fast efficient service as part of the offering, the IPS development is also a major step for the Kingdom. 

Michael Trueschler, co-founder and CEO of FlexxPay, a fintech company with headquarters in Saudi Arabia, called the new system “a fantastic initiative.”

FlexxPay is a Shariah-compliant platform that employees or pensioners can use to access a portion of their future income in advance. It covers salaries, commissions, pensions and end-of-service benefits to allow users to plan their expenses.

“For FlexxPay users this means that access to their earned income is immediate,” he said. “They can cover unexpected expenses even during the weekends and after banking hours. This is a massive value add for everyone in Saudi Arabia.”

Chief investment officer of Saudi Aramco’s entrepreneurship arm Wa’ed, Salman Jaffrey, said the launch of IPS recognized the critical role that e-commerce and fintech played in driving the country’s economic growth.

“Fintech is one of the most dynamic segments of the tech sector,” he added. “From 2017-19, fintech transactions amounted to more than $19 billion in the Kingdom. By 2023, the Saudi fintech market is expected to exceed $33 billion. Fintech is high on Wa’ed’s agenda and we expect to be announcing several investments in the near future.”

The new service is also likely to be a catalyst for growth in the Kingdom’s digital payments sector, according to Noon.com, an online platform backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.

“The newly announced Instant Payments System will act as a huge catalyst in bringing the cost of funding down for e-wallet players as well as adding convenience to customers and businesses alike,” Mosam Gadia, senior vice president at Noon Payments, told Arab News. “This new system will enable customers to add money seamlessly to e-wallets from their bank accounts in real time, a capability that we will leverage when our homegrown wallet, Noon Pay, launches in Q2. It will also make the process of merchant collections super swift, allowing them to receive payments in near real time.”

The IPS launch comes at a great time for the e-commerce sector, which saw a surge in the use of digital payments last year. 

The total number of digital transactions in Saudi Arabia in 2020 amounted to about 2.8 billion, an increase of 75 percent compared with the same period in the previous year. 

The value of these amounted to about SR349 billion ($93.7 billion), an increase of nearly 24.1 percent compared with the same period in 2019.


The Saudi dividend: Oil price up 20 percent in a month

The Saudi dividend: Oil price up 20 percent in a month
Updated 02 March 2021

The Saudi dividend: Oil price up 20 percent in a month

The Saudi dividend: Oil price up 20 percent in a month
  • Kingdom’s surprise output cut buoys market, along with rising demand and good news on vaccines

DUBAI: Oil prices rose nearly 20 percent in February as Saudi Arabia’s “surprise” voluntary cut of 1 million barrels took effect in an increasingly optimistic market for crude.
Although Brent crude, the global benchmark, closed on the day slightly off its best level of $67, oil experts said the surge last month was the result of Saudi moves to keep excess oil off the market as part of the OPEC+ alliance of producers.
One analyst said: “OPEC+ will be giving themselves a big pat on the back because the strategy is working, not least because of the big cut.”
The rise last month came as good news on the global rollout of COVID-19 vaccines coincided with signs that oil demand was picking up, and oil in storage was being drained at an increasing rate as economic activity resumes.
The strength of global financial markets, buoyed by the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package in the US, was further evidence of the recovery, with the key S&P index turning in its best performance in four months.
Oil output from OPEC countries fell in February for the first time since last summer, an indication that Saudi-led policy was working.
“So far, the members of the alliance have been cooperating and implementing the cuts in exemplary fashion,” analyst Eugen Weinberg of Commerzbank said.
Oil markets will face a test this week when ministers from OPEC+ meet to decide whether to put oil supply back on the market.
The Saudi output cut expires at the end of March, and other countries, notably Russia, are keen to increase production to gain the benefit of rising prices.
Oil officials in the Kingdom are awaiting data from the OPEC technical committee before committing themselves to reinstating the output. One option could be a phased re-introduction of output in coming months.


