Gulf Insider talks with Nezar Maroof, AGM – Marketing, Innovation & Business Development at Benefit Company, about their recent projects towards the national direction of Bahrain.
What would you say were your greatest achievement this 2018?
We have achieved so many things in 2018. This was when we started building our new strategy and the focus of it was to align with the national direction Bahrain has. One of the achievements we had this 2018 is expanding our e-wallet features, BenefitPay. It has now become the national eWallet for Bahrainis. BenefitPay has over 1000 merchants included in its services already. Payment isn’t the only service it offers, it can also fund transfer from different accounts, supply invoices, and, something that will come soon, the ability to fund transfer overseas for friendly remittance sending.
Another achievement is the establishment of our technical lab. We have BenefitLab where we are doing a lot of proof of concept or PoC. This is where we test trending and new ideas that come from the market. One idea we are trying right now is the use of chatbots in social media to be included in the services provided by financial institutions. The 3rd achievement is the signing agreement to share credit information with Saudi Credit Bureau (Simah). It is the first cross-border exchange of its kind in the Middle East and North Africa region. It also seeks to strengthen the supervisory roles entrusted to government regulating bodies and other related parties to protect the financial sector from the risks of improper financing practices, and to provide an efficient and reliable information infrastructure.
What are the key projects for 2019?
A major one is the eKYC implementation, it is a nation-wide project and, hopefully, we start to assimilate it into financial institutions this 2019. The project is by EDB and IGA and we have been appointed as the gateway between the financial sector and the data hosted by government custody. We have also been appointed by the central bank to implement eCheque. This is one of the directions we are getting with the CBB and EDB, part of the national strategy is to minimize cash utilization in our society. It is reducing physical transactions financially. eCheque enables the user to have a cheque electronically, reducing the need for paper cheques or banks issuing cheque books. eCheque is more secure than physical ones, we can check the history and the source of an eCheque a lot easier. Transactions will also be more transparent. Another project that is important to us is the WPS or Wages Protection System. This is another direction that the government has, to create a comprehensive ecosystem that protect the wages of expats working in Bahrain. Hopefully this year, all employers in Bahrain will not pay in cash anymore. It will always have to be through a bank, this gives more visibility and transparency in following the contract wages an employee signed.
What are the current innovations and Fintech direction?
We are in close partnership with Bahrain Fintech Bay, which is where our new lab is. We have sort of developed an alliance program where we work with the academe here in Bahrain. We signed a memorandum of understanding or MOU with the University of Bahrain and the British University of Bahrain. The point of having this MOU’s is to support the RnD or research and development coming from these universities. We encourage new ideas and innovations, especially those that assist the Fintech sector.
Another project we are innovating in the Fintech lab is making the University of Bahrain bookstore seamless and interaction-free. It will become a stafffree store where a student can go in, pick a book, leave the bookstore and it will already be paid for and deducted from his bank account. This company was established to support the financial sector, regulator government and help society accomplish its direction and strategies. Most of the projects we have are aimed to be able to be assimilated and benefited by the people. We would already benefit greatly from the improvement of our society and in fulfilling the direction the national strategy has. We are also focused in spreading our ideas and products to the general public. We have a very comprehensive awareness plan this year that aims to further the use of our services and along with it the implementation of the national direction it carries. We want to make what we are doing as part of the people.
How are you supporting the National Direction?
We hold the financial technology that’s being implemented, this enables us to be a big part of the progress that is currently going on in Bahrain. We also closely work with a lot of institutions like EDB, CBB, and IGA that also support the national direction as the national financial strategy and roadmap are already sat by them.