Fintech Fortis targets Saudi Arabia’s SME sector

For the coming year, Fortis’s objective is to solidify its presence in the UAE and lay a groundwork for potential expansion across the MENA region. (SPA)
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Updated 09 June 2024

Fintech Fortis targets Saudi Arabia’s SME sector

  • Firm outlines goals and long-term vision for its operations in the region

CAIRO: Fintech companies continue to expand in Saudi Arabia, with the nation increasingly becoming a magnet for financial technology. 

UAE-based Fortis is bringing its one-stop point of sale, customer relationship management, order management system, and payments solution to support small and medium-sized enterprises in the Kingdom. 

In an interview with Arab News, Arseny Kosenko, executive vice president of Fortis, outlined the company’s immediate goals and long-term vision for its operations in the region, particularly in Saudi Arabia, where they see substantial growth potential aligned with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030. 

Fortis is strategically launching in the UAE, setting the stage for further expansion into Saudi Arabia and other Middle East and North Africa countries. 

“We aim to successfully launch in the UAE market and create opportunities for expansion into other countries,” said Kosenko.

A strategic Kingdom 

Over the long term, Fortis aims to deeply influence the Saudi market by delivering high-quality products and services tailored to the unique needs of Saudi businesses and consumers. 

“We will be able to assist small businesses in growing in line with the plans and Vision 2030,” Kosenko stated. 

The goal is to enhance the operational capabilities of SMEs, thereby contributing to gross domestic product growth and enhancing the technological perception of the Saudi market. 

Fortis plans to cater extensively to both domestic users and tourists, particularly during significant events like Expo 2030, by improving merchant and customer interactions through their advanced omnichannel solutions. 

For the coming year, Fortis’s objective is to solidify its presence in the UAE and lay a groundwork for potential expansion across the MENA region. 

The company aims to empower businesses to thrive in a digital landscape by enhancing customer engagement and operational efficiency through their comprehensive digital tools. 

SMEs are a crucial segment for us, and how they engage with their clients shapes the evolution of our product.

Arseny Kosenko, EVP of Fortis

In response to specific needs within the Saudi market, Fortis is developing tailored features in their omnichannel platform to comply with local regulations and business practices. 

“Different regions, including Saudi Arabia, may require various features or regulatory considerations for businesses,” explained Kosenko. 

The company plans to adapt its pricing policies, marketing strategies, and partnerships to align with local business environments. 

To comply with Saudi Arabia’s evolving regulations, Fortis is committed to proactive monitoring of regulatory changes, maintaining strong communication with authorities, and ensuring that their team is well-trained in compliance requirements. 

This approach is supported by technology and automation to streamline compliance processes effectively, he explained. 

Through these strategic initiatives, Fortis is setting a course to become a pivotal player in Saudi Arabia’s digital transformation, supporting the Kingdom’s economic diversification efforts and enhancing the competitive edge of local businesses in the global marketplace. 

“Saudi Arabia is actively enhancing SME financing through regulatory support and digital transformation initiatives. This aligns perfectly with Fortis’s mission to empower SMEs with digital tools that enhance their operations and market reach.” 

While specific details about the official launch and local office establishment in Saudi Arabia are still under wraps, Kosenko mentioned that Fortis is focused on building effective partnerships that will simplify and enhance business operations, making them more efficient and improving customer relationships and overall business performance. 

As for the company’s market position, Kosenko highlighted the importance of SMEs, stating, “SMEs are a crucial segment for us, and how they engage with their clients shapes the evolution of our product.” 

Fortis aims to become an indispensable omnichannel platform that bridges the gap between merchants and customers, enhancing interactions and technological experiences for SMEs while also providing value to larger stakeholders like banks and utility companies. 

Regarding industry evolution, Kosenko emphasized the shift from traditional payment terminals to more sophisticated POS systems that support comprehensive business management including transactions, inventory, and customer data. 

“We’re seeing an increase in the adoption of order management systems that facilitate a seamless omnichannel experience for customers,” he said. 

Fortis plans to leverage these trends by continuing to prioritize customer focus and simplifying payment processes, ensuring seamless interactions between sellers and buyers through a user-friendly interface.