Global markets rebound as rate hike worries fade

Global markets rebound as rate hike worries fade
Updated 02 March 2021

Global markets rebound as rate hike worries fade

Global markets rebound as rate hike worries fade
  • Wall Street stocks snapped higher at the open and kept pushing up further

LONDON: World stock markets shot higher on Monday, bouncing back from last week’s heavy selloff as worries about early interest rate hikes faded and US Treasury yields dropped, dealers said.

Wall Street stocks snapped higher at the open and kept pushing up further, recovering much of the ground they lost at the end of last week.

The blue-chip Dow was up 2.1 percent in late morning trading, with the broader S&P 500 and tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite also gaining more than 2 percent.

In Europe, London, Frankfurt and Paris all closed the day 1.6 percent higher.

Asian stocks rose strongly on bargain-buying as the passage of President Joe Biden’s $1.9-trillion Covid relief stimulus through the US House of Representatives provided additional cheer.

While many Democrats are disappointed a $15 minimum wage can’t be included in the package in the US Senate, “it does have the short term benefit of making the path to passing the American Rescue Plan that bit easier,” noted Spreadex analyst Connor Campbell.

Oil prices climbed before this week’s output meeting of the OPEC group of oil producers and their allies, while the dollar advanced versus the euro and yen.

“Equity markets have shaken off the negative sentiment that was doing the rounds last week as the pullback in government bond yields has seen buyers step into the fold,” said analyst David Madden at online trading firm CMC Markets UK.

Stocks took a beating last week as government bond yields spiked higher, with investors worried that too much stimulus will spark inflation and push central banks into raising interest rates earlier than expected.

In a bid to calm markets, several central banks — including in Japan, South Korea and the European Union — sought over the weekend to reiterate their pledges to maintain their ultra-loose monetary policies for as long as needed.

Australia’s led the way by ramping up its asset purchases to keep rates low.

“Traders feel more confident about snapping up relatively cheap stocks as they are less fearful that central banks will look to tighten their policy anytime soon,” said Madden.

News that Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine had been given the green light by US regulators — paving the way for a quicker rollout of vaccinations — added to the positive sentiment on Monday.

“Now that the US has three highly effective Covid vaccines, expectations for herd immunity at some point in the summer should release a lot of pent up buying power from the US consumer,” said Oanda analyst Edward Moya.

He said this is renewing interest in stocks in smaller companies with investors betting that an early drop in restrictions will boost their fortunes.

Oil prices also rebounded with focus on the key meeting of the OPEC+ group of major producers on Thursday, when they will discuss the huge output cuts that have provided much-needed support to prices.

Russia is said to be keen to turn on the taps again but Saudi Arabia prefers to keep the status quo.


ENGIE ramps up KSA expansion as energy embraces private sector

ENGIE ramps up KSA expansion as energy embraces private sector
Updated 02 March 2021

ENGIE ramps up KSA expansion as energy embraces private sector

ENGIE ramps up KSA expansion as energy embraces private sector
  • French conglomerate aims to more than double its workforce in the Kingdom to 5,000 by 2025

JEDDAH: ENGIE, the France-headquartered energy and services conglomerate, revealed earlier this year its plans to invest a further $6.34 billion in Saudi Arabia by 2025, adding to its existing assets and projects in the Kingdom valued at over $8 billion.

The new investments will cover a wide range of services, but the bulk of the $6.34 billion will be in new public-private partnerships (PPPs) focused on utility and social infrastructure projects, Turki Al-Shehri, ENGIE’s CEO in Saudi Arabia, explained to Arab News.

The firm aims to get involved in PPPs to establish new hospitals, universities, schools and railroads, while its focus on energy services will include renewable energy, energy efficiency, research and development (R&D), as well as advisory services.

