Qiddiya CEO: Work underway on key mixed-use real estate project

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Jeddah – Yasmine El Tohamy – RIYADH: Telecom provider Virgin Mobile has signed an agreement with the Saudi Investment Bank (SAIB) to become the first entity in the Kingdom to obtain a banking agent’s license.

The strategic partnership, endorsed by the Saudi Arabian Central Bank, will enable the telecom provider’s customers to use financial services on their phones.

Erik Dudman Nielsen, Group CEO of Virgin Mobile Middle East & Africa, told Arab News the announcement of the new milestone made him proud.

“We’re now in a position where we can enable Virgin Mobile customers to take electronic funds of any sort and fundamentally allow them to do international money transmittance or remittance,” he said.

Nielsen said that the services would be made available to everyone, regardless of which banks they had accounts in or which telecom providers they used.

“Users will not need to have an account with the Saudi Investment Bank. You’re completely bank independent. Any customer from any bank, or for that matter, any mobile operator, can use our app and perform mobile transfers. But existing customers of Virgin Mobile will get exclusive benefits for their transfers,” he said.

Phase one, which the company aims to kickstart in February, will allow customers to use the application to link their bank accounts and cards to their phone, allowing them to carry out international transfers.

“Effectively, if you have money on an ATM card or bank account, you can transfer it to the Virgin Mobile banking application, and then straight from your mobile phone you can do international money remittance,” he said.

Phase two will be to enable domestic usage, allowing users to pay for items in stores, restaurants and cafes using only their phones.

However, that option has been available to Saudis for a while, with options such as Apple Pay, which was made available to Saudis in early 2019, and mada Pay, launched in mid-2019. Saudis have been able to pay bills and transfer funds to sellers electronically using SAMA’s Sadad payment system since 2004.

However, Nielsen believes that Virgin’s reputation and loyal userbase will create a strong enough incentive for users to opt in for the new application, once all the services are made available.

“As part of the Virgin Mobile brand, and our company ethos, we are very customer-focused. That goes for everything we do; we always try to remove ping points for customers. Over the past three years, quarter by quarter, we have been the company with the least complaints in Saudi Arabia as per CITC (The Communications and Information Technology Commission) regulations. In that sense we are the best-performing mobile operator in Saudi Arabia,” he said.

Nielsen says that with that ethos behind them, coupled with very strong digital capabilities and an abundance of research analysis, Virgin can expect to see plenty of customers come onboard with the new services.

“We do have experience from other countries. For example, in Oman, customers can buy life insurance products on the back of their subscription. For us, what we’re doing in Saudi Arabia is a natural expansion step, and we expect to continue to develop and evolve and hopefully provide even more exciting products to the Saudi Arabian market.”

Since launching in 2014, Virgin Mobile has netted more than 2.5 million customers in Saudi Arabia, and has become one of the top ten Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) in both the Kingdom and in Oman, out of more than a thousand in the world.

“We have a 6-7 percent market share both in Saudi and Oman, so we’re very proud of the performance that we have. It’s a testament to what it means to be an MVNO. We’re very focused on the segments we serve, and we provide offers and services built around their needs, and that’s how we succeed,” said Nielsen.

The Virgin Mobile announcement came after the news last week that digital payment transactions in the Kingdom jumped by 75 percent in 2020 as Saudi consumers embraced online shopping during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, while cash withdrawals from ATMs and other payment points fell 30 percent over the same period.

Speaking to Arab News, Talat Zaki Hafiz, economist and secretary-general of the media and banking awareness committee for Saudi banks, said non-cash transactions are expected to make up to 70 percent of all transactions by 2030.

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