Financial Cards and Payments in Middle East and Africa

January 2021

Major changes were seen in financial cards and payments during 2020, with Coronavirus (COVID-19) speeding up the move away from cash, as consumers and retailers tried to avoid handling it, and providing strong impetus for contactless payments, seen as the most hygienic means of paying for goods, as well as further growth in e-commerce, with consumers locked down for extended periods in their homes or trying to avoid public places during the pandemic.

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Key findings

Payments environment disrupted by COVID-19

Consumer spending patterns in the Middle East and Africa were significantly affected by the pandemic in 2020. When possible, people avoided handling cash for hygiene reasons, encouraging greater use of card and, in particular, contactless payments. Debit cards were the main beneficiary of this, with people looking to keep control of their spending in a difficult economic environment.

Cash continues to lose ground

While cash remains an important payment mode, particularly in African countries, it continues to lose out to alternative forms of payment. As the banked population continues to expand and more retailers install POS payment terminals, consumers are increasingly won over by the convenience of cashless payment methods, particularly via their smartphones. Government policies will also encourage the trends towards financial inclusion and cashless transactions.

Competition intensifies across the region

Although major players still tend to lead national markets, they are experiencing intensified competition from emerging fintech companies, which have even been receiving support from central banks. This is leading the bigger players to create strategic partnerships with fintechs to offer innovations to their customers.

Digitalisation transforms m-commerce

M-commerce continued to gain momentum across the region, supported by improving internet penetration and widespread smartphone ownership. Evolving shopping habits, with mobile becoming a multifunctional tool, will continue to help drive further m-commerce growth.

Return to growth expected from 2021

In spite of the economic impact of COVID-19, the post-pandemic period is expected to see a return to positive annual growth rates for consumer payments from 2021.


Key findings

Regional Overview

Middle East and Africa with the lowest per capita figure
Cash takes a major hit in Middle East and Africa in 2020
Bounceback expected after COVID-19-induced spending decline
Card transactions fall but still continue to take share from cash in 2020
Governments continue their drive towards cashless societies
Cash is still king in most African nations
Debit cards continue to gain ground in Saudi Arabia
Debit cards the “winners” during the pandemic in 2020
Pandemic helps drive take-up of m-commerce payments

Leading Companies and Brands

Visa and Mastercard remain the dominant financial card operators
Visa and Mastercard with a wide presence across the region

Forecast Projections

Consumer payments to return to positive growth from 2021…
…but will not return to 2019 levels before the end of the forecast period
Continued move away from cash
Contactless cards to become the norm over the forecast period
Further strong growth expected for m-commerce
Digitalisation will continue to drive the payments market

Country Snapshots

Egypt: Market Context
Egypt: Competitive and Retail Landscape
Egypt: M-commerce and Consumer Payment Value
Israel: Market Context
Israel: Competitive and Retail Landscape
Israel: M-commerce and Consumer Payment Value
Morocco: Market Context
Morocco: Competitive and Retail Landscape
Morocco: M-commerce and Consumer Payment Value
Nigeria: Market Context
Nigeria: Competitive and Retail Landscape
Nigeria: M-commerce and Consumer Payment Value
Saudi Arabia: Market Context
Saudi Arabia: Competitive and Retail Landscape
Saudi Arabia: M-commerce and Consumer Payment Value
South Africa: Market Context
South Africa: Competitive and Retail Landscape
South Africa: M-commerce and Consumer Payment Value
United Arab Emirates: Market Context
United Arab Emirates: Competitive and Retail Landscape
United Arab Emirates: M-commerce and Consumer Payment Value


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