Rewind to 1984 and the company that became Masria Digital Payments (MDP) was manufacturing bank cards for the domestic Egypt market. Of course, there was not much in the way of digital back then, with ATMs the most advanced technology that the average customer would interact with. Cash was still very much king.
Fast forward to 2022 and MDP is riding the crest of the digital transformation wave. The company now has a footprint in more than 45 countries, working with 170 banks, and more than 1,200 retailers in the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region. The rapid transition to digital, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, has seen MDP deliver a staggering 72 million cards in the past three years alone. And with digital payments at the heart of the fintech ecosystem, MDP acts as a catalyst for financial empowerment – providing fintechs with the know-how they need to succeed.
“MDP started out 38 years ago as a consumer card manufacturer. Looking back, the company established several milestones as the first card manufacturer and the leading card issuer with all the major banks in Egypt,” says Ahmed Nafie, CEO at MDP.
“MDP transitioned to a payments’ infrastructure powerhouse, combining the world of card issuing and processing, with advanced APIs that allow card issuers to launch their products seamlessly.”
The MDP journey is a fascinating one, and a classic example of how a business pivots to survive and thrive – something we all became familiar with during the pandemic but a situation MDP faced back in 2011 during Egypt’s revolution.
At the time, MDP had been enjoying success working with the government producing smart cards for public transport, but the revolution changed the economic landscape.
“When the revolution happened, we saw one area of business that was unaffected, which was financial services,” recalls Nafie. “People still needed financial services, so in 2011 we started focusing on the banks.”
That focus saw MDP broaden its horizons, expanding from just servicing the domestic market to 40 countries today. MDP also became the largest producer of bank cards in Africa. Like all successful companies, MDP did not simply enjoy its market position, but instead looked for new opportunities, and the Next Big Thing.
“We saw a gap in the payment process market in 2017, so we started looking at the idea of doing our own data processing. And that is when MDP was spun off as a separate company dedicated to premium processing – basically allowing banks to issue cards to customers to manage and transact online.”
The next milestone in the MDP story came in 2020, when Nafie realised the potential for fintechs. Even then, he thought that traditional brick-and-mortar banks would be the bedrock of their business, but quickly saw the potential that this new breed of fintech innovators possessed.
“Suddenly, we found a completely new set of companies that really needed our services,” says Nafie. “Before then, our primary business, even on the cards, was for banks. We never projected that small start ups or fintechs would have a growing demand for our digital payments solutions & expertise.”
In the MENA region, MDP is the go-to digital payments partner for the majority of fintechs. Known and trusted by Central Banks, MDP is in a unique position to provide a one-stop solution for customer centric payment solutions and has become an enabler of fintechs in the region.
Through their open API card-issuing platform, MDP is powering on-demand delivery startups in the region – disruptors that have boomed in recent years and continue to thrive in developing markets.
“Our focus is to build and invest in the most progressive tools and technology that support the disruptors in the market,” says Nafie. “It is the ease of use and focus on providing seamless customer experiences that will shape the future of payments.”
MDP’s FinTech Enablement Program aims to empower the fintechs of the future, simplifying their digital payments journey that encompasses payments, payout, loyalty, and operational requirements.
By offering a plug-and-play model, MDP makes itself attractive to young startups who need guidance in bringing their ideas to fruition. That is where MDP provides the most value – with its networks, partnerships, and industry know-how.
MDP's solutions have already enabled and powered more than 30 local and regional fintechs in the region, with success stories encompassing end-to-end digital payment services.
MDP enables enterprises of all sizes to control payment programs and their omni-channel customer experiences. They not only manage the scalable issuing of cards but also the experience when users transact using the card. MDP solutions also include real-time data, fraud protection, analytics and reporting tools that enable companies to access rich data, to empower their customer experiences even further.
The MDP difference
Of course, MDP is not the only player in this market, despite their domination, so what made them rise to the top where others have faltered? What makes MDP better than the competition?
“It's a competitive field,” admits Nafie. “There are players from fast-going startups to legacy pressure – there for 30 or 40 years. Our edge at MDP comes from our customer centric approach and flexibility to adapt to market needs. Payment processors have traditionally been more rigid and less likely to move at a fast pace similar to startups.
“So we realised this very early on, if our customers demanded cards, we were able to deliver in a short notice.”
Nafie goes on to explain how many of the fintechs they work with appreciate the flexibility and knowledge that comes from MDP’s experience. For instance, a card issued via a startup venture may be redundant just six months later. MDP can anticipate this and be ready to deliver the next generation of solution as and when required.
“At the end of the day, if I have 10 customers, and they're only issuing 1,000 cards each, because I'm being inflexible, then there is no benefit for me,” he says. “But if I actually work much harder for these guys,go the extra mile, and keep changing the product for them, and they enhance their products, suddenly they have a million customers who are making money. This is the bottom line. My main goal as MDP’s CEO is to focus on our customers’ success, which contributes directly to their business growth.”
The second point Nafie is keen to make is the development of MDP’s own APIs – something he describes as the key factor for new digital banks.
MDP has developed an in-house API layer that they are able to manage themselves, without the need to rely on a third party. This allows for greater customization and using fresh ideas from customers to innovate even further.
The third point of difference that makes MDP stand out from the crowd is the fact it offers turnkey solutions – which is scarce if not unique in the MENA region.
“We have the fulfilment, we have the processing, and we have the APIs,” says Nafie. “So if you want to issue a card, you only need to talk to MDP – no-one else. Everything is in-house.”
“Fintechs need to be agile and move quickly, so being able to offer the complete solution is a real benefit for our customers.”
It is not only the fintech startups that appreciate the full service that MDP can provide – even the central banks turn to MDP as a trusted partner to guide fintech startups through the regulatory processes.
Looking to the future, which countries in MENA offer the greatest potential when it comes to digital payments? The focus previously had very much been on North Africa, but Nafie reveals MDP is looking at Pakistan as a next target market – as it has many similarities to the Egypt market MDP knows so well.
“Pakistan has a very similar landscape to Egypt – a large population, most of them under 25, and tech savvy,” says Nafie. “They have a very advanced central bank which is looking to promote fintech.
“And this is interesting. We thought initially that some of the central banks would try to support traditional banks and not support fintechs, but that has not been the case in Egypt and Pakistan. This is why we see these two markets as key for the future.”
If understanding the current market and predicting customers’ evolving needs was the first step in the evolution of MDP then the company’s important next step is to scale the business – focusing on payment processing and offering a full suite of solutions that cater to the entire banking and fintech ecosystem.
“We are very clear on what we want to do,” states Nafie. “It’s inevitable for us to get up-close and personal with our clients, our customer-centric approach resulted in sustainable, long-term relationships with key financial institutions and fintechs in the market.
“We are a company that started out as part of a group that has been around for 38 years and we aspire to continue disrupting the market in the MENA region for the next period.”