Connected MENA chats with Timmy Alassad

March 4, 2021 0 Comments

Timmy has a wealth of knowledge in the digital and payments landscape spanning over 20 years. He has worked for well-known organisations such St.George Bank, Westpac Bank, Hewlett Packard, Sandstone Technology, and Macquarie Bank in Australia. Having advised many banking clients of all sizes on how to maximise sales growth via digital & eCommerce. Primary roles included product development, product strategy, migration, user experience, and leading UX and design thinking teams.

He is currently the founder and Co- CEO of Zink PAY- a new payment and reconciliation platform aimed to offer business and landlord an alternative to cheque payment acceptance. Timmy is also the CEO of two payment consulting companies Your Online Solutions in Australia and Jamia Solutions in Dubai.

His expertise is working with leadership teams on how to get the most out of leveraging digital channels over existing business models.

Hi Timmy.. how are you? Can you give me a quick background into who you are and what you do?

Hi Mo, thanks for having me on your blog. My name is Timmy Alassad and I am the founder and Co-CEO of a new fintech called Zink Pay. Our aim is to eliminate post dated cheques in the UAE by offering direct debits as the cheaper and better solution. Our aim is to move the UAE from making large post dated payments to smaller monthly payments which will help everyone with their cashflow while providing transparency for all parties.

How long have you been in the MENA, and what bought you here? 

I started coming to MENA in 2018, participating in some fintech events and promoting new fintechs to banks and large fintech hubs. After speaking to several banks and companies I began to realise that the region was still heavily dependant on cash and cheques for services. Many expats complained that they had never had to use a cheque book before coming to the UAE and other MENA countries.

Coming from a country such as Australia, paying for bills and rents is rarely done with cash or cheques anymore. Its been that way for over 15 years. Most payments are completed using online payments via your bank or using alternative payments from payment gateways and wallets.

Almost all billers charge monthly, this helps to attract customers without putting the pressure of paying for services for up to twelve months in advance. Companies and landlords that offer monthly payments generally have more customers.

 I quickly began to realise that there was a gap in the market around payments that Zink Pay could help fundamentally change.

What are some of the things that cannot be ignore when it comes to how consumers interact with brands here?

COVID 19 has been devastating to many people’s livelihoods. Many traditional industries have collapsed and there is not really a path to success for many of them right now. Everyone is waiting for a vaccine that will probably take years before its massed produced in numbers that is required to vaccinate the entire world population.

What COVID has accomplished is to accelerate the growth of digital transformation, digital payments and expand on logistics services across the MENA region. The MENA region was heavily staff heavy, using cheap resources to facilitate its operations and growth. COVID has impacted industries that were heavily reliant on people.

Now we see the embracement of VOIP solutions such as Zoom and Microsoft teams in the workplace and schools. People have the option to work from home or remotely instead of having to travel to their office.

More businesses are offering eCommerce solutions now. When I first came to the region most orders would only accept cash on delivery. Now many couriers and delivery staff are holding payment terminals ready for card payments.

MENA needs to continue this push towards digital adoption and let go of old manual processes.

Organisations should be already on their way to a full digital adoption. Those that haven’t yet will probably see a reduction in their customer base as the demand for digital will become an expectation over time, if not already.

Digital payment method adoption grew significantly during the COVID-19 outbreak – what challenges do you think the industry faced and how were they overcome?

I believe the technology has always been there, but it was always about changing the mindset of governments, companies and generally people themselves to adopt these technologies. Many people follow the philosophy “if it isn’t broken, then don’t fix it”.

COVID changed that mindset as people were forced into lockdowns for long periods of time. Now people are comfortable paying for goods and services online and doing their banking with their smart phones. Companies and people within UAE will continue using digital platforms as people are used to it now and can see the value of it.

Digital payments varied from country to country – between credit cards, debit cards and digital wallets – what was the method of choice here and why do you think that was?

The smart phone has changed many people’s attitude to using their cards and wallets online. COVID has already accelerated the adoption of card payments as well in this region. With Pre-covid, I think people were comfortable using their credit cards to make payments. People were happy to spend and put their payment on credit. POST covid we are seeing stats with debit card usage overtaking and exceeding credit card. Most people now are cash flow sensitive are only spending what money they have in their bank account.

Mobile wallets are still in its infancy, but this will grow quickly. Current adoption and usage are low now, but eventually you will see most card payments being initiated from a digital wallet.

MENA is so dependent on the cheque system – how do you see it changing over time? And will the MENA region ever break free of the cheque book mentality?

