In an exclusive interview, Khalifa Al Shamsi, CEO, e& life, talks about the importance of customer engagement in understanding their needs and enhancing experiences in the digital world.
Why an event like GITEX Global is important and what value does it bring to e& life?
In its 43rd edition, GITEX Global is the world's largest technology event and a great opportunity to take all our visitors on a journey of the future making the unimaginable possible through technological innovation.
With the theme focused on ‘Accelerating Innovation’ it is about transforming the world of technology to create a better future. It is also about breaking new ground to achieve breakthrough with the power of technology to create immersive and unforgettable experiences. Every year at GITEX, we bring in a glimpse of the immense possibilities on the digital landscape with innovation that is set to transform the future of communication and technology.
At e& life, with our fintech arm e& money and evision, a prominent player in media and entertainment it is about showcasing the next – generation digital world accessible to our consumers at their fingertips. This is a great platform to also engage with customers, understand their needs and enhance their experiences.
What are the highlights of your participation at GITEX this year?
The event has always been about exploring new possibilities with technology in all aspects of our lives. From the way we work, conduct business, shop, educate and interact, with technologies like AI, IoT, robotics, 5G all making its presence on the stand in the most innovative showcases, many of which are globally being launched or displayed for the first time on the e& stand.
This year e& money’s showcase is an example of how we can collaborate and bring the best for our consumer, visitors can link their e& money and smiles account to elgrocer to make purchases throughout GITEX and also earn Smiles points.
With smart retail there are AI solutions and tools that help with shopping lists, identifies products, and intelligent shelves that help with faster purchasing decisions, also offer analytics and AR shopping experiences. Visitors can go on a virtual shopping experience navigating through leading brands with other displays focused on amplifying the entire shopping journey.
Our partner WIO Bank will be present bringing a glimpse of the future of banking for visitors. WIO has been supporting SMEs in the UAE by providing them with money management solutions that contribute to the growth of their businesses. At the e& pavilion, there are other live, interactive, and innovative experiences from across global markets that will soon become a digital reality of tomorrow. These exhibits include next-generation technologies, advancements in 5G, drone and autonomous vehicles focusing on sectors from retail, healthcare, and various AI and robotics technologies.
Looking back at 2023, what was your focus and how has this contributed to the vision of the group?
At e& life our mission is to integrate the digital world into our customers' lives seamlessly. Through our advanced platforms, we deliver various services spanning entertainment applications, retail, remote services, and financial technology. We're dedicated to enriching the daily experiences of our users, bringing them both entertainment and utility.
Our ambitious roadmap for e& money in the last year was to diversify and expand our offerings, encompassing international and local transfers, bill payments, balance top-ups, gifting, card payments, lending, and many other financial services. For evision, it was about being at the forefront of curating and broadcasting top-tier multimedia content. We have set our sights on becoming the prime content hub for regions like the Middle East, North and West Africa, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Our offerings remained focused on featuring everything from unique local content and live sports to exclusive podcasts.
The efforts taken in our fintech business has only gained momentum with a strategic plan to take a lead in the region within the next five years. The goal is fuelled by the rapidly evolving payment landscape in the Middle East, marked by a growing preference for non-cash transactions. Simultaneously, we're cementing our position as the region's most extensive entertainment content curator, all while ensuring delivery via smart platforms.
Our approach is tailored, crafting services specific to each consumer segment. This enhances business growth prospects and ensures our customers enjoy distinctive, secure, and flexible digital experiences. We're always looking to innovate, eager to collaborate, form strategic partnerships, and even make acquisitions when the synergy aligns with our growth vision.
Since our inception, we have consistently focused on enhancing our customers' digital experiences and delivering exceptional value to e& by scaling up innovative consumer businesses and improving core revenue. At e& life we continue to focus on expansion, diversify our offerings, and capitalize on digital technologies.
Leveraging e&'s strength, we plan to launch many more fintech products and services to cater to diverse segments of customers, supporting our vision to become the UAE's leading digital wallet and the most advanced financial super app in the market for both consumers and merchants.
How would you describe the performance of the e& money app and its contribution to supporting the financial technology sector in the country?
