The pandemic has accelerated existing digital trends in the payments industry. Has PayTabs, as both a Saudi and a global player, seen a rise in volumes as a result of COVID-19?
Digital payments have been soaring. Our numbers jumped by almost 300% in those four months during COVID-19; however, the dynamics of the business have also changed. Travel used to represent 30% of our business, and that revenue went down to zero. Business also fell for the big retailers in the region, because they were not ready for the digital transition. They were trying to move online in such a short time, and they did not have the infrastructure or the capacity to support the transition. It was a tough challenge for those retailers to move, but some of them were smart and started to build digital partnerships and find digital channels for growth. Another trend we observed is SMEs in all sectors disappearing in large numbers. We have also started to see businesses online that previously did not exist, for example food delivery, private yoga classes, and online education and tutoring services. The education sector went from 1-2% of our volume contribution to 20%. In April-May, we saw a 400% increase in the food industry payment space because people were getting tired of cooking at home. Now, in 4Q2020 we are starting to see airlines and retailers pick up pace again.
What large-scale patterns have you seen in terms of overall revenue versus the volume of individual transactions being made?
I have not seen the patterns change much in terms of revenue, which has largely stayed flat. But we had a 300% increase in the number of merchants requesting our payment solutions. For example, before the pandemic we were receiving around 1,000 requests per month from merchants wanting to go online, and during the pandemic this number went up to approximately 3,500-3,700. We have more payment clients, but revenue has remained relatively flat. These clients will stay on after the pandemic and continue transacting on our platform as the pre-pandemic sectors start to revive.
PayTabs has a presence in Southeast Asia, which is not typical for Saudi payment start-ups. Have you seen regional differences?
We have not seen much change; however, PayTabs does a great deal of offline, point of sale (POS), technology-based solutions/business in Southeast Asia, more so than online, so we were affected in those countries. In Africa and northern Egypt, the market is extremely saturated. The electronic wallet business has just taken off in Egypt. In the last four months, 9 million new users created their own electronic wallets in the digital space in Egypt. This creates a huge new user base, and the challenge now is to persuade merchants to accept those digital payment schemes.
How is PayTabs' business in the GCC different compared to other parts of the world?
PayTabs is a payment processing company—that is our core, and we have built bi-products around our platform. We are looking more dynamically into what is needed in specific markets. Having one type of business in the GCC and another elsewhere really comes down to the business culture and needs in the different markets. For example, the payments market is new in Africa, and there is a need to bring in more automation into payment processing. It is more about increasing the levels of adoption and getting people into online business without many transactions happening yet. Even in the GCC region, the UAE and Saudi are different. 90% of people do online shopping in the UAE compared to 40% in Saudi before the pandemic. In Southeast Asia, our business is focused more on POS, switching, and being the back office for the banks. In the GCC, we are at the front-end of the business and we do online processing and everything through the payment chain. In Egypt and North Africa, we support more in terms of global payment processing with various currencies.
Where do you see the most growth coming from in the future among those regions and where has PayTabs been focused recently?
It is more a case of where we want to see our short-term return on investment and where we want to invest significantly. North Africa is not somewhere where one expects to see a return on investment quickly. Southeast Asia is picking up now, especially in the Philippines, India, Singapore, and Malaysia, where the online markets are growing significantly. In the UAE, the payments space has reached maturity. The Saudi market is moving in the same direction as Southeast Asia. ✖