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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

IBM, MC, Saudi Payments build instant commerce network

April 21, 2021, marked the official launch of "sarie," an instant payment system built by Saudi Payments in partnership with IBM and Mastercard and supervised by the Saudi Central Bank (SAMA). Designed to enhance the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's payments ecosystem, the service brings instant payments to Saudi banks throughout the region, according to project managers. Fahad Al-Akeel, managing director at Saudi Payments, described the project as a huge step forward that will "help lay the foundation for new payments business initiatives, encouraging financial inclusion and banking reconciliation of Saudi banks," he said in a statement. "We welcome this momentous collaboration with IBM and Mastercard."

Al-Akeel noted that sarie, which means "fast" in Arabic, aligns with Vision 2030, a Saudi initiative aimed at improving customer experience, technology frameworks and cashless transactions. He added that sarie has been rolled out to local banks throughout the region and will enhance commerce transparency, innovation and global interoperability.

Vision 2030

Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 includes 96 strategic objectives and 13 Vision Realization Programs established by the Council of Economic and Development Affairs, Al-Akeel stated. In addition, a Financial Sector Development Program was created to further support the program by creating effective, diversified sources of income, savings, finance and investment products and services.  

One of Vision 2030's chief commitments is to increase noncash transaction share to 70 percent by the year 2030, organizers stated. Facilitating digital payments, one of several projects overseen by SAMA, is an important step toward achieving the Kingdom’s vision of having a cashless society and promoting innovation in the financial sector.

While the Middle East has long been known as a cash-based society, a recent study by Checkout.com found that cashless transactions nearly doubled in the region during the pandemic. Researchers expect digital payment growth to continue to accelerate in the foreseeable future, as online shopping continues to scale.

Agile deployment

IBM, Mastercard and Saudi Payments representatives observed that sarie was completed in 17 months, from concept to deployment, a record for a project of this scope, they stated. IBM Global Business Services designed and architected the solution, integrating Mastercard's instant payments platform into Saudi Payments’ existing infrastructure and connecting it to IT systems of locally operating banks, according to Dina Abo-Onoq, managing partner, IBM GBS, Saudi Arabia.

Abo-Onoq observed that the Mastercard network's real-time capabilities will benefit residents and business owners. "In order for banks and financial institutions to remain current, they should be prepared to adapt to the changing and on-the-go customer needs, using the latest innovations," she said. "This launch is another step towards the advancement of the payments and banking landscape in Saudi Arabia and the region."

Maria Medvedeva, vice president and country business development lead, Saudi Arabia, Mastercard, agreed, calling sarie “a significant milestone in our real-time payments journey and is the result of hard work."

Saudi Arabia is an important market for Mastercard, Medvedeva added, stating that having a real-time payment system will open doors in the Kingdom and further afield. "The initiative can significantly contribute towards digitizing and modernizing transactions in line with the goals of Vision 2030," she said, adding that it will also improve efficiencies and broaden access to financial services to the Saudi economy and its citizens. end of article

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