Since inception e& money has focused on revolutionizing customer experience and also aspire to become UAE’s top financial applications. The app today encompasses secure and adaptive e-payment solutions, streamlining daily financial transactions for users. Its service suite caters to both individuals and businesses, encompassing offerings like investments in real estate, stocks, cryptocurrencies, and gold, as well as loans and financial consultancy. This supports the nation's push towards cashless transactions.
The platform is all-encompassing, catering to a variety of financial requirements. Users gain access to services such as payments, money transfers, bill settlements, loans, investments, ATM cards, and insurance. We're committed to inclusivity, ensuring all demographics, banked or unbanked, have their financial needs addressed comprehensively.
Our emphasis on innovation saw the e& money app expand to feature open banking services and debit cards. This resulted in a subscriber base of 750,000. We've also broadened our international transfer reach to over 200 countries through collaborations with global financial firms.
Our efforts haven't gone unnoticed. e& money was recognized as the Best Digital Wallet in the Region and Best Technological Innovation in Financial Services. We pride ourselves on offering the swiftest digital experience in user access compared to other digital wallets locally. With the integration of over 30 new brands for payment and bill settlements, our app's digital service portfolio has grown.
With partners like MasterCard who have revolutionized payment methods for consumers, the introduction of an exclusive prepaid card provided e& money app users a convenient and secure payment mechanism, in-store or online, globally. This initiative positions it as the UAE's first telecommunication operator-backed card.
Since its debut in March 2023, over 250,000 e& money digital cards have been issued. Notably, it offers one of the most competitive loyalty programs in the nation. Users reap cash rewards equivalent to 1 per cent of their purchases when using the card during the launch—a perk traditionally reserved for credit cards.
The focus this year was also about increasing the usability on the e& money card with seamless integration of popular wallets like Samsung Wallet, Apple Pay and Google Pay, enabling secure, contactless payments worldwide.
In money transfer, our partnership with MoneyGram extended our global reach. This move allows our global customer base to send and transfer money effortlessly. Our aim is to offer this service across all our international markets, with diverse receiving options like bank accounts, cash pick-up, and digital wallets in regions spanning India, China, Asia, and Latin America. We've recently incorporated the ability to transfer money to subsidiary company wallets in specific markets, such as Egypt (Etisalat cash), Pakistan (UPaisa) and Afghanistan (mHawala).
As part of our commitment towards communities in times of crisis, e& money also launched special initiatives to support the people in Afghanistan, Morocco and Libya, with customers able to make international money transfers at zero fees and best exchange rates.
As leaders in the fintech sector in the region, how do you see the future growth of this sector in the UAE?
The UAE is carving a niche for itself as a global fintech powerhouse characterized by significant growth and innovation. The UAE's fintech market stands at an impressive $39.3 billion dollars this year in transaction value. Predictions indicate a compound annual growth rate exceeding 15%. Driven by its national digital economy strategy, the UAE aspires to amplify its digital economy contribution to its GDP from the current 9.7% to over 20% by 2031. 2This ambitious move aims to position the UAE as a premier digital economy hub both regionally and internationally. Projections indicate that the national digital economy's value could skyrocket to 140 billion dollars by 2031 from its present 38 billion dollars.
The region's fintech sector is on the brink of substantial expansion, buoyed by innovations in supply chain technology, user-centric solutions, and modern payment modalities.
With consumers prioritizing simplicity, speed, and security in digital transactions, the UAE witnessed a surge in preference for digital payment techniques.
Can you share insights into evision journey in the past year and your aspirations in the coming period?
As the media & entertainment arm of e& group and the largest content aggregator in the MENAP region, evision has redefined the multimedia experiences of our customers. Since April 2020, we have expanded our services to other companies within the group, including Etisalat Egypt, Mobily in Saudi Arabia and PTCL/ufone in Pakistan, providing cloud-based content and platform solutions for IPTV, multi-screen, mobile and OTT platforms. Through both organic and inorganic growth opportunities, we are focused on accelerating evision's transformation into the premier content and multimedia aggregator for MENAP and Western Africa.
Our goal is to propel evision as the leading content and multimedia platform expanding across regions including the Middle East, West Africa, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. With over 20 years of collaboration with major Hollywood studios, independent studios, and regional content suppliers, evision delivers over 600 TV channels and 40,000 hours of on-demand content across multiple languages. evision extended its reach to 22 countries amassing over 4.5 million subscribers (including elife, STARZPLAY, regional operators).
