Shiraz Ali explains AFS’ expansion into fintech services.
When did AFS first become involved in fintech?
We delved into fintech in 2016 – a time when Bahrain’s fintech ecosystem promoted strategic collaboration between banks and fintech developers to adopt innovative solutions and the regulatory environment was encouraging innovation. That year, we refreshed AFS’ business strategy in light of the paradigm shift in the payments industry and in anticipation of the emergence and uptake of mobile payments.
What form did this take?
We began by introducing Bahrain’s first tap-and-pay mobile payment solution in 2017. Following this, we introduced bwallet in 2018 — the first mobile wallet in Bahrain to facilitate peer-to-peer money transfers; the first cloud-based financial offering in Bahrain and the first product to offer electronic KYC (You’re your Customer) service. Today, bwallet is an award-winning mobile payments solution, with a significant user and merchant footprint. We are also expanding into other geographies with our wallet offering.
We also took the lead in contributing to the financial inclusion strategy of the government of Bahrain. Our Digital Payroll Programme benefits employers and employees, giving the unbanked access to digital financial products. Our Digital Banking offering empowers banks, taking their business further in the digital space. AFS’ X Border Remittance allows our customers to send and receive global remittances digitally.
Can you explain how bwallet, one of the most popular services in Bahrain, was developed?
AFS led the way in Bahrain’s mobile wallet and payments space, positively disrupting the market when we introduced bwallet.
We scanned the environment and conducted extensive market research, ultimately selecting both the best product and best-fitting provider to partner with. We expanded the fintech arena by introducing non-banking players into the market. This was the first partnership between a financial services provider and a telco for digital wallet in Bahrain.
What is the current growth rate on bwallet and what are future plans?
We have received an overwhelmingly positive response. Tens of thousands of people joined the bwallet family in its first year. Transaction volumes are exponentially increasing and AFS is committed to building awareness around the opportunities and potential of a digital cashless society. We also expanded the merchant acceptance ecosystem – merchants accepting bwallet today span a broad spectrum of industries including hospitals, hotels, schools, retail outlets and more. We have plans to add many innovative and exciting value-added services to bwallet system in 2019.