There is excitement building over reports that Apple Pay may be launching in Saudi Arabia on February 19.
In October 2018, the company said that the mobile payment and digital wallet service would be "coming soon" to Saudi Arabia. In the same month, mada, Saudi's National Payments system, confirmed in a Twitter post that it would support Apple Pay to enable "customers to make easy and secure payments when the service launches in the KSA soon."
There has been radio silence since then … well, until today at least.
The buzz is back, now, driven by local advertisements from Saudi-based Al-Rajhi Bank. Although there has been no official confirmation yet from Apple, the advertisement clearly states that Apple Pay will be launched in two days.
Earlier this week, there were reports suggesting the launch of Apple Pay in the Czech Republic on February 19. Now it looks like the launch may be across multiple countries on the same day.
The Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA), the kingdom's banking regulator, has been on a mission to decrease reliance on cash. It recently began designing a sandbox regulatory environment in its effort to assess the impact of new technologies on the market. This includes the testing of e-wallet services, peer-to-peer transfers, and QR code purchases, among others.
In January 2019, the central banks of the UAE and Saudi Arabia also began working on a digital currency called Aber. This was viewed as an attempt to reduce remittance costs between "limited banks" in the two countries by facilitating blockchain-based financial settlements.
The journey to such an open-minded economic transformation towards a cashless society is not new. Here's a look at the major milestones:
- 1997: SAMA launches the Saudi Arabian Riyal Interbank Express System (SARIE) through which digital banking was introduced.
- 2004: SAMA introduces an electronic payment system called SADAD to help secure and simplify electricity and water bill payments.
- 2015: More than 17,000 ATMs and 225,000 point-of-sale (POS) connected to the Saudi Payment Network. This directly linked cards to bank accounts, making it easier for people to withdraw and make cashless payments.
- 2018: SAMA becomes the first central bank to give resources to domestic banks to enable blockchain-based Ripple payment solutions.
- 2018: Visa partners with mada, Saudi's national payment system, to join "mada Pay" app and welcome contactless mobile payment transactions into the kingdom.
- 2018: Mastercard and mada launch a joint partnership initiative to enable online payments.
- 2019: SAMA launches "Tanfeeth," which is a program aimed to integrate technological systems of government and the banks in the kingdom.
The 2019 Global Market Insights report states that the mobile market wallet is projected to grow to $250 billion by 2024.
The main players in the mobile wallet market include Apple. Samsung, PayPal, Amazon, Google, Tencent, Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Vodafone, Wells Fargo, AT&T, Sprint Corporation, Skrill, JP Morgan Chase, Ant Financial, First Data, and One97 Communications Limited.