'Bridg'ing the electronic payments gap
The author's shorthand for Happiness Index, Infrastructure, Talent, Regulations, Access and Capital. The six pillars that make UAE a great place for a startup. This week, the focus is on Access. The story is about a Palestinian entrepreneur, brought up in Dubai, who saw the potential for mobile payments in the Middle East based on an assignment with a telecom joint venture in India.
Recently, the UAE Central Bank issued regulatory framework for stored value and electronic payment systems. A review of the framework indicates some of the new opportunities for payment enterprises.
Compared to most advanced markets, the availability of electronics payments terminals is not as ubiquitous in the UAE. Although Dubai has a fairly high level of coverage, there is opportunity to further penetrate electronic payments in the other areas. One of the key challenges is the current form factor for acceptance of card-based electronic payments. The terminals used for accepting such payments require investment, maintenance and running costs. The business case does not always stack up well for smaller merchants.
Take just cash-on-delivery for e-commerce as an example. The size of this market is over $5 billion in the UAE alone and over $12.5 billion in the Middle East (derived from Payfort's State of the Industry Report 2016).
However, most enterprises in the e-commerce related business find it difficult to provide a payment terminal to each of the delivery staff. A number of solutions to this problem are being evaluated by entities in the payments domain. One of these which stands out for innovation and getting the job done is Bridg.
Moussa Beidas is the co-founder and CEO of Bridg (www.bridgtheapp.com). Beidas is a design consultant by profession. He played a key role in designing the user-experience and branding for the Tata Telecom and NTT Docomo joint venture in India. While working on the Tata Docomo project, Beidas noted two critical data points. Although there were hundreds of millions of mobile phone users in India, there was almost no penetration of the mobile payments opportunity. The current wave of mobile payments players had not hit India as yet. The second observation was that almost 50-per cent of the smart phones had no data connectivity.
The story of infrastructure not keeping up with consumer aspirations and adoption is being repeated all across the Middle East and South Asia.
Digging in to his design-thinking skills, Beidas realised that the mobile money solutions that have seen wide adoption in Africa may not suit the Middle Eastern market. Instead, a smarter and more aspirational experience would be required - a solution that leveraged the smart aspect of mobile phones without the need for data connectivity.
Beidas and his co-founder, Nadim Jarudi, came up with the concept of an app that could securely communicate payment credentials from one phone to another using Bluetooth technology. This communication protocol is pervasive and operating system agnostic. More importantly, it does not require data connectivity for both the devices. Using a patent-pending protocol developed by the company, only one device needs to be connected. Quite aptly, the application is called Bridg.
Another key result of Beidas's design-thinking is that user adoption in this space has been driven best by merchants. For example, the Starbucks mobile payments app is responsible for over 25 per cent of the in-store transactions in the United States. Starbucks is estimated to sit on a float balance of $1.2 billion on its loyalty cards and apps.
Multiple industry reports have pointed out the superior numbers of the Starbucks-driven initiative versus other better known phone operating system-based payment platforms.
Consequently, by focusing on merchants, Bridg has not had to spend a single dollar on marketing the Bridg to end-users. Merchants immediately see the benefit and they in turn get their customers to download the app.
A typical delivery transaction is completed in a matter of seconds. The delivery rider and the end-customer access the app on their respective phones at the point of order fulfillment. The customer sees the amount to be paid and agrees to have his or her card charged for the amount. Usually, the customer would already have securely added their card details and made it available in the app.
A third area that the team looked at while designing the solution was to avoid involvement in the part of the transaction that is best managed by regulated entities.
This takes away the requirement for building technology that is anyway better handled by payment processing companies and banks themselves.
Clearly, the time for solutions like the Bridg app has come. Beidas is seeing enthusiastic take-up from the merchant community for both the branded Bridg app as well as high levels of interest for the white-label version. This view has been endorsed by 500 Startups and Turn8. Turn8 is a startup venture fund initiated by DP World. The associated venture host is The Cribb, based in Al Quoz, Dubai.
Bridg is now going in for a pre-series A round of funding to support its expansion plans.
The writer is a director at Vyashara. He's a digital banking and digital financial services evangelist, practitioner, advisor and consultant. Views expressed are his own and do not reflect the newspaper's policy. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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