The payment solutions market has seen many significant shifts in the past few years. With the rise of eCommerce and internet protection — coupled with the impact of COVID-19 — more businesses and consumers are turning to cashless and contactless methods. Sustainability and the demand for improved financial inclusion are also driving meaningful changes. In this feature, we gain insights into how Visa is pioneering transformative initiatives in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region.
We talk to Dr. Saeeda Jaffar, senior vice president and group country manager of Visa GCC, as she delves into the trends, challenges and innovations that are steering the future of finance in the region.
Economy Middle East: As the year draws to a close, and you look back to 2023, what do you consider to be the key factors that made an impact across key GCC markets?
Dr. Saeeda Jaffar: As 2023 concludes, key trends have shaped the payment landscape in GCC markets. The surge in eCommerce and the extensive use of contactless payments (96 percent of face-to-face transactions) positioned the GCC as a leader in contactless payments.
Moreover, the growing interest in installment solutions reflects consumer efforts to manage budgets and afford larger purchases. Our upcoming Visa Installment Solution targets the retail market. This provides flexibility and convenience for Visa credit cardholders to make installment payments in both online and in-store transactions.
Addressing the increasing demand for sustainable financial practices, the emergence of green payments is noteworthy. We are launching the Eco Benefits Bundle, a groundbreaking climate banking platform in collaboration with ecolytiq and Mashreq. This innovative solution integrates eco-friendly features into card payments, enabling users to track their environmental impact and contribute to carbon offset initiatives.
Lastly, consumers increasingly seek personalized financial services, leading the industry toward individualized offerings. This shift is influenced by the emergence of open banking. And we, at Visa, have partnered with Tarabut Gateway to introduce new products and solutions using open banking capabilities.
Economy Middle East: Looking ahead, will inflation continue to be a challenge in 2024?
Dr. Saeeda Jaffar: The UAE Central Bank has lowered its projections of inflation for 2023 from 3.1 percent to 2.8 percent, which is set to slow down further to 2.6 percent. This reflects lower transportation and food prices. However, interest rates remain high and are subject to further revisions, which translates to higher interest for loans, mortgages, credit cards and so on. This is where financial literacy plays a prominent role in aiding consumers’ budgeting and costing for the year.
We believe everyone has the right to access basic financial services. And so cashless and contactless payment methods and digital wallets are enabling this empowerment.
Economy Middle East: What key payment trends does Visa see emerging next year, especially in the GCC region?
Dr. Saeeda Jaffar: In 2024, credit cards and digital wallets are expected to remain popular for online transactions, reflecting eCommerce’s continued growth. Installment payments like Buy Now Pay Later will rise. The majority of consumers in key GCC markets — the UAE (75 percent), Saudi Arabia (78 percent) and Qatar (66 percent) — are already aware of the service. About a third in each country has been using BNPL.
Frictionless, real-time payments are expected to grow in demand as expectations for seamless payments – whether peer-to-peer, business-to-consumer or cross-border – increase. With Visa Direct, we are improving the speed, convenience and security of sending and receiving payments.
The payment industry anticipates a transformation through artificial intelligence and deep learning, delivering value for customers, banks and merchants. A crucial aspect is enhancing fraud prevention and risk mitigation.
In the Middle East, though cryptocurrency use cases are evolving, strong interest among central banks is observed, exploring the potential of Central Bank Digital Currency. For instance, the UAE Central Bank recently launched the CBDC Digital Dirham strategy.
Economy Middle East: Gaps in financial inclusion have been a subject of discussion among stakeholders in the industry. What are your thoughts on this?
Dr. Saeeda Jaffar: Recognizing the existing gaps in financial inclusion and the imperative to address them, Visa has proactively engaged with governments, banks, merchants and fintech entities to provide financial inclusion to numerous people across the globe.
Visa has played a pivotal role in empowering SMBs with cost-effective acceptance solutions like Tap to Phone, Rapid Merchant and Click to Pay. Our commitment to inclusivity is also seen in initiatives supporting women entrepreneurs, such as the She’s Next Grant Program, with grants totaling $360,000 this year. Additionally, we’ve partnered with Dubai Holding to aid blue-collar workers in managing their finances. Visa also invests in educational campaigns and partnerships to promote safe, responsible use of digital payments.
Economy Middle East: What are your key takeaways from the recent FII Summit?
Dr. Saeeda Jaffar: The recent FII Summit was a call to leaders across the globe to ponder on the challenges of humanity. Financial inclusion, converting from cash to cashless and digital payment methods impact people remarkably. At Visa, we accelerate innovation in digital payment with solutions that create a frictionless experience, in transport, remittance and retail, including other sectors. We value collaboration between governments, financial institutions, merchants and fintechs, to foster economic growth and financial inclusion in the GCC and proudly align with the goals of the FII Summit.
Economy Middle East: Visa has pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2040. What initiatives have you implemented to reach this target? How can the finance industry in the GCC contribute to regional sustainability?
Dr. Saeeda Jaffar: Sustainability has gained significant traction in financial services over the last few years, driven by stakeholders including governments and regulators, investors and global momentum built by COP28.
Visa has committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2040, building on its carbon-neutral status since 2020. Some of our key initiatives include the introduction of Visa Eco Benefits, allowing customers to calculate their transactional carbon footprint. Additionally, the Visa Foundation granted a $250,000 fund to Emirates Nature-WWF for environmental conservation in the UAE. Our latest Sustainable Commerce Study in the GCC revealed that half of surveyed consumers are aware of climate change as a leading challenge, with 67 percent believing sustainable payment options can impact carbon emissions. Nearly 8 out of 10 also claimed that stricter laws and regulations are necessary.
About Dr. Saeeda Jaffar, senior vice president & group country manager – GCC, Visa
Dr. Saeeda Jaffar serves as the senior vice president & group country manager for the Gulf Cooperation Council at Visa. With over two decades of experience, she spearheads the company’s growth in the region by fostering strategic partnerships with financial institutions, governments and key clients.
Over the past 20 years, she has worked across the Middle East, Europe and the U.S. Notably, she was the managing director at Alvarez & Marsal ME, a leading turnaround and restructuring firm. Additionally, she took on leadership roles at McKinsey & Company and Bain & Company. Currently, she also sits as a member of the Board of Trustees at Kuwait University.
Dr. Jaffar earned her bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering from Boston University, graduating valedictorian. She obtained her master’s and doctorate degrees in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She gained it through the HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum EDAAD Scholarship.
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