areeba is the leader in electronic payment in Lebanon. A financial technology company that takes businesses further, providing smarter, faster and seamless payment solutions for banks, merchants, governments and individuals.
Maher Mikati is the CEO of areeba, the largest issuer and acquirer in Lebanon with an issuing presence in Egypt, Jordan and Iraq. We discuss electronic payment in Lebanon, leadership and his predictions for the fully-digitised Middle East region.
areeba has a suite of solutions that span acquiring, issuing and loyalty for banks, merchants and governments. How does this joining-up of solution areas benefit your customers?
At areeba, we invest in state-of-the-art payment technologies, which enables us to offer banks, merchants, governments, and individuals smarter, faster, and seamless payment solutions, in order to facilitate cashless payments in the MENA region. We like to position areeba as a "one-stop source” that provides payment solutions in accordance with the latest innovations and international security standards in the three lines of business we cater for:
Issuing: card management, mobile and contactless
payment, governmental solutions, co-brand programs, and marketing consultancy services.
Acquiring: in e-commerce, POS, tokenization, contactless and mobile payment.
Loyalty Program Management: points and mileage program, airtime program, cash back program.
areeba partners with technology leaders. How do you decide what innovations to add to your portfolio?
Innovation and Customer Centricity are the main parts of our values, which involves supporting non-traditional payment solutions and optimizing the user experience by creating seamless payment solutions. This is mainly what drove us to launch the first biometric payment card (chip- and contactless-enabled) in the Middle East, in partnership with Gemalto and Zwipe, and which aims at using the fingerprint recognition as a more convenient and secure alternative to PIN or signature, to authenticate the cardholder during a transaction. Also, our partnership with MagicCube will enable us to launch the SoftPos application that will be providing a cost-efficient card and mobile payment acceptance solution for all micro merchants, enabling them to accept contactless payments directly via their Android smartphones and increase their sales by embracing digital payment.
"Innovation and Customer Centricity are the main parts of our values, which involves supporting non-traditional payment solutions and optimizing the user experience by creating seamless payment solutions."
"areeba’s vision is to empower a cashless world; and our mission and aim is to provide an efficient clearinghouse that processes secured transactions for financial institutions, governments, merchants and individuals, locally and regionally."
What are areeba’s competitive advantages?
Two main factors that make areeba a prominent competitor on the market:
- Technology and infrastructure: areeba provides a full suite of technology-enabled payments solutions through a well-invested, highly secure and scalable infrastructure that is designed for customers of varying levels of size and complexity and across multiple channels.
- Innovation: at areeba, we embrace the current fast-paced technological revolution and rapidly evolving trends, to ultimately offer our customers a unique range of innovative payment services. We are focused on helping our clients solve their business challenges by providing them with the most innovative solutions to meet their business needs.
Share with us some of areeba’s values and its mission.
areeba’s vision is to empower a cashless world; and our mission and aim is to provide an efficient clearinghouse that processes secured transactions for financial institutions, governments, merchants and individuals, locally and regionally. We achieve both our vision and mission by leaning on our main cores values which are:
- Innovation: Integrating solutions to support non-traditional payment flows.
- Trust: Relentlessly enhancing the security of transactions.
- Quality: Providing high-value products and services and employing the best practices to ensure customer satisfaction.
- Expertise: Working with a comprehensive team of seasoned professionals with a clear vision on future payment trends.
- Integrity: Conducting business with the highest standards of professionalism and ethics to build a solid foundation with our clients.
- Collaboration: Working with partners to introduce new innovations.
Tell us about your background and career highlights.
I am the Chief Executive Officer of areeba SAL which I founded in March 2017, and turned into one of the leading financial and payment technology companies in the region with the aim to provide various technological advanced solutions. Previously as an Executive Director at Investcom Holding, I managed and oversaw all new business ventures in the EMEA region. Later, as the Managing Director of areeba Cyprus Ltd. (Investcom’s telecom operator in Cyprus), I actively led the complete rollout of the first private mobile operator in the country. Currently, I am a member of M1 Group’s Investment Committee, in addition to being responsible for its investments in fashion, retail and aviation. I am a board member of Growthgate Capital and Pepe Jeans Group. I am also the director of the Mikati Foundation, and have been a member of the AUB Board of Trustees since 2014.
I am currently Deputy CEO of M1 Group and CEO of M1 Fashion.
