From Dubai to Riyadh, Buy now, pay later players tackle credit conundrum

The Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) model is transforming the global retail landscape. (AP)
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Updated 26 May 2021

From Dubai to Riyadh, Buy now, pay later players tackle credit conundrum

  • Digital buy now, pay later (BNPL) purchasing is relatively new to the region where consumers have traditionally been skeptical of paying for goods before getting them

DUBAI: Financial technology startups in Saudi Arabia and the UAEoffering online short-term credit say they are enjoying exponential growth as the coronavirus pandemic drives a shift in consumer spending online.
Digital buy now, pay later (BNPL) purchasing is relatively new to the region where consumers have traditionally been skeptical of paying for goods before getting them.
But Saudi Arabian-based Tamara and UAE’s Spotii, Tabby and Postpay all say the take-up has far exceeded initial expectations. And investors are paying attention. Tamara last month raised $110 million in debt and equity, a large amount for an early stage Middle East startup.
This week, Australia’s second biggest BNPL player Zip said it was buying the rest of the shares in Spotii it did not already own for $16 million. Tabby has raised over $30 million including funding from Abu Dhabi state fund Mubadala.
“We’re constantly having to re-forecast our numbers just because we constantly get surprised by the consumer adoption,” Tabby Co-Founder and Chief Executive Hosam Arab told Reuters.
There is no independent data available on the Middle East BNPL market which also includes Shahry in Egypt; all of the companies in the sector are early stage start-ups and many only began operating last year.
In the US, Australia and Europe, BNPL is marketed as an alternative to credit cards. During the pandemic, with consumers conserving cash and seeking alternative methods of borrowing money, the service exploded in popularity.
In the Gulf, BNPL companies present themselves as an alternative to cash on delivery, the most common payment method for online purchases in many Middle East countries, according to a 2018 report by British security firm G4S.
But Anil Malhotra, chief marketing officer of digital payments business Bango, said a cultural challenge for BNPL in the Gulf was to make sure it “doesn’t look or smell like credit.”
Islamic customs prohibit charging interests on loans, which has deterred some Middle East consumers from using credit cards.
Saudi Arabian independent retailer Crate, which introduced Tamara on its website last August, has found that while those checking out with BNPL had become repeat users, most customers preferred to pay by card or cash on delivery.
Half of all purchases are paid with card, while cash on delivery accounts for 40 percent of all online transactions with BNPL making up 10 percent, Chief Executive Rayan Fadul told Reuters.
BNPL is still new to the region’s consumers who are wary of using a product they don’t yet fully understand, he believes.
“They would like to see other people talk about it first and maybe explain to them how easy it is.”
The model varies but BNPL companies typically allow shoppers to pay for purchases in instalments over several weeks or months. Gulf providers do not charge interest and instead earn most revenue by charging merchants fees.
While shoppers can be charged hefty fees if they miss a payment, providers say they cause less financial burden than credit cards. Users can be suspended if they miss a payment.
They also say they help merchants increase sales as shoppers are able to spread out payments over an extended period and allow shoppers to buy products they need.
As BNPL firms generally make money off merchant commissions and late fees, not interest payments, they sidestep the legal definition of credit — and credit laws.
But the sector has come under scrutiny with authorities in Britain and elsewhere reviewing or tightening rules around the industry, with some regulators saying that technology companies offering BNPL should be regulated like ordinary lenders.
It’s not clear how Middle East regulators plan to react. The financial authorities in Saudi Arabia and the UAE did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.
“This is credit and if credit is mismanaged, either by the lender or borrower, bad things happen,” Citi Global Head of Banking Research Ronit Ghose told Reuters.
Tamara, which is in Saudi and the UAE, says it has signed up over 1,000 merchants and that transaction volume has been increasing 170 percent month-on-month. Spotii, available in Saudi, UAE, Bahrain and Oman, has 650 merchants on its platform and has seen transaction volume rise at an average of 90 percent month-on-month since it launched last year, according to Zip.
Postpay, Spotii, Tabby and Tamara all say they plan to expand to other markets soon.
As the impact of the pandemic diminishes, investors also see an opportunity for BNPL firms to take more business at the shop till in the Middle East.
“We think physical point of sale will play a very big role in the future of BNPL in this part of the world,” said Eslam Darwish, partner at Dubai-based venture capital firm Global Ventures which has invested in Tabby.
Alshaya Group, a Kuwaiti retailer with Middle East franchising rights for companies including Starbucks and Hennes & Mauritz, is planning to roll out Postpay in different online stores after trailing it this year in the UAE at Footlocker.
“We are certainly looking at in-store availability of BNPL to benefit customers who, sometimes or always, prefer physical to digital shopping,” Chief Digital Officer Paul Morris said.


