Abdullah Othman, founder and chairman of Saudi fintech company Geidea, believes the distinction between “online” and “offline” will soon disappear when all transactions are conducted digitally in some capacity.
The founder of the leading payment service provider aims to create opportunities for all merchants around the world to connect with global consumers by leveraging all possible digital assets and technologies.
Geidea offers digital banking technology, point-of-sale terminals and business management solutions for both financial institutions and small businesses in retail and digital commerce.
Othman said the MENA region is growing rapidly and the demand for convenient payment solutions is increasing all the time, which is why Geidea will continue to expand its services across more markets — as it has done recently in Egypt and the UAE.
Othman talks about actively supporting the digital transformation drive across countries, achieving financial inclusion and much more.
1. As an entrepreneur involved in numerous ventures, what made you launch Geidea several years ago?
As far back as 2008, it was clear to me that merchants needed access to affordable and intuitive payment solutions to grow their business. I could sense that the digital revolution would be all-encompassing and understood that fintech innovations held the capacity to transform the way we think about doing business and bring incredible opportunities for SMEs and aspiring entrepreneurs.
And, of course, there are huge benefits for the consumer through the shift to a cashless society. For me, solving problems required innovative ideas — and that’s where the name Geidea came from. We see ourselves as an enabler for the business environment — one that reduces time and costs to set up businesses for the small merchant — one that can make their customer experience significantly better, and leverage the digital, high-tech ecosystem through the emergence of the Internet, open-source software, cloud computing, and other trends.
2. Geidea has come a long way since its beginnings — could you tell us about that growth journey?
The Geidea journey is unique in Saudi Arabia. After launching our point-of-sale product in 2013, it took us just four years to become the country’s largest fintech provider by market share. This was a significant responsibility, as digital innovators, to ensure we develop and provide the right solutions to support the Kingdom’s vision toward becoming a cashless society.
Additionally, Geidea was not only one of the first companies to obtain a fintech license from the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority in 2021, but also the only non-bank institution in the Kingdom to be granted an acquiring license from SAMA.
Throughout that journey — from startup to the country’s largest fintech company — we have worked incredibly hard to serve our society by bringing new digital payment solutions to the market. Geidea was the first fintech in the region to develop an app-based contactless “phone-POS” solution, empowering SMEs with a simple and intuitive way to process customer payments. This technology is vital because it allows merchants to accept payments quickly and securely on their Android mobile phones without the need for a separate payment terminal or connection.
This solution includes the traditional POS terminal features, including acceptance of payments from contactless cards, mobile wallets, and wearable devices. We wanted to create a holistic ecosystem within one application, so all transactions are settled directly, and funds are automatically transferred into their existing bank account.
Currently, we support more than 700,000 payment terminals and ATM networks with 150,000 merchants, including regional and international brands, SMEs and e-commerce players. That vast contribution has earned Geidea widespread recognition
3. Can you tell us about some of the notable partnerships and products that Geidea has rolled out over the last few years?
Collaboration and co-creation is important to our success. From Day 1, I recognized that Geidea had an opportunity to look at things differently and reshape the way customers, banks and merchants interact. The technologies we have invested in are game-changing, and that is why Geidea has always had very close alignment with not just the investor community but with regulators and the business ecosystem as a whole.
Strategic partnerships have played — and will continue to play — a crucial role in our growth. A great example is our recent partnership deal with Magnati, formerly part of First Abu Dhabi Bank, which has provided us with an in-road to the UAE market, where we intend to roll out a full suite of value-added services and payment solutions to UAE-based companies. We have also partnered with institutions in Egypt, such as Banque Misr, which is provided with our SoftPoS payment solutions. Looking ahead, we hope to extend our partnerships even further to provide more services where Geidea is based — across the Kingdom, the UAE and Egypt.
Some of our recent and exciting new partnerships include “channels by STC,” which is the exclusive sales and distribution arm of the stc Group and the National Computer Systems Company, a leading IT infrastructures and software businesses solution provider in the Kingdom. The stc partnership allows us to provide an integrated suite of solutions to the company and their network of retailers, which will enable them to seamlessly manage their stores, accept payments and resell top-ups and vouchers. Additionally, the partnership with Natcom expands the reach of our SoftPos solution, empowering the company to provide its customers with a payments experience that is transformational and innovative in the Kingdom.
Last year, following the launch of phone POS, we entered into strategic partnerships with global payment institutions including Mastercard and Visa, and major Saudi player SABB — these are important partnerships as we scale-up our technologies across the region.
