Digital's gaining... And cash is in retreat. Online payment ways will continue on its exponential growth as contactless transactions go mainstream. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: It helps being relatively small... or even mid-sized.

As high as 97 per cent of the UAE's SMEs (small and medium enterprises) were quick to deploy new digital technologies - including on payments - to meet "changing consumer behaviours". That's against the global average of 83 per cent in take-up rates in the 12 months that COVID-19 reshaped the way lives are led and businesses operate.

That's according to a new study from Visa, done at the end of last year. As for this year, UAE SMEs' priorities are all about assessing "what other payment technologies are critical to meeting consumer expectations". Security and fraud protection topped the priority list and was followed by allowing installments for online payments.

SME Take-up Rates (Visa)
Despite all their cost concerns and future prospects, SMEs in the UAE did commit to making significant investments in digital enabling tools. More so as they found their customers were already making the transition. Image Credit: Supplied

"Our report suggests that these trends will continue to prevail in 2021, even as the vaccines become more widely available in the country and the wider region," said Shahebaz Khan, General Manager for the UAE at Visa. "We believe 2021 will... trial of more emerging digital commerce tools that can help SMEs thrive.”

The third in the series, the Visa Back to Business Study – 2021 Outlook was also conducted in Brazil, Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Russia, Singapore, and US.


Of all markets surveyed, the percentage of UAE consumers least likely to plan to shop more in-person. That compares to 53 per cent globally even after a vaccine is widely available

Priority points

What SMEs will find more of in 2021:

Contactless payments

By June 2020, 44 per cent of UAE’s SMEs surveyed were offering contactless payment for the first time. The same proportion say they are doing it more often, and of those, 73 per cent plan to continue doing it over the next three months. Over four in five of these businesses surveyed expect consumers to continue preferring contactless payments even after a vaccine is widely available.

Meeting consumers

In the UAE, 97 per cent of SME owners updated operations in the past three months to meet the new demands for digital payments, up from 94 per cent in Summer 2020.

Take on fraud

At 94 per cent, SMBs in the UAE are the second most likely of all markets surveyed after Hong Kong (96 per cent) to have encountered customer concerns about fraud over their new use of technology (compared to 70 per cent globally). 

Customer choices
Consumers put COVID-19 safety measures at the top of their to-do lists, thus fast-tracking touch-less commerce. Seventy-seven per cent of UAE consumers (compared to 65 per cent globally) surveyed would prefer to use contactless payments as much as or even more. And in the last quarter of 2020, 62 per cent of consumers used contactless payments whenever possible.