The digital transformation of business and society has found fertile ground with early promise for the super-app model, specifically in the Middle East and Africa, even as mobile digital platforms continue to offer proprietary and third-party functions under a single brand.
The second in a two-part report series commissioned by Mastercard Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa, and carried out by Economist Impact, titled ‘The super-app model in the Middle East and Africa: Partnering with incumbents, harnessing new technologies, examines the super-app business model closely and the factors shaping their growth.
The report reveals that with digital technology and easy availability of affordable mobile devices, the marketplace for goods and services has shifted away from the physical world and onto the mobile devices in consumers’ pockets. Companies today are delivering a host of services – from ride-hailing to e-commerce, money transfers to education – directly through mobile phones, accessing consumers who were previously hard to reach. Now super-apps – apps that combine many functions in a single application – are taking the proposition even further.
“While the region gets to grips with the technologies and business models that have transformed the global business over recent decades, it must also prepare for the next waves of innovation and digitalisation especially in the area of mobile financial services,” said Ngozi Megwa, Senior Vice President, Digital Partnerships, Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa, Mastercard.
“With our digital-first approach, Mastercard is well-positioned to interconnect players across multiple sectors, such as banks, fintechs, digital giants, and more. Enabling them to capitalise on the opportunities that super-apps provide, by providing them with the most innovative technology solutions, platforms and propositions. New technologies such as quantum computing, blockchain or open banking will present new challenges and opportunities and will bring profound change to the growth trajectory of super-apps in the region,” said Megwa.
Super-apps are challenging existing players that have to face competition from players outside their sector and are complicating the picture for regulators as these firms no longer fall into neat sector categories. In this new digital world, a company that offers ride-hailing services can also offer loans and one that offers groceries can also enable money transfers.
The report goes on to reveal that the growth for aspiring super-app players is in having a large and trusting user base which is critical to succeeding in the transition from a single service to a super-app. Consumers who have already been won over by the initial service are more likely to embrace a new offering provided within the same app rather than use a different app that could be time-consuming, which is where partnerships play a critical role in advancing the growth of super-apps.
In the region, mobile payments systems usually involve a partnership between super-apps and a licensed traditional financial institution. This model brings both advantages and challenges to the region’s traditional financial services companies and super-apps. For both, it extends their market reach into market segments they could not otherwise service profitably.
The study highlighted that for non-financial services companies, it can equip them with the capabilities and essential infrastructure needed to make money transfers, which would not have been otherwise possible. For banks, on the other hand, these partnerships help them access remote consumers or consumer segments they had chosen not to serve. These partnerships can also allow banks to experiment with innovative digital offerings without the up-front investment and associated risk. Banks can also use these technology firms as a pool of specialised skills that they would find challenging and expensive to assemble on their own account.