Yes, it was quiet shocking when I first came to the UAE to use cheques. But unlike many western countries, a bounced cheque could lead to a criminal case against a person. This gave companies the illusion that cheques were secure forms of payment. But in fact, if a cheque bounced and the person had left the country then it would be almost impossible to get paid.

But Dubai has led the change to classify a bounced cheque under 200,000 AED as a civil penalty and not a criminal case. The other emirates will probably adopt this over time.

Instead business in countries like Australia aim to ease pressure on their customers by providing flexibility by offering monthly payments. We are also seeing the success of buy now pay later (BNPL) companies such as After pay and Zip Money make massive strides. People prefer subscription payments then making large payments, especially during these times when job security is on everyone’s mind. The great news for businesses is that they don’t have to lower process to win customers, just over a subscription style payment instead.

How important is it for the UAE to be seen as a leader in breaking free of this mindset?

Generally speaking, the UAE is seen as the innovation leader in the GCC. Once a new service or product works in UAE we have seen similar adoption take up in other GCC countries. Now that is not to say that the UAE should be comfortable thinking it will always be in position. Countries like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are investing heavily in start ups and new disruption services. 

Once the UAE start moving to more of a flexible payment approach model popular in Western countries it will see a boom in expats and companies wanting to set up in the UAE. The other GCC countries will have to follow or the UAE will leave them in the dust.

Like any leaders, the UAE must continue to innovate, adapt, and change or soon lose its position as innovation leaders in the region.

The great thing about the UAE there is so much opportunity to test out brand new solutions and products here. The government is quite supportive of testing out new services that can benefit the country.

 Which specific sectors or applications do you believe fintech firms offer that have the greatest potential to have material influence or true disruptive industry impact?

That is a tough question as there are many tech firms that are out there creating such positive disruption. From logistics, transport, blockchain, data mining, AI and robotics, we are seeing a new age of technology that will probably replace how humans have been working in the last 60 years.

For example, it is possible now to 3D print affordable housing. On the surface this is a great positive technology that will provide cheap, stable housing for millions of people around the world. The negative impact is that is requires little human resources to build a house. Soon many people will have to be retrained in new skills or we will observe a high unemployment, especially in the low skill sectors.

What fintech trend(s) emerged this year that wasn’t on your radar in previous years?

We will see more expectations from customers to do everything on mobile. This includes banking, investment, eCommerce, social platforms. We will also see more marketplace platforms be introduced targeting key sectors. Even the government will have many of their services available digitally.

We are finally seeing services that allow for a digital onboarding without having to go to a branch. This is a big step for the UAE.

Everything will be API driven and allow people to access information about goods and services from multiple sources.

In your opinion, which companies in the region are using digital / technology to its full potential and how?

Well I would say the banks in the UAE are not where they should be comparable to other western and Asian markets. Banks by now should have implemented a real time payment service, reduced cheque dependency, and ensured that every service possible should be made online. 

In many countries you can open a personal or business banking account in a short time. UAE banks needs to work on this. The bank that can do this effectively in my opinion will drive more clients increasing their opportunity for deposits and offering lending and credit products.

In the logistics side I am seeing great platforms that provide services quickly and easily. Although there is room for improvement, they are by far leveraging technology efficiently. It is the same for car sharing platforms as well.

What are some of the challenges you have faced in hiring digital talent in the MENA region?

All new companies initially face challenge around cashflow and ensuring you can obtain the best resource possible without breaking the bank. For start ups, the cost of hiring a new employee in the UAE is high cost and it’s a long process to onboard a new employee. Sponsoring their visas, insurance, medical checks etc is barrier for any company. Instead I generally like to obtain the services of third-party companies and if possible freelancers. This allows me to obtain the services I need faster, without the upfront costs of and time required for obtaining staff.

The challenge with this however is that there are hardly any great platforms that not only has listing of these companies and freelancers but have also independently verified them. A marketplace that would allow companies to obtain freelancers/contractors quickly with the comfort of knowing you are hiring the best of what the region offers would be a life saver. 

What processes and or steps have you taken to overcome those challenges and address your talent needs.

Right now, I use third party companies for my build, support, and marketing requirements. I’ve actually been attending webinars a lot. I use the webinar to not only to listen to the content, but to observe the speaker and see if they would like to do some short term work for us if I am impressed with them on the webinar. So far, I have obtained the services of two companies that are integral with Zink Pay’s delivery that I discovered via listening to them via webinar.

Recruiters do approach me all the time, but no one is really promoting freelancers or contractors that have their own residence visas.

Abdul-Rahman Risilia ARC Talent +971 50 535 1536 email