4. Where do you hope to take the company in the next 5-10 years?
The digital economy is an incredible enabler of financial inclusion and economic activity and a way for governments to manage their economies. As a leader passionate about digital technologies, I understand that we have a unique role in accelerating the digital economy, particularly in widening access to business fintech tools critical to economic growth and social mobility.
Commerce has continued to evolve at great pace since Geidea first began. Today, e-commerce is growing at such a proliferating rate that consumers are shopping through mobiles, laptops and more. Our aim is therefore to level the playing field and create opportunities for all merchants around the world to connect with consumers all around the world. It’s a bold vision that requires us to leverage all possible digital assets and technologies and become part of the merchant’s retailing strategy. This is vital, as I believe the distinction between “online” and “offline” will disappear as soon as all transactions will be conducted digitally in some capacity.
Additionally, I believe we will continue to expand our services across more markets — as we have done recently in Egypt and the UAE. The MENA region is growing rapidly and the demand for convenient payment solutions is increasing all the time. As an example, in 2021 we received a payments facilitator license from the Central Bank of Egypt. By partnering with Egypt’s leading entities — including the National Bank of Egypt and Banque Misr — we are actively supporting the country’s drive toward digital transformation and achieving financial inclusion.
5. Saudi Arabia is widely considered to be a flourishing fintech hub in the Middle East. What progress do you think the country has made toward becoming a leading digital economy?
I strongly believe that Saudi Arabia has made incredible progress — especially in the last few years — from both growth and regulatory perspectives. Saudi Arabia has continued to maintain its position as an attractive place for investment in financial technologies, and is actively supporting new ideas. New ground is being broken — empowering budding entrepreneurs.
An example includes the Saudi Fintech Initiative, which supports fintechs as they enter the market and enhances the country’s digital payments infrastructure. Investors will also be interested in the sector’s sustainability, so issues like data security and analytics should also form part of the regulatory landscape to ensure that the business community and its customers are sufficiently protected.
The safety of the fintech space in Saudi Arabia is also buoyed by a regulatory framework that recognizes the power of unity and standardization across the sector. As far back as 2019, Saudi Payments set out to enable collaboration between 12 fintech companies and banks by signing a strategic MoU. It set out to provide consumers with new cashless payment opportunities and enabled the introduction of a QR-based national payment system that benefits retailers, payment service providers and individual customers.
The regulatory framework for a new QR code payment system acted as an essential precursor to a whole new digital ecosystem of collaborative development. Outcomes include an open-loop payment environment that means retailers, payment service providers and digital wallet users will be able to make payment transactions regardless of the relations among the involved parties.
This approach brings together the perspectives and ideas of many so that the entire ecosystem can evolve — and it is fantastic to see SAMA launch the Open Banking Exchange in Saudi Arabia in January 2022. The move means that Saudi Arabia can leverage the past achievements and knowhow of Open Banking Europe and the OBE communities in Southeast Asia and Latin America to accelerate the implementation of open banking in the country. Open banking exchanges have a proven track record of building collaborative environments — they are invaluable in helping their members develop effective open solutions based on jurisdiction-neutral technology frameworks. The hope is that this new framework will drive greater competition and collaboration — and those are the keys to innovation, financial inclusion and sustainable economic development.
6. The Kingdom has attracted a lot of fintech-related investment in recent years. How does Geidea see its role in this ecosystem?
Our role is critical. Saudi Arabia has a cashless transaction target of 70 percent by 2030, and we look forward to building on our progress so far. We have worked to actively diversify across the transaction value chain through PoS license expansion, aiming for an electronic money institution license and a host of value-added SaaS- and LaaS-based solutions.
Through new partnerships, we are also working to transform how businesses access financing. In November 2021, we partnered with the financing company Alamthal to make accessing loans and processing repayments in a way that is easier, with less hassle and less stress. This partnership allows us to expand our role within the fintech ecosystem by providing a secure, trusted solution that empowers businesses with access, safety and flexibility. This is really important in helping growing companies to expand and scale.
In January 2022, we developed our strategy for simplifying access to capital and loan financing for businesses by collaborating with the debt crowdfunding platform, Forus. The partnership enables SMEs to pay back their loan amounts directly through point-of-sale terminals by automatically setting aside a percentage or amount of monthly revenue toward their loan obligations. It is actually a really creative and exciting way for us to replace the need to make cash or physical payments by automating the entire process — and that is all part of our drive to democratizing access to capital — because financing has often been a barrier to growth for a lot of entrepreneurs in Saudi Arabia.