Bahrain’s cashless payments surge to $3.62bn in first half of 2021

Dalal Buhejji, Executive Director of Business Development Investment Origination at the Bahrain Economic Development Board

Manama – Bahrain: The number of POS and Ecommerce transactions in Bahrain shot up by 65% in August, year-on-year, reaching a total value of nearly $744 million during the month, after topping $3.62 billion in the first half of 2021, the Central Bank of Bahrain (CBB) revealed today.

According to new figures from the CBB, there were more than 11.3 million digital transactions in Bahrain last month, valued at BD279.6 million ($743.7 million). The value of e-commerce and point-of-sale (PoS) payments rose by 50% in August 2021 compared to the same month last year. There were more than 53 million digital payments in the first half of 2021, the data shows.

The figures reflect the trend in the rest of the GCC, which is currently experiencing a region-wide surge in online and digital payments as countries accelerate their transition towards cashless societies in the wake of the pandemic.

Lockdowns last year caused a dramatic shift towards digital payment systems. Bahrain’s national electronic wallet, BenefitPay, announced a 785% increase in the number of remittances through its Fawri+ service (an online payment service introduced under the Electronic Funds Transfer System) in 2020 – exceeding $5 million. And research from the European Payments Council indicates that the MENA region will process around 139 billion individual non-cash transactions in 2022, which is 90 billion more than five years ago.

Bahrain is among the leaders of the Middle East’s march towards a paperless financial system, thanks to its innovative regulation of FinTech. Bahrain boasts some of the world’s most advanced digital infrastructure and has produced several leading start-ups that are disrupting the region’s digital payments infrastructure.

Dalal Buhejji, Executive Director of Business Development Investment Origination at the Bahrain Economic Development Board, said: “Even before the pandemic, the GCC was embracing digital and mobile banking and payments. Bahrain has anticipated the trends that were catalysed by the pandemic. The Kingdom has a proven track record of reacting quickly to embrace emerging financial technologies and flexibly regulate them. An example of our forward-thinking regulatory framework is the way the Kingdom mandated the adoption of open banking. Our regulatory approach, along with our advanced digital infrastructure, is why we are at the forefront of developing the technologies, solutions and ecosystems that will form the future of the region’s digital economy.”

Reforms to open banking are expected to have broad ramifications for the payments business, according to a recent survey from McKinsey, published in 23 August. When respondents to the survey were asked what government- or regulator-driven action would be most effective in steering customers to digital payments, 27% nominated regulatory approval for open banking. In 2018, Bahrain made a leap forward in the financial services sector, issuing open banking rules, followed by a framework with guidelines on data sharing and governance in 2020.

About Bahrain Economic Development Board:

The Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB) is an investment promotion agency with overall responsibility for attracting investment into the Kingdom and supporting initiatives that enhance the investment climate.

The EDB works with the government and both current and prospective investors, in order to ensure that Bahrain’s investment climate is attractive, to communicate the key strengths, and to identify where opportunities exist for further economic growth through investment.

The EDB focuses on several economic sectors that capitalise on Bahrain’s competitive advantages and provide significant investment opportunities. These sectors include financial services, manufacturing, ICT, tourism, logistics and transport.