Astra Tech, the Dubai-based technology-focused investment company backed by Abu Dhabi's artificial intelligence company G42, has teamed up with global payments company Mastercard to boost its digital payments services in the Mena region.
The partnership makes PayBy, Astra Tech's financial services arm, one of the first FinTech players in the UAE to obtain a Mastercard principal membership licence, which will enable it to act as an issuer of digital — prepaid and debit — and physical cards, Astra Tech told The National on Monday.
It also enables Astra Tech, which secured $500 million in a funding round led by G42 in December, to issue Mastercard-branded physical and digital cards through its PayBy and Botim platforms, it said.
Astra Tech acquired PayBy in August and voice over internet protocol (VoiP) platform Botim in December.
It also acquired Rizek, an on-demand app for home and personal services, in July, and entered into a partnership with US payments company MoneyGram International to allow international money transfers on Botim.
Those moves are aligned with the company's plans to launch what it calls an "ultra app" that would serve a wide range of consumer needs through integrated digital channels.
Astra Tech's partnership with Mastercard "will provide users with even greater financial flexibility and convenience through Botim's ultra app, which is due for launch in the second quarter", Abdallah Abu-Sheikh, co-founder and chief executive of Astra Tech, told The National.
"Users will be able to access a wide range of financial services, including money transfers and bill payments, all in one place. Botim is now well positioned to become a leader in the rapidly growing FinTech industry in the region."
Apps have played a major role in the digital lives of consumers, who have relied on these to gain access to any service, including finance, shopping, health, transport and home services.
Astra Tech's plans to launch an ultra app would rival super apps such as Dubai-based Careem, one of the most recognisable in the Middle East.
Careem became the region's first unicorn — a start-up with a valuation of more than $1 billion — when US-based Uber bought it in 2019 for $3.1 billion.
Astra Tech previously said that its “ultra platform” would be a first in the Arab world and would allow sellers and consumers around the world to directly transact with each other on a single platform, eliminating the complexity of using several apps.
Botim, which was developed by US company Algento, was introduced in the UAE in 2017 as one of only two licensed VoIP apps, the other one being C'Me.
It has more than 100 million registered users and an 80 per cent market penetration rate in the UAE, giving it the "ability to become the biggest card-issuing FinTech in the region", Astra Tech said.
"We are committed to pursuing opportunities that align with Botim's vision of delivering the best services ... these efforts strengthen Astra Tech's position to empower other FinTechs in the region," Mr Abu-Sheikh said.
The company's partnership with Mastercard will also allow it to offer banking identification number (Bin) sponsorship services, which will enable third-party FinTechs to issue prepaid cards and connect to Mastercard's network.
"Through this partnership, millions of users will have access to Mastercard's global reach and suite of products as we join forces to create a more connected and inclusive digital future for all," J.K. Khalil, cluster general manager for the Mena East region at Mastercard, said.
New York-based Mastercard has been active in providing its FinTech services in the UAE.
In October, it team up with BitOasis, one of the largest cryptocurrency trading platforms in the Mena region, to unveil cryptocurrency cards that will allow the use of digital tokens at point-of-sale terminals and across e-commerce platforms.