Welcome To A New Era: Khalid Elgibali, Division President – MENA, Mastercard

The future of payments is not near- it's already here, says Elgibali as he leads Mastercard's endeavor as Expo 2020 Dubai's Official Payment Technology Partner.

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Over the 50 years of its history, Dubai -and the UAE as a whole- has succeeded in achieving goals that have wowed the world, and the upcoming Expo 2020 Dubai will surely be no exception. The six-month-long mega event starting in October this year promises to reimagine visitor experiences as we know it, and Mastercard, the globally renowned innovator and technology leader in payments, has been put in charge of one particular aspect of this commitment to greatness- to ensure a seamless and cashless payment experience for the over 25 million people expected to be a part of it.

Entrepreneur Middle East/Farooq Salik
Khalid Elgibali, Division President – MENA, Mastercard

According to Khalid Elgibali, Division President – MENA, Mastercard, his company’s appointment as Expo 2020 Dubai’s Official Payment Technology Partner was a natural consequence of the two entities aiming to find new ways “to connect everyone to priceless opportunities.” “As the Official Payment Technology Partner of the event, Mastercard will be showcasing the latest in payment technologies and tools that are changing the way that people pay, shop, and connect with each other,” Elgibali says. “We’ve planned an immersive experience for all Expo visitors, so that they can not only see, but truly be a part of the transformation that we’re experiencing now. In addition, we will be bringing to the forefront the most relevant concerns pressing us today on a global platform, and exploring solutions for these in collaboration with our partners.”

Leading Mastercard’s efforts in this arena will be Elgibali, who is well-versed in the MENA region’s financial landscape not only because of his role at the helm of his company’s evolving regional network, but also due to the wealth of experience he gained by previously holding several senior positions at the region’s leading banking institutions. His steely confidence in digital payments thus stems from this extensive expertise, but Elgibali notes that even difficult periods, such as the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, offer proof that the so-called “future of payments” is not near, but already here. “From our learnings from the pandemic, we have realized just how powerful digital payments are in ensuring the continuity of commerce, especially for small and medium enterprises which have suffered the most from the COVID-19 outbreak,” Elgibali explains. “Hence, Mastercard has a dedicated program that will be geared towards digital and financial inclusion of SMEs, with a particular focus on women-owned SMEs.

Before we delve into the details of Mastercard’s impressive commitment to provide small businesses with the financial tools, technology, products, funding, and data insights necessary to weather the COVID-19 crisis, Elgibali emphasizes that Mastercard is “a company that cares.” And it is for that reason its partnership with Expo 2020 Dubai encompasses not just payments, but many other areas that matter a lot in today’s world. One example of this is its Priceless Planet Coalition initiative, which will employ a forest restoration model dedicated restoring of 100 million trees by 2025 of forests in geographies that represent the greatest global need. “With climate change at the forefront of our minds, Mastercard is making its Priceless Planet Coalition one of the pillars of our partnership, having welcomed Expo 2020 Dubai, Emirates NBD and Network International into our network to fight to preserve the environment,” Elgibali explains. “What we’re most excited about is the opportunity to bring this coalition to a global stage, where every visitor attending Expo will be able to participate and contribute to saving the planet.” Expo 2020 Dubai will also give Elgibali and his team an opportunity to bring to life Mastercard’s efforts in gender diversity and inclusion on an unprecedented scale. “We will be a key player in the Expo Women’s Pavilion, and have committed significant resources to knowledge-sharing, mentoring and fundraising initiatives for our women-focused programs across the world,” Elgibali says. “Inclusion, opportunity, and the empowerment of girls and women are global priorities at Mastercard, and we are truly excited to leave a long-standing legacy through our partnership.”

 Mastercard MEA Headuquarters. Source: Mastercard

This follows Mastercard’s Corporate Sustainability Report 2020, which presented its activities in four areas (inclusive growth, people and culture, environmental stewardship, and ethical and responsible standards), all of which are geared towards delivering on the company’s mission to build a more inclusive, sustainable world with a digital economy that works for everyone, everywhere. This report, which was released in July 2021, notes that Mastercard has already achieved its goal of financially including 500 million people, and that it is now planning to reach a total of 1 billion people by 2025. “Amidst the many challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic for most small businesses, our research also found that the impact on women entrepreneurs have been especially devastating, given their over-representation in the worst-hit sectors,” Elgibali says. “That’s why we have pledged globally to connect 50 million small businesses to the digital economy by 2025, with a direct focus on supporting 25 million women entrepreneurs.” 

 Khalid Elgibali, Division President – MENA, Mastercard. Image credit: Entrepreneur Middle East/Farooq Salik

While Mastercard’s efforts in the sustainability realm is obviously widespread and touches the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people, its focus on small businesses is especially noteworthy in this regard. According to Elgibali, the impact of the COVID-19 crisis, with its movement restrictions and a behavioral shift to contactless interactions, has highlighted just how important it is for small businesses and micro merchants to have a digital presence, to pay, get paid, and obtain capital. “Mastercard is committed to empower every business through our technology, insights, and global expertise,” Elgibali says. “We’ve created products and solutions to unlock potential and keep SMEs moving forward. Additionally, we have pledged assistance of $250 million globally to support SMEs with digital tools and training during the pandemic.”