Business fundamentals 

Kosenko highlighted the unique hurdles SMEs encounter, stating, “Unfortunately, many SMEs lack the expertise and resources to navigate areas like customer data collection, personalization, and artificial intelligence, putting them at a competitive disadvantage.” 

Positioned at the dynamic crossroads of Europe and Asia, the Middle East is a burgeoning hub for entrepreneurship, with SMEs forming the backbone of the economy. 

“In the UAE, SMEs make up about 94 percent of all companies and employ over 86 percent of the private sector workforce,” Kosenko added, referencing a report by the UAE’s Department of Economic Development. 

Similar growth and opportunities are evident in Saudi Arabia, where initiatives such as Expo 2030 are catalyzing SME expansion, he added. 

 “Our model is software as a service, with clients paying a monthly or annual fee for licenses,” Kosenko explained. This model positions Fortis as a pivotal player in the region’s tech ecosystem, enhancing SME capabilities to manage their operations more efficiently, he added. 

Despite its recent market entry, with operations commencing just three months ago, Fortis is already showing promising revenue growth. 

“It’s premature to discuss profitability at this stage,” said Kosenko, signaling a cautious but optimistic outlook for the company’s financial trajectory. 

The motivation behind Fortis’s inception was clear. “We are focusing on a promising niche in the MENA region, which comprises between 19 and 23 million small businesses,” noted Kosenko. 

He further detailed the key performance indicators that guide Fortis’s strategy in the region: “We focus on active and paying customers, gross profit, lifetime value, and churn.” 

Fortis has successfully raised $20 million in April in investment led by Opportunity Venture, with several tranches allocated throughout 2024. 

Kosenko shared insights into how these funds are poised to propel the company’s expansion plans, particularly in the MENA region. 

He highlighted that while specific expansion plans are still under deliberation, Saudi Arabia is a strong candidate for their growth strategy due to its large market and numerous development projects. 

Regarding future funding, Kosenko expressed satisfaction with the current level of financial support, emphasizing that the focus is on leveraging this investment to accelerate product development and market introduction. 

“Our primary objective is to swiftly bring our innovative solution to market, leveraging the financial support to ensure a successful market entry,” he explained.

Saudi Arabia’s PIF showcases achievements in balancing biodiversity conservation and investments

Updated 13 June 2024

Saudi Arabia’s PIF showcases achievements in balancing biodiversity conservation and investments

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund has detailed its successful balancing of biodiversity conservation with its investment initiatives.

The Public Investment Fund highlighted its undertakings spanning diverse sectors, with a focus on sustainable, eco-friendly, and luxurious tourism, as well as responsible mining practices.

According to the UN, human activity, driven largely by unsustainable practices, is the primary driver behind an ongoing biodiversity crisis, with 44,000 species endangered, 70 percent of coral reefs at risk, and fertile land loss surging by 29 percent since 2000.

Saudi Arabia, home to a vast array of plant and animal species, is actively addressing these challenges. 

In a statement, PIF emphasized its role as a major contributor to the Kingdom’s goals for protecting the environment, climate, natural resources, and biodiversity.

The fund pointed out that “it is possible to align successful and realist investment with environmental priorities.”

This holistic approach also promotes responsible investment in protected areas, particularly in nations rich in biodiversity – a commitment echoed by PIF as it strives to achieve Saudi Arabia’s environmental and biodiversity conservation goals.

One of the Kingdom’s wealth fund’s initiatives is Red Sea Global, which was established to develop tourist destinations in harmony with sustainable practices. 

The giga-project has conducted extensive baseline studies of marine biodiversity in the Red Sea and Amala regions to inform strategic planning aimed at nurturing the region’s tourism sector while preserving its ecological balance.

Building on its environmental database, Red Sea Global aims to achieve a 30 percent positive biodiversity conservation return by 2040.

Its initiatives include species protection and habitat restoration efforts, supported by accolades such as the “Regional Sector Leader” award from the Global Real Estate Sustainability Index.