The Saudi Ministry of Health recently released Al-Ansar Hospital in Madinah for private investment, as part of its Private Sector Participation Program (PSP). Al-Shehri noted that it is a project worth $300 million, with around 240 beds, and ENGIE is already bidding to build, operate, maintain, and provide medical equipment to the hospital for a period of 20 to 30 years.

Moreover, ENGIE was awarded the Yanbu-4 independent water producer desalination plant by the Saudi Water Partnership Company last year, projected to supply 450,000 cubic meters of desalinated seawater per day using clean energy. According to Al-Shehri, this project alone is valued at around $850 million.

“This is ENGIE’s second water project. The first was Marafiq power and water project,” said Al-Shehri. “We work with water desalination projects around the world, with Saudi being a major target for us.

“The Saudi Water Partnership company recently released a seven-year plan which will require three to four seawater desalination projects per year; bidding on such projects is part of our strategy,”
he added.

After operating in Saudi Arabia for 20 years, the conglomerate expanded its presence in the Kingdom in 2019 by establishing its holding company to bring all the group’s Saudi assets under one umbrella holding company.

Al-Shehri noted that the decision to establish the holding company was encouraged by the Kingdom’s Vision 2030. Announced in 2016, the 2030 plan focuses on increasing the private sector’s long-term contribution to the economy by opening up new opportunities and removing obstacles that are preventing the sector from playing a larger role in development.

“ENGIE’s bread and butter are PPP projects,” he said. “In the past, they were very selective, mainly within Saudi Aramco, Saudi Electricity Company, and Saudi water company … it was segregated and not a countrywide strategy. However, Vision 2030 has completely changed ENGIE’s objectives toward Saudi Arabia.”

There has been a continuous increase in awarding of PPP projects in utility infrastructure projects between 2017 and 2020, while social infrastructure projects have just recently been introduced,
he explained.

Al-Shehri said the holding company was a requirement to consolidate the exerted efforts and utilize existing resources with global know-how. The French company currently has 16 Saudi subsidiaries “and the number is growing” he said.

Restrictions as a result of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic did not have too much impact, he added, and plans for ENGIE’s PPP projects have been moving smoothly.

“Since ENGIE operates in 70 countries globally, we were able to learn from countries that were infected prior to Saudi Arabia, and we were able to take measures ahead of time,” he said.

Instead, ENGIE has directly hired 62 additional employees and acquired Allied Maintenance Company (AMC) in 2020, which added another 1,300 employees to its workforce, bringing the total number of staff in the Kingdom to around 2,000.

The firm plans to expand its workforce in Saudi Arabia to reach over 5,000 employees by 2025 and Al-Shehri said ENGIE has a strong local focus.

“When it comes to local content, we are focusing on two aspects: Manpower as well as local supplies,” he said. “ENGIE wants to be, and will be, a leader when it comes to international companies ensuring that there is local content being used and proper knowledge transferred, and local partners.”

He noted that the company spends $130 million a year on local supplies for all its assets, which equates to 85 to 90 percent of supplies being sourced locally.

Renewable energy is a core sector for ENGIE and Saudi Arabia provides big opportunities. During the Future Investment Initiative forum in January, Prince Abdul Aziz bin Salman said that the Kingdom aims to produce 50 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2030. “When the government took on this initiative, the private sector immediately started to follow suit,” Al-Shehri said.

According to a news report by research firm Frost and Sullivan, the region is expected to expand its renewables capacity from solar and wind by 18 times by 2025. “This is a very fresh market and the opportunity for growth is tremendous,” he said.

“It is the largest market in the region … It will continue to grow, and I think we will continue to see changes in policy as a result of prices continuing to decrease and opportunities being open to the private sector and regulations being relaxed,” he added.


