Instant digital payments are what UAE consumers want, whether that's for their shopping or other needs. With Aani, UAE is opening up digital payment options. Whether it's peer-to-peer or for a service rendered by a business. Image Credit: WAM

Dubai: UAE consumers – the Gen Zs, Millennials and older ones alike - are moving away from cash. Big businesses already use digital means to settle transactions.

The need now is for the UAE’s sizeable base of SMEs to speed up on their switch from cash to digital payments. This is where the recently introduced ‘Aani’ payment platform comes in.

And where the payments can be done instantly – and without bothering about the IBAN number and other details. And conduct payments of up Dh50,000 – instantly.

“While existing debit and credit card infrastructure serves many well in the UAE, there are examples - like low value payments - where people still prefer cash,” said Jan Pilbauer, CEO of Al Etihad Payments, which operates Aani and is part of UAE Central Bank.

“Out of nearly 600,000 SMEs, only just under one-fifth currently accept cards,” said Pilbauer. (In other words, that’s still a sizeable 480,000 odd small businesses that are sticking to cash ways to settle their transactions.)

“Aani will change this - it will cater to specific needs of SMEs, including invoicing, payroll management, and access to financing, thereby facilitating smoother business operations,” said the CEO.

Aani was launched in October last, and has been gaining some serious take up rates with individuals and businesses. Last week, Dubai-based fintech Astra Tech – which owns Botim voice app – tied up with Al Etihad Payments to offer Aani features to users. (Aani is available on the PayBy feature on the Botim app.)

What exactly does Aani offer?

Aani allows payments with just the recipient's mobile number or Emirates ID. “It eliminates the need for complex identifiers like IBANs, making it more accessible to even those without a traditional bank account but using digital wallets or salary cards,” said Pilbauer.

Moreover, thanks to Aani’s QR code capability, we will enable hundreds of thousands of UAE’s businesses to accept payments easily by printing a QR code on a piece of paper or generating it on their smartphone or online store.

The QR codes makes it easier to do those cashless payments at merchants. “Our key use cases include person-to-person (P2P) transactions,” said Pilbauer. “For individuals, Aani's inclusive features empower users by providing an user-friendly platform, encouraging even those with limited exposure to digital transactions to participate.”

Beyond this, Aani allows proxy payments, request-to-pay, and even a feature to split bills. 

We anticipate a gradual transition of low-ticket cash transactions to Aani

- Jan Pilbauer of Al Etihad Payments

Will the Dh50,000 limit be raised?

There could ‘potentially’ be an increasing of the current limit of Dh50,000 in a ‘phased approach’, according to the CEO. As happened in other jurisdictions that implemented real-time payments,” he added.

Raising that limit will also prove handy for SMEs, especially when it comes to B2B transactions they may enter into.

UAE's digital payment ambitions
Aani is part of the UAE’s first 'Domestic Card Scheme' to supports the economy's digitisation agenda, and helps reduce the cost of payment transactions.

More features coming up

Next year, the plans to introduce additional features such as electronic mandates for direct debits and claim processing, and ‘fully digital e-cheques’. The latter feature too will play well with Aani’s growing business user base.

“Our primary focus in 2024 is to extend the reach of Aani to everyone in the UAE by onboarding more licensed financial institutions (LFIs), enabling more merchants and other businesses to accept Aani payments,” said Pilbauer. “And of course enroll more end-users.

“In a very secure way, it allows consumers and businesses to make payments transactions between traditional bank accounts, digital wallets and even salary cards.

“That removes a lot of friction from the national payment system. With Aani, nobody needs to worry about ‘how’ they will be able to pay, they can only focus on ‘how much’ they must pay for the services or goods they want.

“It further levels the playing field among all the licensed financial institutions, as it does not matter if you have a bank account or a digital wallet.”

With PayBy driving Botim's financial transactions, surpassing 2 billion transactions recently, this collaboration aligns perfectly with our vision for the Botim 'ultra' app

- Abdallah Abu Sheikh, CEO and founder of Astra Tech and Botim after the Aani tie up