PIF is keen to preserve Saudi Arabia’s wide range of biodiversity. Supplied

PIF’s commitment extends beyond tourism to initiatives like Dan Co., which is dedicated to eco-friendly tourism projects across Saudi Arabia. 

Launched in December 2023, Dan Co. aims “to achieve leadership in the field of rural and environmental tourism” through partnerships with local communities, offering visitors experiences that showcase Saudi Arabia’s diverse cultural values.

Moreover, Soudah Development Co. focuses on creating luxury mountain tourism destinations in Asir, integrating environmental sustainability with cultural preservation and community empowerment. 

By partnering with local wildlife and vegetation conservation authorities, Soudah Development plays a crucial role in advancing Saudi Arabia’s ambitious Green Initiative to combat climate change and promote sustainable development.

In tandem with these efforts, mining company Ma’aden has embarked on environmental undertakings, including projects for vegetation improvement and mangrove preservation along coastal areas—crucial for community livelihoods and ecological stability. 

Ma’aden’s commitment to biodiversity management sets benchmarks for responsible mining practices across its operational spectrum.

According to PIF, these collaborative models illustrate that robust investment strategies can coexist with environmental conservation imperatives. 

The fund stated: “PIF is moving toward achieving sustainable economic and social development capable of ensuring continued economic growth while protecting natural diversity through an integrated system of vital initiatives and projects that shape the future for generations to come.”

The Kingdom boasts rich biodiversity, including 499 species of birds, 117 mammals, 107 reptiles, 266 coral, 1,230 types of fish, eight amphibians, and over 2,400 flowering plants, according to the National Center for Wildlife.

Recent events, such as Saudi Arabia’s participation at the High-Level Event on Ocean Action in San José, Costa Rica, on June 10, underscore the Kingdom commitment’s in this field. 

The event, attended by the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Climate Affairs Envoy Adel Al-Jubeir, focused on sharing expertise in ocean governance and safety, addressing critical challenges marine environments face. 

At the accompanying exhibition, the Saudi delegation showcased national initiatives under the banner of “Blue Saudi,” highlighting efforts such as assessing and rehabilitating environmental habitats in the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf. 

Emphasizing the importance of preserving biodiversity, the delegation presented plans to designate protected areas and ambitious programs to plant mangrove trees and combat plastic pollution through legislative measures and waste management initiatives. 

Saudi Arabia reiterated its commitment to sustainable practices under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, underscoring its dedication to conserving marine biodiversity.

In May of this year, the King Salman bin Abdulaziz Royal Natural Reserve in Saudi Arabia achieved accreditation as “the first major biodiversity site in the Kingdom,” confirmed by Key Biodiversity Areas. 

The reserve, spanning 130,700 sq. km, meets three global standards, including the presence of endangered species, qualifying it for this prestigious recognition, which coincides with the International Day for Biological Diversity on May 22 each year.

Managed by the King Salman bin Abdulaziz Royal Natural Reserve Development Authority, the Saudi reserve aims to safeguard endangered species, enhance natural habitats, promote environmental awareness, and mitigate threats from natural and human factors. 

This area is recognized as the largest nature reserve in the Middle East.

Closing Bell: Saudi main index closes in red at 11,498 

Updated 13 June 2024

Closing Bell: Saudi main index closes in red at 11,498 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul All Share Index dipped on Thursday, losing 152.88 points, or 1.31 percent, to close at 11,498.93.   

The total trading turnover of the benchmark index was SR10.97 billion ($2,92 billion) as 62 of the listed stocks advanced, while 165 retreated.    

Similarly, the MSCI Tadawul Index decreased by 18.86 points, or 1.29 percent, to close at 1,437.54. 

However, the Kingdom’s parallel market Nomu increased by 104.55 points, or 0.39 percent, to close at 26,753.99. This comes as 30 of the listed stocks advanced, while as many as 27 retreated.  

The top-performing stock of the day was Rasan Information Technology Co., which saw its share price surge by 30 percent to SR48.10. 

Other top performers included Al Taiseer Group Talco Industrial Co. and Al Moammar Information Systems Co., whose share prices soared by 14.42 percent and 7.24 percent, to stand at SR49.20 and SR163, respectively. 