Bitcoin is at a ‘tipping point,’ Citi says

Bitcoin is at a ‘tipping point,’ Citi says
Updated 02 March 2021

Bitcoin is at a ‘tipping point,’ Citi says

Bitcoin is at a ‘tipping point,’ Citi says
  • With the recent embrace of the likes of Tesla Inc. and Mastercard Inc., Bitcoin could be at the start of a ‘massive transformation’ into the mainstream, Citi says

LONDON: Bitcoin rose nearly 6 percent on Monday as risk assets rallied after last week’s bond rout cooled, and Citi said the most popular cryptocurrency was at a “tipping point” and could become the preferred currency for international trade.

With the recent embrace of the likes of Tesla Inc. and Mastercard Inc., Bitcoin could be at the start of a “massive transformation” into the mainstream, Citi added.

Bitcoin, which has risen to $47,000 from $4,700 last March, could in the future become the preferred currency for international trade or face a “speculative implosion,” the investment bank said. It was up 5.7 percent at $47,834 on the Bitstamp exchange. Smaller rival ether rallied 7.5 percent to $1,525.

Bitcoin’s recent performance has come with the growing involvement of institutional investors in recent years, contrasting with its heavy retail investor focus for most of the past decade, Citi added.

If businesses and individuals gain access via digital wallets to planned central bank digital cash and so-called stablecoins, bitcoin’s global reach, traceability and potential for quick payments would see it “optimally positioned” to become the preferred currency for international trade, Citi said.

Bitcoin, designed as a payment tool, is little used for commerce in major economies, hampered by high volatility and relatively costly transactions. 

Still, it has over the past year gained traction in some emerging markets such as Nigeria.

Such a dramatic transformation for bitcoin to the de facto currency of world trade — a status currently held by the dollar — would depend on changes to its market to allow wider institutional participation and closer oversight by financial regulators, Citi said.

Still, shifts in the macro-economic environment may also make the demand for bitcoin less pressing, it added.


DIFC Courts sees 41% rise in cases during 2020

DIFC Courts sees 41% rise in cases during 2020
Updated 01 March 2021

DIFC Courts sees 41% rise in cases during 2020

DIFC Courts sees 41% rise in cases during 2020
  • The DIFC Courts’ Small Claims Tribunal (SCT) saw cases increase 47 percent to 466 cases in 2020

DUBAI: The Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) Courts saw a 41 percent rise in the number of cases it handled last year, with its technology and construction sector recording a 233 percent surge in disputes, it was announced on Monday.

Established in 2004 and based on the English-language common law system, the courts’ jurisdiction was expanded in 2011 to include all businesses from all GCC countries and beyond.

The number of cases at the main Court of First Instance rose last year by 41 percent, while the total value of claims increased 72 percent to AED9.95 billion ($2.71 billion), with the average claim across cases amounting to AED86.3 million. The cases covered a wide range of sectors, including banking and finance, construction, and real estate.

The courts also reported a 50 percent increase in the number of opt-in cases last year, meaning claims where the contracts do not specify the DIFC Courts as the location for disputes but both parties have elected to use it in order to find a resolution.

Zaki Azmi, chief justice of the DIFC Courts, said: “Undoubtedly, 2020 was a year that tested the resilience of every government service, private-sector business, and individual. It was a year that forced everyone to re-shift focus; to reprioritize, and, to adapt to rapid changes.

“Given the extraordinary circumstances that have emerged, all core services of the DIFC Courts have been fully maintained, whilst remaining true to our core values and dedication of public service.”

The DIFC Courts’ Small Claims Tribunal (SCT) saw cases increase 47 percent to 466 cases in 2020. The majority (51 percent) of cases were related to breach of contract, followed by employment (25 percent), property and tenancy (16 percent), and banking and finance (8 percent). The total value of claims related to SCT cases amounted to AED55 million.

Earlier this year, the DIFC Courts launched a new court which will rule on commercial space-related disputes, it was revealed on Monday.

The Courts of Space initiative, in partnership with the Dubai Future Foundation, will see an international working group of public and private-sector experts tasked with exploring space-related legal issues linked to such disputes, and brainstorming possible outcomes.