Du open to adding crypto and investment tools to its new FinTech service

Du Pay aims to bridge gaps in financial market's underserved demographic, CEO says

Fahad Al Hassawi, chief executive of du, and Nicolas Levi, chief executive of du Pay, during the launch of the new platform on Monday. Pawan Singh / The National
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Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company, the Dubai telecom operator known as du, is open to adding cryptocurrency and investment tools to its recently launched financial technology platform, the chief executive of the new unit has said.

The potential additions, which would significantly help investors manage their investment portfolios, would be made through partnerships in the future and in accordance with UAE regulations, Nicolas Levi told The National on Monday at the launch of the du Pay FinTech service.

"Cryptocurrencies are being used as an investment. Will we have an investment product one day potentially? I'm not saying no to that. Will we use crypto for our own transactions? There are some plans with the [UAE] central bank to work on that," he said in an interview.

The UAE Central Bank does not recognise cryptocurrencies as legal tender. However, the apex financial regulator in March 2023 began implementing Digital Dirham, its own central bank digital currency.

A CBDC is a digital form of a government-issued currency. They are similar to cryptocurrencies, except that their value is fixed by the monetary authority and equal to the country's fiat currency.

Digital Dirham is one of the nine initiatives under the central bank's Financial Infrastructure Transformation Programme, which is meant to prepare the country for the future of finance.

Furthermore, the UAE Central Bank has allowed legitimate crypto businesses to open bank accounts, as the Emirates is working with decentralised financial businesses to find solutions to real-world use cases.

"[Having investment tools and crypto would be] through partnerships. We do not close the door to that," Mr Levi said, though he did not give a timetable for such a move.

"It could also be part of the international money transfer journey, because then you rely on the trust and you don't need to have a bank account in [your] home country."

Du Pay is the company's first foray into the fast-growing FinTech space. It was soft-launched earlier this month after the telecom operator in March received clearance from the UAE Central Bank to offer FinTech services.

It offers a range of financial services, including domestic and international transfers, bill payments and recharging, cash-in and cash-out services, and receiving salary through a unique IBAN number, among others.

The increasing use of mobile platforms to gain access to financial services is also growing in the UAE, with the use of digital wallets and online payments consistently rising.

Globally, the total transaction value in the digital payments market is projected to hit nearly $16.7 trillion by 2028, from an estimated $11.53 trillion in 2024, growing at a compound annual rate of more than 9.5 per cent, data from Statista shows.

Abu Dhabi's e&, the global technology company formerly known as Etisalat Group, already has its e& pay platform, which is being positioned as a "super app", or an application that serves as a one-stop shop for all essential services.

Du's entry into the FinTech space, on the other hand, comes amid "very healthy" competition in the market, Fahad Al Hassawi, chief executive of du, told The National.

Any plans for a super app would be announced separately; for now, du does not want to "overcomplicate" its strategy and is confident about a service that consumers can "start using immediately", he said.

Du Pay is also being positioned to help bridge the gap in the financial market's underserved demographic, as FinTech services are more convenient and can be easily accessed through a mobile phone.

"The market has always been, remains ... and will always be very healthy from a FinTech point of view ... we had many things we were working on, so it was a matter of finding or putting this on the list of priorities that we have to do," Mr Al Hassawi said.

"We remain ... a relatively smaller company than other groups, so it's a matter of selecting our priority and finding the right resources ... because we are venturing into an area where we also understand it's not the natural comfort zone for telco."

Updated: April 22, 2024, 12:34 PM