Payments, Past, Present and Pending

Samer Soliman, CEO of Arab Financial Services (AFS) gives us his perspective on the regional payments scene from his position in Bahrain, detailing the changes and developments in this vital industry sector and what can be expected in the future.

After almost forty years of AFS providing payment services, tell us what you believe have been the real gamechangers in payments technology?  

It is undeniable that the payments business is a dynamic, continually evolving industry and the pace of change over the last 40 years has been incredible. We’ve moved from the traditional paper-based payments to a faster, more secure digital infrastructure.

In that timeframe some of the initial and most notable advances centered on payment security with the adoption of Chip and Pin for F2F payments, contactless and tokenization to name a few. As time went on more and more new players entered the industry competing with traditional retail banks and as the digital transformation that AFS is currently leading within the region developed, we are now on the cusp of a growth in cloud-based payments and payments across the metaverse. In my view the pace of change within the industry will continue on an ever-increasing upward trajectory, always with the end user customer’s needs at the forefront of further market evolution.

How have landmark shifts in payments, like the adoption of Digital Wallets changed how AFS does business? 

There is no one thing that affects the manner in which AFS conducts itself or does business with our diverse range of customers. Since I was appointed CEO of AFS, my management team and I have embarked upon a mission to be the lead player in digitizing payment processing across the MENA region, and every part of everything we now do is based upon using the latest technology aligned to our innovative and flexible approach to business, to satisfy all of our customer’s needs.  The recent launch of the AFS BPay application is one example of this.

What benefits and services does the AFS BPay app offer?

BPay is AFS’s new digital wallet and upcoming payments super app offering. Owned and operated by AFS, BPay is a secure, easy-to-use and fully featured payments app that is part of a Kingdom-wide initiative to make Bahrain cashless and supports the Kingdom of Bahrain’s government initiatives to drive digital transformation.

BPay enables consumers, merchants, and corporations to make and receive their payments in an easy, fast and secure way via their smartphones instead of cash. BPay exists to be the first-choice digital payments, commerce and financial services app offering instant, global and local payment solutions that all consumers and businesses can partake in to serve their everyday needs while supporting new entrants into the mainstream economy.

Users can use BPay to purchase goods or services, to send and receive money peer-to-peer (P2P), store money for when they need it, store credentials for various payment instruments securely and digitally, remit money (send money internationally), pay bills, use value-added services and more. Customer identity and electronic transactions are secured through eKYC, encryption, tokenization and various authentication and authorization methods.

The service is available via smartphone applications for consumers, web portals and directly integrated into Point of Sale (PoS) terminals – for efficient, convenient use.

AFS is based in Bahrain, which is known for its forward-thinking regulatory environment. Has this been an advantage to your business, and if so, how?   

Regulation and governance are key to AFS (and other payments players) initiating transformative change. At AFS we have the latest technology and payments data to use insights to craft more intuitive, integrated, and productive payments experiences. However, we don’t believe this is enough! That’s why at AFS we are committed to bringing key stakeholders directly into the innovation process.

Our focus is on collaborations and partnerships for co-creation of tomorrow’s solutions. This includes regulators, and AFS has always been committed to a strong partnership with its regulators. We are very fortunate in Bahrain to have a very forward-thinking and dynamic regulatory environment which supports and drives innovation in the payments space.

The Central Bank of Bahrain (CBB) has played a key role in supporting AFS and our vision of the future of payments, which is aligned with theirs alongside our shared objectives for cashless societies. That’s why we see the relationship between AFS and the CBB as a partnership for sustainable and positive growth that will help us deliver on the transformation we are gearing up for as we co-create and deliver on a broader vision of payments for the Kingdom of Bahrain and the wider MEA region.

What do think will be the next gamechanger in payments and finance? 

I expect Open Banking, embedded payments and Digital Currency to emerge as exciting developments for the industry, but the one thing I am absolutely certain about is that the payments ecosystem will continue to evolve exponentially.