In addition to this, other top performers included Saudi Cable Co. and Chubb Arabia Cooperative Insurance Co. 

The worst performer of the day was Saudi Manpower Solutions Co., with its share price dropping by 8.51 percent to SR8.28. 

Other poor performers included ACWA Power Co. and Miahona Co., with their share prices declining by 5.31 percent and 5.19 percent to reach SR331.80 and SR21.56, respectively. 

Furthermore, other underperforming stocks included Sahara International Petrochemical Co. and Savola Group. 

On the announcements front, Rasan Information Technology Co. surged in its Riyadh debut, raising SR841 million with its shares peaking at SR48.1, a 30 percent increase from the offer price of SR37. 

Bloomberg reported that the IPO saw strong demand, with orders totaling $29 billion, making it oversubscribed 129 times, reflecting Saudi Arabia’s push to diversify its stock exchange beyond traditional sectors like banking and industry.  

“Rasan, which operates online insurance platforms such as Tameeni and Treza, will be among the first fintech firms to go public in the kingdom, which has only seen a few tech listings so far,” Bloomberg added. 

Besides Rasan, buy-now-pay-later firm Tabby and online cosmetics retailer Nice One are considering IPOs, according to Bloomberg News. 

Flyadeal receives first fully-owned aircraft in landmark moment 

Updated 13 June 2024

Flyadeal receives first fully-owned aircraft in landmark moment 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s low-cost airline flyadeal has taken delivery of its first-ever wholly-owned aircraft in a “milestone” moment, according to the CEO.

The airline received the Airbus A320neo, named Al Sama after an Arabic constellation star in Toulouse, Airbus’ main assembly site.

This acquisition is also the company’s first new aircraft in 2024 and marks the beginning of a delivery plan that includes adding four vessels this year and eight A320neos in 2025.

The newly acquired aircraft will join the airline’s expanding domestic and international route network, serving nearly 30 destinations across Saudi Arabia, the Middle East, Europe, and North Africa.

Flyadeal CEO Steven Greenway, along with colleagues Ahmed Bakadam, director of maintenance and engineering, and Ali Al-Zahrani, senior manager technical fleet, gathered in France for the official exchange. 

“The addition of aircraft number 33 represents a symbolic double milestone for flyadeal, bringing in our first fully owned aircraft and inducting the first new aircraft into the fleet this year. Until now all flyadeal aircraft are leased,” Greenway said.

He added: “With a plan targeting around 50 aircraft by the end of 2025 that will double to 100 by 2030, we are on course for a dynamic delivery schedule over the next few years. An incredible growth path that is being accelerated by the shear demand for inbound and outbound travel catering to a diverse profile of travellers.”

Greenway expressed satisfaction with their partnership with Airbus and highlighted the aircraft’s comfort and eco-friendliness, emphasizing their commitment to providing passengers with a positive flying experience. 

As part of future fleet requirements, flyadeal placed its largest ever order last month for a further 51 Airbus A320 family aircraft comprising 12 A320neos and 39 larger A321neos. 

Sporting a spacious cabin of 186 seats in a three–three configuration that features seating of the highest standards and specifications for a low-cost airline and larger than normal overhead bins, the A320neo is the backbone of flyadeal’s fleet, which is among the youngest in the industry averaging just over two years old. 

Saudi Aramco partners with NextDecade for 20-year LNG supply deal

Updated 13 June 2024

Saudi Aramco partners with NextDecade for 20-year LNG supply deal

RIYADH: Energy giant Saudi Aramco has signed a non-binding agreement with US-based NextDecade to supply 1.2 million tonnes per annum of liquefied natural gas for 20 years.

According to a press statement, LNG will be supplied from the fourth liquefaction train at NextDecade’s Rio Grande Facility at the Port of Brownsville in Texas. 

“Aramco and NextDecade are currently in the process of negotiating a binding agreement, and once executed, the effectiveness of which will be subject to a positive final investment decision on Train 4,” said Aramco in the press statement. 