Tell us about your approach to leadership; how do you ensure consistent delivery of excellence by your teams at areeba?
areeba has implemented since 2018 the agile methodology within the company, as a better way for the teams to consistently deliver excellence in our products and services. Its goal is to develop, deliver, and sustain complex products through collaboration, accountability, and iterative progress. This methodology has significantly enhanced cross departmental collaboration and broken down team silos, and it has led to an efficient utilization of resources. It has allowed the teams to continuously improve their results with fast and effective time to market, all the while focusing on customers.
A report by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) found that switching to digital payments can boost annual GDP by as much as 3%. What initiatives are in place in Lebanon to change payment habits across the country?
A recent study we carried out showed that 90% of credit card usage was centered in Beirut, while people outside the capital did not use their cards much and a lot of businesses did not own POS machines. We took it upon ourselves to spread the e-payment culture across all Lebanese regions by launching in the last quarter of 2018 a unique regional initiative in Lebanon, aiming at educating both the merchants and the consumers in regions outside of the capital to shift from cash to paying with cards and mobiles. The campaign instantly showed positive results, and merchants who installed an areeba POS quickly noticed an enhancement in their sales, better customer experience, and a decrease in the operational cost resulting from less cash handling.
What role do you see advancements in blockchain and AI contributing to your technology in the coming years?
Today many industries around the globe from banks to fintech companies are experimenting with blockchain-based payment solutions, because it promises to facilitate fast, secure, low-cost international payment processing services and other transactions. I believe blockchain may become a game-changer for payment-related services but despite its potential benefits this may take time to become widespread. Artificial intelligence is steadily making its way through the payments and financial services world. The technology's effectiveness for fraud detection is clear, but there are other areas where AI is being implemented successfully, such as: chatbot, consumer behavior scoring, dynamic 3D secure, predictive analysis, etc.
According to a 2019 GSMA report, 30% of the Middle East region’s population are young people with a mobile penetration rate of 64%. How is areeba serving them?
We have definitely detected a prominent spending trend among young Lebanese today who clearly prefer alternative methods of payment to cash, even for small daily purchases. We understand that the younger generation has grown up with mobile technology at their fingertips and for many of them cash is an outdated concept. Under this umbrella, we will be launching soon a mobile payment app in order to cater
for this demographic and provide them with a convenient payment tool bundled with financial services and value added benefits.
In some countries, the COVID-19 crisis has been a catalyst for adopting and promoting cashless payment for contact-less experience. How has this played out in Lebanon?
Fears over virus transmission have pushed Lebanese cardholders to rethink how they shop and pay, we have even witnessed an increase in contactless transactions and a surge in online shopping as consumers starting turning to digital tools even to purchase the basic items such as groceries. areeba was the first payment provider in Lebanon to implement the limit increase for contactless payments through its POS network, in order to reduce cash handling and limit the risk of infection.
"We do believe that there is room for advancement and improvement when it comes to the regional regulatory guidelines in the Middle East. New regulations need to be put in place in order to push people into a cashless economy, which is essential for fraud prevention. Digital onboarding and digital wallet are for example two services that need to be implemented and regulated in that sense."
Tell us about the financial relief measures by areeba to support merchants during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The impact of COVID 19 on business owners in Lebanon was high as they already faced tremendous pressure on their business revenue. We wanted to offer support and help them in the ways we can, not just financially but morally as well. As a matter of fact, we have waived the monthly rental fee of its POS machines from 1 April 2020 until the end of 2020, and committed to also offer free installation with no monthly rental fee to all our current and new clients. This initiative includes more than 14,000 POS terminals across all our merchants in Lebanon, from different business lines: retail shops, coffee shops, restaurants and grocery shops.
Do regional regulatory guidelines in the Middle East need improvement to keep up with innovation?
We do believe that there is room for advancement and improvement when it comes to the regional regulatory guidelines in the Middle East. New regulations need to be put in place in order to push people into a cashless economy, which is essential for fraud prevention. Digital onboarding and digital wallet are for example two services that need to be implemented and regulated in that sense.
Tell us about social responsibility at areeba.
We launched the platform www.HelpLebanon.com as part of our corporate social responsibility strategy, with the aim to support our country during difficult times by providing a digitized space that enables donors to help the Lebanese NGOs and healthcare organizations of their choice. This platform allows NGOs and healthcare organizations to share their mission and be exposed without any fee, and in turn, donors can choose the cause they would like to support and donate to. areeba’s role will be to process all online donations using the latest online payment security features free of charge.
Find out more about areeba by visiting www.areeba.com
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