The UAE’s latest payment initiative, Aani, aims to encourage over 400,000 SMEs to transition from cash to digital transactions.

Dubai: UAE consumers, spanning across generations from Gen Zs to Millennials and beyond, are increasingly embracing digital transactions, while larger enterprises have long adopted digital payment methods.

Now, the focus is on urging the significant base of SMEs in the UAE to expedite their transition from cash to digital payments. This is where the recently introduced ‘Aani’ payment platform steps in.

Aani enables instant payments without the hassle of IBANs and other details, allowing transactions of up to Dh50,000 to be conducted instantly.

Jan Pilbauer, CEO of Al Etihad Payments, which operates Aani under the UAE Central Bank, remarked, “Although the existing debit and credit card infrastructure serves many in the UAE, there are scenarios, such as low-value transactions, where cash is still preferred.”

“Out of nearly 600,000 SMEs, only a fraction currently accept cards,” Pilbauer noted, highlighting the sizable 480,000 small businesses still relying on cash transactions. “Aani aims to change this by addressing the specific needs of SMEs, including invoicing, payroll management, and access to financing, thereby streamlining business operations.”

Since its launch in October, Aani has witnessed significant adoption rates among individuals and businesses. Recently, Dubai-based fintech Astra Tech partnered with Al Etihad Payments to integrate Aani features into its Botim voice app through the PayBy feature.

Aani simplifies payments using just the recipient’s mobile number or Emirates ID, eliminating the need for complex identifiers like IBANs, and making it accessible to those without traditional bank accounts but utilizing digital wallets or salary cards. Additionally, its QR code capability facilitates easy acceptance of payments for hundreds of thousands of UAE businesses.

Pilbauer outlined Aani’s key features, including person-to-person (P2P) transactions and inclusive features designed to encourage even those with limited exposure to digital transactions to participate.

Looking ahead, Aani plans to introduce additional features such as electronic mandates for direct debits and fully digital e-cheques in the coming year, catering to its growing user base.

“Our primary focus in 2024 is to expand Aani’s reach by partnering with more licensed financial institutions and enabling more merchants and businesses to accept Aani payments,” Pilbauer concluded, emphasizing Aani’s role in simplifying payment transactions and leveling the playing field among financial institutions.

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