Don’t blink: UAE going 24/7/365 with an instant payment platform (IPP)
“Your transaction cannot be processed until the next working day.” A typical statement that your bank may send your business every time a form of payment is made on a weekend.
The bank is closed, and you’re just not sure whether the payment you sent or the one you expect to receive has been processed in the proper accounts payable or receivable. You’ll have to wait till Monday unless Monday is a holiday.
Well, wait no more. Countries, businesses, and consumers are fast moving past the days when this was acceptable, if not inevitable. Not today. Not in these times. Welcome to real-time payments. Any day. Any time. Done deals and no excuses.
“The UAE is close to creating an instant payment platform, and with it opening a new world of fintech opportunities,” Santhosh Rao, SVP MEASA at ACI Worldwide, told EME in an exclusive interview.
What’s an instant payment platform (IPP)
All of us today are familiar with IBAN, PayPal, financial services organizations, and currency transfer companies, where billions in fiat flows happen every day.
“These services are mostly settled in nearly real-time. An IPP is a digital infrastructure that facilitates real-time payments and is available 24 x 7 x 365. It’s always online, including weekends and holidays, for individuals and businesses alike. It’s game-changing,” Rao explained.
“With IPP, we have instant information about payments, like bills, a corporate disbursement, or a refund that one wants. It differs from credit card payments in that those can take 12 to 24 hours to be reflected when payments are made outside of business hours.”
And it’s not just that. When closed, banks are unable to conduct KYC procedures to authorize payments. With IPP, the infrastructure is there, in place, on the ready 24/7/365 and instantly.
ACI Worldwide and the region
ACI Worldwide has been in payments since 1975 and in the Middle East for 30+ years, working with 32 banks, across 9 countries in the region with a primary focus on Saudi and the UAE.
“We serve in 87 countries and around 100 banks globally. The UAE government has been focused on payment modernization and infrastructure that allows you to do an IPP. And for this to work, it has to be driven from the top down,” Rao indicated.
India’s IPP called Unified Payment Interface (UPI), for example, powers multiple bank accounts into a single mobile application.
“When an IPP is regulatory-driven by the highest financial authorities like the Central Bank and the MOF, then comes the infrastructure that brings all of these parties together, allowing instant transactions between that country’s subscribing banks, and what we call ‘any to any’,” Rao detailed.
“When the whole ecosystem becomes part of it, then you have market forces that allow you to embark on it, and the platform becomes ‘many to many’ as more and more adoption takes place.”
The compulsive regulatory part follows, meaning rules for transferring monies, KYC, availability of funds, and proper transactions at both sides of the equation.
“This is the cheapest form of transfers. We currently support around 17 real-time domestic schemes around the world, including Indonesia which we just launched, where we brought the central bank live in under 9 months,” Rao revealed.
Fees and fintech
“Payments and transfers won’t cost users money, but banks will add value-added services that would cost a fee to activate,” Rao said.
As such, banks will invest in IPP to modernize legacy systems, all within expected ROI periods, but key financial players will start to see the benefits of providing value-add services on top of that.
“This is where financial innovations find room to roam. Here we talk about fintech and open banking where speed, service availability, and security come into play to attract customers to what are the best products on offer that digitizes their financial lives, easily and promptly,” Rao said.
He added that UAE’s IPP is expected to launch at end of this year, or the early part of 2023, “but we are there, in terms of our ability to service. Our R&D is complete.”
Where does cryptocurrency figure in this?
Don’t online crypto exchanges do the same thing as IPPs, i.e. real-time, minor fees, and 24/7/365?
“It’s surely another form of real-time payment, but there are essential differences between it and a real-time payment network,” RAO began.
“Today there are CBDCs in the works and many countries have yet to launch a regulatory framework for crypto. And while the UAE established VARA (virtual asset regulatory authority) in February of this year, it is the exception, not the rule.”
Essentially, what RAO is saying is that in countries where a crypto regulatory framework doesn’t exist, people are not just exposed to risks but also the crypto entity is free to charge any fees it wishes.
“There are safety policies coming into place for crypto payments. We are investing in that area as well. We have to be at the top end of the value chain and we are making moves in that space,” Rao shared.
Billions in transactions and millions in savings
In its Prime Time for Real-Time, ACI Worldwide included an economic impact study, providing a comprehensive view of the economic benefits of real-time payments for consumers, businesses, and the broader economy across 30 countries, including Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, early adopters (regionally) of real-time payments.
Here are some key findings:
- In 2021, 175 million real-time transactions were made in Saudi Arabia, translating to an estimated cost saving of $23 million for businesses and consumers, which helped unlock $166 million of additional economic output. These figures are projected to reach $109 million and $267 million respectively by 2026.
- Saudi’s 2021 real-time transactions reached $75.5 bn, and in 2026, at CAGR 45%, they will arrive at $476.7 bn.
In the UAE, it’s still to go for real-time transactions but projections for 2026 are at $96 bn with a CAGR of 40%.
- In 2021, 142 million real-time transactions were made, translating to estimated costs saving of $39 million for businesses and consumers, helping unlock $246 million of additional economic output. These figures are projected to reach $208 million and $310 million respectively by 2026.
- The value of 2021 transactions reached $11.9 bn and by 2026, at 39% CAGR, they will attain $60.6 bn.
- Real-time payments currently account for 34.2% of all payment volumes in Bahrain and are projected to account for the large majority (70.6%) by 2026.
Security comes with any new innovation and real-time payments is no exception.
“We’ve specialized in payments for a very long time. We see fraudsters applying confidence tricks with Phishing and social engineering. We apply a multi-layered, enterprise fraud prevention,” Rao assured. “A multi-layered fraud prevention approach should include the following areas: machine learning (ML), behavioral biometric capabilities, predictive analytics, and expertly defined rules.”
“We create and maintain ML models and adopt a patented ACI network intelligence approach towards which banks can scale to address the risks,” Rao said.
“Fraudsters can be beaten. Real-time is modernization from legacy systems. We gain much richer data from the payment and data analytics when going real-time.”