Fawry eyes 3 pct of Egypt's banked population

Annelle Sheline
5 Min Read

CAIRO: Fawry, an electronic bill payment and presentment (EBPP) network, hopes to capture 2 to 3 percent of Egypt’s banked population within a year, according to CEO Ashraf Sabry.

That’s equal to a little over 100,000 individuals, Sabry said Tuesday at the company’s soft launch in Cairo.

As of January 1, Fawry, which means immediately in Arabic, will enable customers to pay utility fees, tuition invoices, insurance payments and club fees through ATMs, mobile phones, with IVR (Interactive Voice Response), and on the internet.

Fawry has already established partnerships with various billers, focusing first on telecom providers, as their customers are already accustomed to interacting with electronic services. Besides Vodafone, Mobinil, Etisalat, and Telecom Egypt; TE Data, LinkDotNet, and Egyptian Railways are ready to offer their customers convenient electronic bills.

The list of billers is growing. Fawry announced today a new partnership agreement with life insurance company CIL. “The service has the potential to expand to really any entity that collects compensation from customers, says Magda Habib, Fawry’s chief commercial officer.

The Bank of Alexandria, CIB, Credit Agricole Egypt, Banque Du Caire, Banque Misr, HSBC, Arab African International Bank, and the National Bank of Egypt, which together represent 90 percent of Egypt’s banked population, are linked into Fawry’s financial network and are ready to receive electronic bills and issue payments.

Over the next month, chosen clients will test the service before it goes fully on line. As Sabry explains, preparing to present the service to the public required 18 months of preparation as the technological framework was established and partnerships forged with banks and billers.

Still, the process of establishing a network capable of handling 1,080,000 payments a day has gone smoothly.

Sabry attributes the Fawry’s relatively easy beginning to market readiness for such a project, where online bill payment currently encompasses .04 percent of 1.3 billion bills collected annually.

“Our first challenge was to convince investors. Our major shareholders [Raya, EFG Hermes and HSBC] are also partners in carrying out our service, so they have a keen interest in helping Fawry succeed, Sabry explained.

The challenge now is to introduce the concept to Egyptians, many of whom have little experience with non cash-based transactions.

Yet Habib expresses confidence. “Ten years ago Fawry would not have been possible, she explains. “But today people are used to daily manipulation of gadgets – their mobiles – to talk and text and add credit. They are also used to interacting with machines for financial services; even government employees now receive their salaries in bank accounts rather than cash.

Last year Fawry commissioned a study by IPSOS, and found that, for example, door-to-door utility bill collectors now find empty houses as both husband and wife work outside the home, forcing customers to track down the bill themselves and pay it in person. Often institutions such as recreational clubs will not send payment reminders, leaving customers to remember, or rather forget, on their own.

Habib describes the service as “easing daily hassles through convenience based on trust.

Sabry shares insights gained from e-bill usage in the UK. “The curve for rates of use is likely to begin slowly, but after people begin to become aware of it, we expect customers to increase dramatically, as has been observed in other contexts.

After 18 months of planning, the institutional framework is in place. However, Sabry acknowledges that the next challenge is attracting an initial critical mass that will hopefully trigger mass usage.

“We hope to use public advertising campaigns to raise awareness levels. But equally important is to make people feel confident in the security and efficiency of the service. That means making sure that banks are available to address people’s concerns, and maintaining an excellent call center to answer people’s questions, Sabry said.

Fawry’s security measures include network encryption, application encryption SSL, digital signature, and ISO 27001:2005.

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