Select, send - With these new fintech solutions in the UAE, you don't need to share complex bank details, carry physical cash around or wait for an interbank transfer for local money transactions. All you need to do is register using your Emirates ID and proof of address Image Credit: Shutterstock

Dubai: As easy as sending a text – this is what fintech solutions based in the UAE are promising residents when it comes to money transfers. All you need is a phone contact to send, receive or request money – as long as the second party also uses the platform.

As for new business owners, these UAE-based fintech companies also offer quick ways to get paid by customers – even through social media.

Money transfer and utility payments

Mamo, a platform created by Dubai residents, is one such company. The flagship product of Mamo, the Mamo Pay, is a payment solution for personal and business money transactions, giving users the ability to instantly send, receive, and request money from their phone contacts. The app also allows utility bill payments, like Etisalat or Du.

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In October, Mamo received a full ‘Provision of Money Services’ licence by the Dubai Financial Services Authority (DFSA), along with regulatory approval to operate from Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC). The licence enables Mamo to carry out the regulated activity of providing money services.

Former Google colleagues, Mamo co-founders Asim Janjua [L] and Imad Gharazeddine [R] shared an apartment in Dubai. It was during this time that the duo realised that the market needed a fintech solution that would allow easy money transfers and payments.

Banked or unbanked

A second homegrown firm making progress in this field is Ziina – and this platform can also be used by residents who do not have a bank account. However, utility payments through Ziina are still a work in progress.

Faisal Toukan, co-founder and CEO at Ziina, told Gulf News, “We recognize that everyone needs to send and receive payments – this need is not limited to certain demographics, age groups, or customer profiles. With Ziina, all you need is an Emirates ID, and you do not need access to a bank account.

“The Ziina app can be used to collect or send payments using your Ziina balance, Apple Pay, Google Pay, Visa, Mastercard, and international cards as well.”

Stock - Credit card
These apps can link with your bank accounts and credit or debit cards as required to enable payments

On Ziina, your Emirates ID and proof of address can get you started. Same goes for Mamo, but users must have a bank account, at least for now. Mamo’s Janjua said, “We will be extending the service to users who don’t have bank accounts, especially now that Mamo has been given the regulatory greenlight by the DFSA with the upcoming launch of our Mamo Card.”

PayBy is yet another payment solution that caters to residents’ money transfer needs. It even enables automatic splitting and payment of bills with your friends. In an example of how a platform like this could aid customers in day-to-day transactions, more than 6,000 vehicles in Abu Dhabi’s public taxi fleet accept cashless fare payments through PayBy. PayBy also caters to customers who may not have bank accounts in a collaboration with uPay terminals across UAE.

Residents may have seen PayBy on their VoIP platforms such as BOTIM and Totok. PayBy allows direct P2P transfers between contacts using the chatrooms on these platforms.

Payments for small businesses

These firms also cater to a key category in the UAE – small and medium entrepreneurs.

In e-commerce, customers do not appreciate cumbersome payment procedures and it can be a deal breaker for most. Bank-based payment solutions can be expensive for small business owners to set up, so companies like Mamo and Ziina have easy payment platforms for them.

“Mamo provides businesses, specifically SMEs and startups the ability to collect and disburse payments through features like payment links, QR payments and invoices. These can be single payments or recurring payments. Mamo Pay for Business also provides the ability for businesses to pay their vendors and suppliers all through a centralized and dedicated Mamo Pay for Business dashboard,” Janjua explained.

Stock - Ziina's ZiiBoard
For small businesses, Ziina's patent-pending payments keyboard called ZiiBoard allows invoicing and payments within social media pages.

Ziina facilitates business payments through ZiiBoard, a patent-pending payments keyboard. The ZiiBoard allows any customer to generate an invoice without leaving their chat application, such as WhatsApp, Instagram, or Facebook Messenger.

Toukan added, “In our region there’s a massive emphasis on WhatsApp or Instagram as a means of transacting – small businesses often primarily interact with customers on these platforms. We've made it easier for these businesses to streamline their customer interactions by keeping them all in one place – including, or rather especially, payments.”