PIF-backed Lucid Motors makes trading debut on Nasdaq

Updated 26 July 2021

PIF-backed Lucid Motors makes trading debut on Nasdaq

  • will make itsLucid to make trading debut on New York’s Nasdaq Global Select Market on Monday
  • Lucid merged with special purpose acquisition vehicle Churchill Capital Corp. IV

RIYADH: Lucid Motors, the Californian electric vehicle (EV) carmaker majority-owned by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), will make its trading debut on New York’s Nasdaq Global Select Market on Monday.

Listed under the new ticker symbol “LCID”, the listing came about following the merger of Lucid and Churchill Capital Corp. IV — a special purpose acquisition company — on July 23. The EV firm will begin trading by ringing the Nasdaq opening bell on July 26.

The deal will help Lucid raise $4.4 billion, which will be used to fast track its production growth plans. The firm has over 11,000 paid reservations for its Lucid Air vehicle, which is on scheduled to start deliveries in the second half of this year.

“We are on track to meet our projected deliveries for the next two years, and we look forward to delighting our customers around the world with the best electric vehicles ever created,” Peter Rawlinson, CEO and CTO of Lucid Group, said in a press statement.

Michael S. Klein, chairman and CEO of Churchill Capital Corp. IV, said ahead of the merger: “Lucid has industry-leading technology, clear demand for its products, and is on track to deliver revenue-generating cars to customers in the second half of this year. We are excited to support Lucid’s transition into a public company and confident in its ability to address unmet needs in the automotive industry, which is moving toward electrification at a rapid pace and on a global scale.”

PIF announced its investment in Lucid Motors in Sept. 2018. The Lucid Motors CEO told Arab News in January that his team were scrutinizing possible locations in Saudi Arabia to open retail outlets — what Lucid calls “studios” — for their luxury EVs.

“We are already looking,” he said. “My retail team just returned from a scouting trip in the Kingdom, and that is very much on the road there. Hopefully, we can get a retail outlet there right at the tail end of 2021, probably early 2022.”

Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal reported that Saudi Arabia stands to record a profit of nearly $20 billion on the back of its investment in Lucid.

PIF will own over 60 percent of the company, which is expected to have a market capitalization of about $36 billion.

Lucid’s expected market capitalization is nearly twice the valuation of Nissan Motor Co. and about two-thirds that of Ford Motor Co., which delivered more than 4 million cars last year. Lucid has yet to sell any cars.

Looking at the market for EVs, a report by the Pew Research Center found that 7 percent of respondents said they currently owned an electric or hybrid vehicle, and 39 percent said they were very or somewhat likely to buy an EV when they next came to purchase.

Interest has grown, with 1.8 million EVs registered in the US in 2020, more than three times as many as four years ago, according to the International Energy Agency.

While the US accounts for 17 percent of the world’s 10.2 million EVs, China is the biggest market, with 44 percent of all cars and Europe following with 31 percent.


Saudi Arabia to introduce insurance on domestic labor contracts in 2022

Updated 26 July 2021

Saudi Arabia to introduce insurance on domestic labor contracts in 2022

  • Move aims to increase attractiveness of Saudi labor market
  • Recruiters must carry the cost of insuring contracts for first two years

RIYADH: Saudi Ministry of Human Resource and Social Development is expected to start implementing insurance on the domestic labor contract early in 2022 in cooperation with the Saudi Central Bank (SAMA), Al Eqtisadia paper reported.

This decision guarantees the rights and benefits of the employer and the worker, including compensating the employer for the expense of bringing in a replacement domestic worker in the event of death, inability to work, or suffering from chronic or critical diseases, according to the ministry.

The move aims to increase the attractiveness of the Saudi labor market, improve the contractual relationship between workers and employers, and reduce risks in the domestic labor recruitment market, helping to cut costs.

“Recruitment companies and agencies used to provide a 3-month trial period for the worker, compensating families for any potential damage, but once the trial period ends, the two parties are not protected, causing lot of losses to Saudi families,” Saudi development and localization specialist Saleh Al-Anzi told Arab news.

“The insurance contract protects both the worker and the employer,” he said.

