Keeping tabs on digital payments
Armed with a business degree, Abdulaziz Fahad Al Jouf left for the United States to pursue a second bachelor's degree. He searched for an economical school in the US and landed in Missouri where he studied software engineering at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
During that time, he founded the first of several businesses, starting out as a spice trader, sourcing from India and exporting to the US. A few ventures later, he moved to Hong Kong to launch an e-commerce site that quickly passed the million-dollar mark but faced innumerable operational challenges with logistics and payments. Determined to solve his logistical burden, he returned to Bahrain and started a logistics company to support his e-commerce operations.
But Abdulaziz remained restless and knew there was more to be done on the payments side.
"Realising that millions of business owners in the Mena region like myself also had problems accepting online payments, I decided to take charge to create a solution and exited from both ventures to focus on building a payment gateway. That's how PayTabs was born," explains Abdulaziz, founder and CEO.
PayTabs is a financial technology firm that provides online payment solutions to businesses in more than 17 countries across the Middle East, North Africa and South East Asia.
"We have customised and designed our services specifically to provide secure and flexible solutions to SMEs and large corporations to help them grow their revenue streams sustainably. Our unique technology and exclusive partnerships with fraud prevention systems makes PayTabs a specialist in the field of electronic payments. Our cutting-edge security management layers are certified by Visa and MasterCard," Abdulaziz adds.
PayTabs, a secure online B2B payment solution provider, has witnessed huge demand in the region since its inception in January 2014.
"With booming growth in e-commerce, SMEs and individual merchants were struggling with online payments. This made us expand in the region. Today, PayTabs not only caters to the Middle East but also North Africa and South East Asia, including India," the CEO says.
Abdulaziz says the region has huge potential due to the rise of startups, digital transformation and an e-commerce boom.
"There are encouraging initiatives from the countries to support fintech firms to grow in the region as well as globally," he says.
"The UAE is already a digitally-equipped country with high Internet penetration and many firms offer e-commerce. This creates a huge potential for seamless payments in the market. Despite many competitors, there exists an opportunity for fintech products and services," Abdulaziz explains.
"The Economic Development Board of Bahrain has implemented a number of initiatives to develop the fintech sector such as the launch of a regulatory Sandbox designed to enable innovation within a virtual space that allows fintech companies to test their ideas and solutions. The creation of Startup Bahrain as an overall brand for the startup sector is another example. It is also launching several accelerators and incubators to cater to the demand for digital payments," he continues.
"Saudi Arabia's vision 2030 encompasses many programmes with an embedded digital transformation initiative encouraging firms to go digital. The recent launch of marketplace Noon.com is another example of digital growth in the region," he says.
Vinod Nagar, VP of marketing at PayTabs, says that in line with global trends, fintech has also grown in the region.
"Having said that, we believe there's a gap to be filled. In today's hyperconnected world, SMEs are looking for customised business solutions. At PayTabs, our whole value proposition empowers a merchant to go global. When you talk about global scale, we offer 168+ currencies and alternative payment methods locally and globally. We are in the process of building a better checkout flow which will offer a seamless experience. Security is very critical at PayTabs, hence we have an advanced fraud management system in place, with the highest level of PCI-DSS compliance. Apart from systems, we have a dedicated dispute resolution team along with 24-hour customer support," Vinod elaborates.
Comparing today's situation to four years ago when he started his venture, Abdulaziz says: "The environment for startups is favourable as long as you've the right support from the government to operate in the region. I can see how governments are supporting startups with the right environment."
He recalls that establishing PayTabs was a challenge at the start. "It's a tough game especially when you are one of the firsts and your main suppliers are financial institutes who perceive you as a competitor. Secondly, raising funds was a very hard task because investors at the time were not entirely aware of what fintech was," Abdulaziz says.
With an expansion plan extending to 20+ markets in the next two years, PayTabs recently raised $20 million.
"The investment will support PayTabs' expansion in the Mena, Southeast Asia, India and several countries within Africa and Europe. Additionally, PayTabs will invest in new product development such as digital payments to support our current and future customers. PayTabs will also engage in key strategic acquisitions to further expand our portfolio of products and services," Abdulaziz discloses.
"It was clear in 2014 when we met PayTabs that the online payment industry in the region was fragmented and unprepared for the anticipated growth in e-commerce. Abdulaziz Al Jouf, a serial entrepreneur, had assembled an excellent team with proprietary technology to fill this market gap. With the initial investment from Saudi Aramco Entrepreneurship Ventures, PayTabs scaled its online payment service, while tailoring it to the needs of this region, and today, the company has a global solution offering 168+ currency options and operates in 17+ countries," says Trey Goede of Saudi Aramco Entrepreneurship Ventures Co Ltd (Wa'ed Ventures).
Talking about his future plans, Abudulaziz says the industry needs innovation and more solutions to cater to the needs of businesses.
"We have an event management solution ready to take off. We have also lined up end-to-end payment solutions focusing on schools and universities," he says.
Abdulaziz believes PayTabs will be a global player in the payment domain within a few years.
"Our immediate goal is to become one of the largest fintech global processing companies to come out of the Arab region. Long term? We want to be accessible to everyone around the world. We are here to craft a global payment processor that has a special emphasis on local culture," he concludes.
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