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Zbooni is another platform specifically targeted at SMEs. It allows sellers to share products and payment links on social media, in exchange for a flat commission on each transaction. Ziina and Mamo also charge businesses rates per transaction (plus a fixed dirham fee in some cases). For personal money transfers the firms have set maximum limits on sent and/or received money via the apps, beyond which transactions are chargeable.

Why the UAE?

KBZ Fintech Abu Dhabi
Ghadan 21, Abu Dhabi's accelerator programme drives the emirate's development through investing in business, innovation and people. At the centre of this initiative is the FinTech Abu Dhabi festival. [Mohammed Ali Al Shorafa, Chairman of Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development, speaks at the fifth edition of Fintech Abu Dhabi (2021)]

As Raja Al Mazrouei, Executive Vice President of the FinTech Hive at the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) put it - the UAE has successfully created a complete ecosystem for companies to grow and thrive.

She told Gulf News in an earlier interview, “We started the first and the largest FinTech accelerator in the region and the main idea was to accelerate start-ups. We said let’s look at the technologies that are evolving everywhere in the world, bring them to Dubai, and engage them with financial institutions and see how receptive these institutions were to these technology companies…”

The pandemic has proven a catalyst for the rise of companies offering money solutions in the UAE, and globally Image Credit: Seyyed Llata/Senior Designer

The DFSA in Dubai issues regulatory licences for such firms, ensuring that the constantly evolving sector is well-regulated and customers stay protected.

Ziina’s Toukan commented, “Dubai and the UAE as a whole is a great choice for upcoming fintech firms. The key differentiator of any company is the quality of teammates they’re able to attract. We were able to assemble a world-class team with backgrounds from Apple, Uber, Coinbase, Nubank, Bain and Co, Careem, Yandex, and more.

Getting a team together from such strong and diverse backgrounds is only possible in a few geographies, and the UAE is one of them.

- Faisal Toukan, co-founder and CEO at Ziina

In Abu Dhabi, under the patronage of Sheikh Khaled bin Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, member of the Executive Council and Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Executive Office, Hub71 was launched in 2019 as a flagship initiative of Ghadan 21, Abu Dhabi's accelerator programme driving the emirate's development through investing in business, innovation and people. The tech-focused ecosystem is based in Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM).

At the centre of this initiative in Abu Dhabi is the FinTech Abu Dhabi festival – a 3-day digital event hosted by ADGM and the Central Bank of UAE. ADGM’s Financial Services Regulatory Authority (FSRA) offers the regulatory framework for companies in the industry.

DFSA ITL licence
When it comes to regulatory support for businesses based in DIFC, DFSA comes in with their own product – the Innovation Testing Licence (ITL).

A firm with the ITL receives, from the DFSA, a restricted financial services licence which will allow it to test its product or service for a period of usually 6 to 12 months.

At the end of the Testing Period, the DFSA does a final analysis of the firm, and its regulatory preparedness to transition to an unrestricted licence. The ITL application fee is US$5,000 (Dh67,344), and does not include other DIFC fees.

COVID-19 was a boost for fintech

The first half of 2020 witnessed the DIFC FinTech Hive triple in size with the opening of a larger space in Gate Avenue supporting start-ups, scale-ups and entrepreneurs. It was clear that the pandemic was a major boost for companies looking to enter or expand into the fintech arena.

Ziina and Mamo founders agreed that the pandemic was a catalyst to the fintech boom around the world.

Janjua added, “COVID-19 was definitely a catalyst for Mamo, especially the Mamo Pay for Business product. We saw a surge in payment link processing especially from SMEs, entrepreneurs and freelancers. It also provided us with exponential growth in how to build and scale a startup during the lockdown period. We had to find ways to collaborate and align while also making sure that our users had a continuation of services.

“Given some of the grim economic signals, we would have expected more drastic reductions in spend. But a sizable number of businesses are maintaining or even increasing their digital payments.”