While great strides have been made to improve banking and finance management for SMEs and startups in the UAE and MENAP region, many challenges still remain.
As a result, we’ve seen numerous fintech solutions arrive on the scene to support this underserved demographic, especially with the massive role SMEs and startups play in shaping the economy.
Among these new solutions is Xpence, a DIFC-based smart business spend management platform catering primarily to SMEs and startups. The company was co-founded by Saad and Zain Ansari, Konstantin Danilkov and Hussain Alherz in 2019, and launched operations in Bahrain in early 2021, and in the UAE during Q3 of 2022.
Xpence gives its clients full visibility and control of their expenses, offering them physical and virtual expense cards to issue to their employees, simplified digital invoicing, multi-currency wallets and the automation of payment processing.
Empowering businesses with a digital, streamlined platform
The startup’s main offering, employee prepaid expense cards, is powered via a partnership with Visa and traditional banks and allows a company to set individual spending controls and limits on each card. The app’s real‐time monitoring and automated bookkeeping capabilities eliminate the need for tedious expense reports, promote efficiency and can help businesses save money in the long run.
Speaking with the Abu Dhabi SME Hub, Saad Ansari, who is also the CEO of Xpence, explained that the region’s shortcomings in terms of SME banking and finance management posed an opportunity for disruption, and one he sought to address.
But expense management is one of two services the company is currently focusing on. The second revolves around simplifying B2C payments for companies, by enabling them to send customers VAT-compliant invoices with embedded payment links that simplify the transaction process. This can be done over WhatsApp, email or other channels.
As any fintech will attest to, securing approval and licensing from regulators is often one of the earliest hurdles that come along.
For Xpence, this challenge was somewhat mitigated by the fact that the startup was offering its services with the backing of Visa and traditional banks. After all, the money allocated to customer prepaid cards, for example, would in reality be available within an account at a local bank. This made it easier to get the green light from regulators in its current markets, especially since sometimes there was no licence that exactly covered the company’s expense management activity.
“Having [onboarded the support of] arguably the largest fintech in the world, Visa, brings tremendous credibility to what you’re doing,” Ansari noted. In the UAE, Xpence cards are tied to Mashreq Bank.
The road ahead
As per Ansari, the fintech landscape has forever changed, and the way both businesses and customers pay has shifted. With a digital revolution, primarily owing to the pandemic, on our hands, there’s a lot left to be done to empower businesses to digitise their finances and spend management.
With that in mind, the company is planning to expand to two new markets this year, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, supported by an eight-figure total sum of raised funds, primarily sourced from Saudi investors, including family offices, angel investors, and some prominent individuals.
On the product side, Ansari and the team are exploring a new vertical, which will see them delve into the SME lending sphere. It’s “a tremendous opportunity,” Ansari said, one that is attracting many players to try and address this niche.