The insurance will be technically linked to the mediation contract for the recruitment of domestic workers through the Musaned platform, and the ministry will issue the implementation mechanism later in cooperation with the relevant authorities, including SAMA and the Ministry of Interior, sources familiar with the matter told the paper.

Recruitment companies must carry the cost of insuring the contracts of domestic workers they bring into the country for the first two years, the Saudi Council of Ministers decreed in May.


Saudi car rental facilities to issue e-contracts starting July 25

Updated 26 July 2021

Saudi car rental facilities to issue e-contracts starting July 25

  • Car rental facilities to issue all car rental contracts on the Naql portal

RIYADH: The Saudi Transport General Authority (TGA) started implementing the first phase of the unified electronic contract for car rental starting July 25, TGA announced on its Twitter account.
The unified electronic contract obliges car rental facilities to issue all car rental contracts on the Naql portal through the rental contracts service.
This service will enable the licensed establishments to issue a unified contract with complete statutory requirements and clauses, and will contribute to preserving the rights of the lessor and the lessee, enhancing the confidence in the services provided, and raising the level of quality of services, TGA said.
The unified electronic car contract will reduce disputes and the burden on the relevant authorities and will stimulate investment in the sector, according to the TGA.
TGA launched its Distinguished Transport Partner program in May to strengthen public-private partnerships in the sector.


Saudi PIF invests in Indian healthtech platform

Updated 26 July 2021

Saudi PIF invests in Indian healthtech platform

  • Healthifyme raises $75 million in Series C funding round
  • Khosla Ventures, LeapFrog Investment, HealthQuad and Unilever Ventures also invested in the round

RIYADH: The Saudi Public Investment Fund has invested in India-based healthtech Healthifyme’s $75 million Series C funding round, led by Khosla Ventures and LeapFrog Investment, Livemint reported.
HealthQuad and Unilever Ventures also participated in the round, along with existing investors Chiratae Ventures, Inventus Capital and Sistema Asia Capital, taking total investment in the startup to $100 million.
PIF assets have grown to about SR1.6 trillion ($426.6 billion) and it aims to expand this to SR4 trillion by the end of 2025, Deputy Governor Yazeed Al-Hamid said earlier this month.
The sovereign wealth fund aims to boost its local investments to account for 75-80 percent of the total, he said.
The Saudi sovereign fund has established 35 strategic companies since 2018, it announced on its Twitter account, on Sunday.
The companies are working to promote private sector growth and the diversification of the Kingdom’s economy, by launching new sectors and creating 366,000 direct and indirect jobs.
The Kingdom’s sovereign fund aims to generate approximately 1.8 million direct and indirect jobs by 2025.
The fund is focused on 13 strategic sectors including service utilities, renewable energy, aviation and defense, vehicles, transport and logistics, minerals and mining, financial services, health care, communications, media and technology, food and agriculture, and others.


Saudi Arabia increased support for housing sector in July

Updated 26 July 2021

Saudi Arabia increased support for housing sector in July

  • Sakani housing program beneficiaries received SR734 million in July
  • Figure compares with SR587 million a year earlier

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Sakani housing program beneficiaries received SR734 million ($195.7 million) from the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs and Housing and The Real Estate Development Fund (REDF) in July, up from SR587 million a year earlier, SPA reported.
This steady increase will continue for the next few years, Mohamed AlKhars, a member of the housing program advisory board and the chairman of Innovest Property Co. told Arab news.
Support for citizen’s first homes will be a policy that remains in places for many years in the Kingdom, he said.
However, the cost of support has fallen, he said. “There has been a drop in the interest on loans during the last three years, after negotiations with financiers, which are paid by the REDF,” said AlKhars.
The total amount deposited in the accounts of Sakani beneficiaries since the announcement of the transformation program in June 2017 until this July exceeded SR29.6 billion, said Mansour bin Madi, CEO of REDF.
In another Saudi step toward developing the housing sector, the Developers Services Center (ETMAM) approved nine housing schemes during the first half of this year, with a total area of more than 16.1 million square meters.
The approved plans included Riyadh, Makkah, Al-Qassim, the Eastern Province, Asir, Tabuk, and the northern border, Al Eqtisadiah reported.
ETMAM completed during the first half of this year building permit applications for 8,131 housing units, and the issuance of 119 real estate developer qualification certificates for sales projects.
“Those numbers will increase in the coming phase,” AlKhars said.
The center also contributed to the issuance of 45 sales licenses for off-plan sales projects, and 2,171 real estate developers were qualified in cooperation with the competent authorities to provide real estate development services.