My favourite photo illustrating the progress of Saudi Arabia’s digital payments ecosystem

This is my favourite photo of my trip to Saudi Arabia.

I know from closely browsing the Visit Saudi website that there are some much better-looking vistas across the Kingdom (like, for example Al Hada Road). But that hasn’t been my focus for this trip. I was aiming to see just how things have been developing in the Saudi ecosystem.

I took the photo yesterday at the LEAP event’s Food Court area which featured an array of food trucks offering all sorts of different foods. I headed for the Dominos food truck!)

The poster itself was on the side of one of the food trucks with a lot of people queuing up. I thought it nicely encapsulates the next-generation attitude of the food truck owners – and, by extension, the payment preferences and habits here in Riyadh.

I like the big red cross through the cash icon. I walked past quite a few ATMs at the airport here and I had to work hard to avoid bending and taking out some Saudi Rials just in case. So, at this point in my trip, I haven’t actually seen any Saudi paper money.

The next icon – the credit/debit card, yes, well that’s fair enough. That is par for the course and expected. I did see quite a few cards being waved around at the exhibition as people paid.

Then the mobile phone. Yes. I am particularly surprised by just how prevalent mobile payments are here in the Kingdom – or, at any rate, here in Riyadh. For example, I went and got a Coke Zero at the McDonalds nearby the LEAP Exhibition Center and carefully observed every single transaction whilst I sat and ‘re-caffeinated’. 1 in 10 used a piece of plastic to pay. The other 9 were mobile transactions – mostly, I think, Apple Pay or perhaps Google Pay.

And finally… the watch.

That’s what really had me smiling.

Even in some of the most digitally savvy marketplaces, the Watch – whether it’s Apple/Google/FitBit/Samsung Pay or similar – are still very much an irregular occurrence. I use my Apple Watch to pay quite a lot, but I’m usually holding my phone so I tend to default to that.

Kudos to the owners of the food truck for adding in the watch icon – which, incidentally, Samsung will be pleased to see looks much more like one of their latest designs!

I’d like to also thank Mohamed from Saudi Payments who contributed the following comment on my recent post about Digital Saudi:

Welcome to Riyadh Ewan. you won’t have to touch your card. 97% of all POS transactions in Saudi are contactless.

Absolutley astonishing. Mohamed then posted a link to this PDF from the Central Bank of Saudi Arabia (“National Payments Usage Study, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia“) with a lot more detail. I’m still half way through it and it makes for very exciting reading in the context of the digital payments journey of the Kingdom.

Right then… back to the LEAP exhibition I go!



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