Aramco’s Upstream President Nasir K. Al-Naimi said the company is exploring opportunities to expand its presence in the global energy market. 

“We look forward to finalizing the terms of a long-term LNG offtake agreement with NextDecade as we explore opportunities to expand our presence in international energy markets,” said Al-Naimi in the release.  

“We expect LNG to play an important role in meeting the rising demand for secure and efficient energy,” he added. 

Matt Schatzman, chairman and CEO of NextDecade, said he is “pleased to have reached a heads of agreement with Aramco for LNG from Train 4, as Aramco seeks to expand its LNG portfolio.” 

Saudi Aramco, one of the biggest energy firms in the world, has been taking crucial steps in recent months to expand its global presence. 

In May, Aramco completed the acquisition of a 40 percent stake in Gas & Oil Pakistan, officially marking the Saudi company’s entry into Pakistan’s fuel retail market.

In April, Saudi Aramco disclosed that it is in talks to acquire a 10 percent stake in China’s Hengli Petrochemical, aiming to strengthen Aramco’s growing downstream presence in the Asian country. 

In February, speaking at the India Energy Week in Goa, Faisal Faqeer, Saudi Aramco’s senior vice president of liquids to chemicals development downstream, revealed that the energy giant is engaged in investment discussions with several Indian companies. 

Earlier this month, Saudi Aramco also retained the leading spot in Forbes Middle East’s Top 100 listed companies for 2024, with $660.8 billion in assets and $1.9 trillion in market value.

Moreover, Saudi Aramco continued its strong fiscal performance in the first quarter of this year amid global economic uncertainties and geopolitical tensions. 

On May 12, Saudi Aramco revealed that its net profit for the first quarter of this year reached $27.27 billion, representing a rise of 2.04 percent compared to the last three months of 2023. 

According to a statement, the oil firm’s total revenue for the three months to the end of March stood at $107.21 billion, with total operating income for the period reaching $58.88 billion.  

NEOM welcomes Capella’s wellness-focused resort in Magna region

Updated 13 June 2024

NEOM welcomes Capella’s wellness-focused resort in Magna region

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s future city, NEOM, is poised to welcome an 80-room wellness-focused resort after Capella Hotels and Resorts announced its first coastal destination at Elanan in the Magna region. 

This new offering from the Singapore-based hospitality group provides a fresh option for travelers to the area, supporting the Kingdom’s ambitions to establish itself as a tourism hub in the region. 

The resort is part of the sustainable development unfolding in northwest Saudi Arabia, the company said in a press release. 

Cristiano Rinaldi, president of Capella Hotel Group, said: “Combining Saudi Arabia’s breathtaking natural landscapes with NEOM’s innovative technology, we are poised to provide guests with an unparalleled wellness experience that promises delight and discovery.”  

He added: “This sanctuary will elevate Capella Hotels and Resorts’ esteemed wellness offering, featuring a curated series of exciting programs.” 

In February, NEOM announced Elanan, a new guest retreat focused on luxury and well-being experiences, nestled in a natural setting. 

This announcement adds to NEOM's recent sustainable tourism destinations in the Gulf of Aqaba, including Leyja, Epicon, and Siranna. It also includes Utamo and Norlana, along with Aquellum, Zardun, and Xaynor. 

Jeremy Lester, NEOM's executive director for Magna, expressed delight in collaborating with Capella Hotels and Resorts at Elenan. He described it as a “stunning haven that blends luxury with the spectacular landscape,” offering an exclusive sustainable retreat dedicated to holistic wellness. 

“It’s a fusion of aligned values and aspirations. Together, we’ll craft an environment to set a new standard in luxury guest experiences.” Lester said. 

The release emphasized that guests experience tranquility in a modern environment that blends contemporary design with natural beauty. 

It also noted that Capella enhances hospitality with a focus on wellness and innovative design through Capella Wellness, providing a relaxing sanctuary infused with modern aesthetics. 

On June 5, NEOM revealed its luxury lifestyle destination Magna. The development is part of NEOM’s sustainable portfolio in the region, focusing on integrating cutting-edge technology, world-class architecture, and modern amenities with the natural environment, according to a press release.