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 Mastercard Contactless Payments allow consumers to pay using their contactless cards or payment-enabled devices. Source: Mastercard

With Mastercard aiming to address sustainability in the digital economy by helping move businesses at the margins to digital growth into the mainstream, Elgibali believes the company’s extensive experience with financial inclusion makes it uniquely suited to lead at this critical inflection point. “Mastercard is locking arms with trusted industry partners, governments, and banks to empower every business,” he says. “We’re democratizing access to solutions that have long been the domain of larger corporations, and building commercially sustainable and scalable social impact products and programs for SMEs. We’re also providing free access to tools, education, and timely insights to help them secure and enable their digital worlds. These include the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, which is working with grantees around the world to help address the challenges facing micro-businesses during the COVID-19 crisis, including digital training, sanitation kits, online mentoring, and access to working capital.”

At Mastercard MENA, Elgibali’s niche expertise is focused on three areas: business growth, emerging technology payment opportunities, and business alliances with key partners and stakeholders. His daily insights deriving out of these duties assure him that Mastercard is clearly redefining the future of payments. “Through our digital-first strategy, we are working to serve our partners as a single technology provider of choice that connects telcos, digital retailers, and fintech companies to their customers,” Elgibali says. “We are providing technology solutions, platforms and propositions that enable a superior digital experience, simplify adoption of innovation and drive greater inclusion for people across the globe.” 

At this point, Elgibali notes that Mastercard’s offering of cutting-edge solutions is thanks to the enterprise’s historical insistence on always enhancing its own capabilities through the introduction of innovative products, strong partnership programs with innovators and acquisitions of industry-leading companies. This commitment to excellence, he continues, originally began with Mastercard’s acquisition of real-time payments provider Vocalink in 2017, which is currently transforming the payments infrastructure in economic hubs around the world, including Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Thailand, and the UK. This was then accelerated through the acquisitions of Transfast, a global cross-border payments network provider, as well as Nets Corporate Services, which allows consumers to get a payment platform for recurring bill and credit transfer transactions to more than 250,000 corporate companies.

Such transactions are an indication of Mastercard’s belief that its commitment to connecting 50 million SMEs globally to the digital economy by 2025 will surely enhance its own innovative capabilities in the years to come. At the same time, it is also this focus on the future that is underlining Mastercard’s efforts at keeping sustainability as a key point of consideration when going about its day-to-day business. “As I mentioned, the Priceless Planet Coalition has been established as one of our flagship initiatives to promote sustainability in the UAE and wider region,” Elgibali explains. “By building a network of strategic partners that include heavyweights, such as HSBC, Emirates NBD, Emirates Islamic, Network International, we are rallying efforts to make a difference within the communities we operate in. Simultaneously, we have also pledged net zero emissions from our operations by 2050 on a global scale. We continue to work with our partners here and across the world to realize this vision.”

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Meanwhile, the Mastercard New Payments Index, a global survey about omni-channel commerce, payment shifts, and consumer behavior trends post the COVID-19 crisis, has pointed out the rising adoption of new payment technologies and growing consumer appetite for new, fast and flexible digital experiences. “SMEs must adapt to a hybrid environment where omni-channel payment strategies and choice are key,” Elgibali says, adding that consumers across the MENA region have also irreversibly embraced new and emerging payment methods. “95% of MEA consumers will consider using at least one emerging payment method, such as cryptocurrency, biometrics, contactless, or QR code, over the next year,” he says. “61% of MENA consumers say they would avoid businesses that do not accept electronic payments of any kind. Three in four UAE consumers say that digital payment methods help them save money. These are not small numbers, and hence indicate a permanent change in the years to come.”

Examples of Mastercard’s support to small businesses across the MENA region to grow digitally include its SME-in-a-Box solution, a one-stop solution that helps business owners build their online platforms and sell their products and service through e-commerce. There’s also Simplify Commerce, an offering which allows SMEs to make use of a plug-and-play e-commerce store builder that offers an instant online checkout. Another solution Mastercard is championing is Click to Pay, which removes the friction of entering card details each time a shopper wishes to checkout, and with it being rolled out to businesses of all sizes, it promises to become the gold standard of tomorrow’s shopping experience. Elgibali also points out Mastercard’s work in expanding Tap-On-Phone technologies within the MENA region, which makes use of contactless technology to turn a smartphone into a payment acceptance device, and thus becoming a powerful and cost-effective tool for small businesses to quickly be able to accept digital payments in line with consumer expectations.