A pivotal move was our acquisition of a 57% majority stake in the leading video streaming platform STARZPLAY ARABIA, which led to a subscriber growth spike of approximately 283% compared to the previous year. STARZPLAY holds exclusive ad sales rights in vital sectors and oversees commercial services across the Middle East and North Africa.
evision's content portfolio has been enriched through collaborations with Arabic entertainment platforms and exclusive global sports championship rights. We introduced the ‘Golf Life’ channel for golf lovers, securing exclusive broadcasting rights in the Middle East and North Africa for major tournaments like the PGA Tour, Ryder Cup., evision also acquired exclusive key sport properties for MENA region like the renowned 2023 Indian Premier League cricket championship, the 2023 ICC Cricket World Cup, and the Italian football rights, Series A along with STARZPLAY.
We further solidified our leadership in entertainment by relaunching the Indian movie channel eMasala as 'em', spotlighting premium Bollywood content. Today, em stands among the most popular Bollywood channels, curating a diverse film selection catering to varied preferences.
Additionally, evision oversees exclusive channels such as ejunior, the UAE's top children's channel, CricLife, and 24-hour HD channels. We've successfully rolled out OTT platforms like SHOQ TV for PTCL in Pakistan, TWIST TV for etisalat by e& in Egypt and Mobily TV for Mobily in KSA, strengthening our video streaming services.
As we move ahead, evision will witness further growth especially with the growth expectations from the digital entertainment sector across the Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Market research suggests that by 2025, the digital entertainment sector's value for these regions will hit approximately $10 billion, with video-on-demand services alone generating around $5.5 billion in revenue from an estimated 29 million users. Such projections underline a significant opportunity for evision in the digital entertainment landscape. e&'s robust foothold in the Middle East and North Africa strengthens our presence with continuous investments and securing exclusive broadcasting rights to premium Arabic titles.
Our strategy is multifaceted as new Hollywood channels boost engagement and acquisitions on our platform, this has led to expanding our live broadcasting channels and video-on-demand offerings enriching the Hollywood content library with exclusive originals. Additionally, we're focused on broadening our content scope, incorporating assets and media from various sources. This encompasses video, audio, games, and a more diversified entertainment palette catering to a wider range of consumers.
Leveraging its vast expertise in content diversification, e& is set to venture further into realms like video services, digital games, and innovative solutions. Our vision is to forge alliances with industry stalwarts and actively scout for acquisition opportunities. The approach is also set to amplify our footprint in the digital advertising sector within the Middle East and North Africa, driving a significant uptick in revenue streams.
What is your vision for the future of digital services, and how can e& life create a better future for all?
e& money is committed to amplifying customer engagement by introducing many innovative features across its card, lending, and investment services. Our roadmap includes the rollout of diversified fintech offerings tailored to various customer segments, reinforcing our ambition to stand out as the UAE's top financial app and the market's premier financial platform for both individual and corporate users.
With the investment into Careem, there are also several growth opportunities with our strengths in fintech and multimedia, coupled with their services and regional footprint, will accelerate our joint vision towards a regional super app. This partnership will set new standards of product innovation and customer experience throughout the region.
As we gain momentum and chart our journey to become a super app, we will continue to focus on offering our customers a plethora of services under a singular platform, eliminating the need to juggle multiple applications.
As we look into the future, evision's acquisition of exclusive broadcasting rights also enriches our portfolio with premium content from Hollywood and Bollywood studios, family channels, standout local language content, and exclusive partnerships for online live streaming (OTT) and sporting events.
With the rise of streaming, mass content creation and on-demand services, the future of TV is evolving at an accelerated pace. We are at the forefront of making a significant impact in the entertainment industry, in line with our commitment to elevating the customer experience so that our viewers have the best content to watch at any time of their choosing and from anywhere.
The future of digital services in both fintech and entertainment is about personalization, automation and intelligence. With emerging technologies such as AI, machine learning and blockchain, services will transform the way we live, work and play. It’s about providing a seamless experience, with all services interconnected to work together. The future is full of possibilities, we are just beginning to scratch the surface of what is possible with digital technology.