Elgibali adds that one part of the region’s digital economy that is maturing very quickly is its fintech ecosystem, with the MEA region already having over 1,200 fintech players, covering everything from credit and insurance, to wealth management offered through a centralized cloud-based platform. “Recognizing the important role fintech companies play in the world’s rapid digital transformation, Mastercard is continuously diversifying its business by diversifying its perspective: looking to new partners, new markets, and new ways to build on its core competency as a payments network,” he says. “We’re engaging in multiple strategic partnerships with innovators, regulators, and financial institutions to enhance the ecosystem and support the growth of capabilities like open banking in the region.” According to Elgibali, Mastercard’s Fintech Express and Engage Programs, which are designed to build a network of partnerships, are proof of the company’s support to fintech innovation, boosting financial inclusion, and enhancing the payment experience for consumers. 

 Image credit: Entrepreneur Middle East/Farooq Salik

Given this landscape, Elgibali notes that while digital transformation and the digital economy are evolving rapidly, cybersecurity remains a growing issue- and especially so for entrepreneurial businesses. “That is why we protect and secure SMEs in the accelerated shift to digital,” he says. “Considering nearly one in five small businesses experience cyber-attacks or data breaches, we provide the tools and solutions they need to secure every interaction. The Global Cyber Alliance and Mastercard released the free online Cybersecurity Toolkit to arm small business owners with basic security controls and guidance, operational tools, how-to materials, and recognized best practices to protect themselves from ever-evolving cyber risks.”

Another type of this kind of support is Mastercard’s free online Cyber Readiness Program, a free practical step-by-step guide for SMEs focused on four critical cyber issues: authentication and passwords, software updates, phishing, and USBs and removable media. “Mastercard is constantly adapting by creating new programs and partnerships to empower digital transformation, create diversification, and accelerate the emergence of new market players,” Elgibali adds. “In MENA, we partnered with Hub71 to accelerate innovation in the UAE’s fintech startup community. The partnership identifies relevant companies for Mastercard Start Path, opening up market access for Hub71’s startups and Start Path companies– for mutual benefit. We’ve also invested in UAE-based Network International, which is growing a presence in Saudi Arabia, having been included in an innovation sandbox created by the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority.”

This leads into his top tips for entrepreneurs in the region. “My advice to businesses would be three-fold: be aware of the latest tools and technologies available to you, utilize them to your advantage, and keep your eyes laser-focused on what your customers want from you, which is the only way to be truly successful and sustainable,” Elgibali says. In conclusion, Elgibali points toward Mastercard’s inaugural Middle East and Africa SME Confidence Index released in June 2021, which has shown that 88% of SMEs in the UAE are optimistic about the following year, with two-thirds (66%) projecting revenues that would either grow or hold steady. “SMEs in the MENA have identified better data and insights, training and upskilling staff, and access to digital training and development support as the top drivers for growth,” says Elgibali, reiterating the importance of digital transformation and human capital for the future growth of any business.

But Elgibali stresses that the MENA region is currently moving through a fascinating moment in its history, with many regional countries making great advances in non-oil economic diversification, and investing in so-called “giga-projects” and events like Expo 2020 Dubai- and all of that is setting up the region as a great place to do business in right now. “There is a narrative of investment, diversity, inclusive growth and competitiveness that is tangible– and it can be seen right across the region,” Elgibali concludes. “If you look at the volume of SMEs coming to the fore, you get a sense of how communities are thinking, and what the next generation is feeling about its potential.” 

The Executive Summary: Tips for entrepreneurs from Khalid Elgibali, Division President – MENA, Mastercard

Always keep your end consumer in mind “It is necessary to approach your product or service from the viewpoint of the end-consumer. Every organization today is a B2C organization, not a B2B or a B2G, because ultimately the work you do will have a considerable impact on individual lives. It is that impact that you must look to positively transform, to achieve exponential innovation.”

Work on building a sustainable business “The first thing would be to look internally, and invest in those technologies and solutions that aim to disrupt existing technologies– you could call this futureproofing. In the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, internet of things, machine learning, robotic process automation, and blockchain provide us with the best tools possible to futureproof our operations.”

Your competitors could become your partners “I would suggest that entrepreneurs view other startups not as competition, but as potential strategic partners that can help them achieve exponential innovation. Looking at the positive sentiment that Careem and Souq received this past year after being acquired is a clear indication that the region is increasingly becoming a hotbed of unicorn startups, and it makes business sense to leverage this opportunity.”

Don’t go at it alone- look for collaborations “You can see superb examples in the MENA region of popular apps which enable consumers to purchase their food, travel and clothing anytime and anywhere simply from their smartphones. For this to happen, several stakeholders need to work together. The app itself needs to ensure that the consumer has an easy-to-understand user experience that allows them to make the purchase seamlessly.”

Keep inventing, keep innovating “Smart Dubai recently stated that the number of things connected to the internet surpassed the number of humans, and that it is expected to reach 20.4 billion by 2020. The boundaries of technologies continue to expand, and there has never been a better time in history for innovators to experiment, build, and test new solutions.”

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Tamara Pupic

Written By

Tamara Pupic is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Middle East.