An Interview with Maher Mikati, CEO of areeba
Financial IT: What is the background of areeba?
Maher Mikati (MM): We are a family business. We have always been involved with technology and telecommunications.
My uncle and father started a company called Investcom in the 1980s. It focused on telecommunications in Emerging Markets - starting with Lebanon.
Back then, Lebanon was stuck in a civil war, and needed connectivity to the outside world. That was the opportunity.
By 2005 Investcom had 10 mobile operations in the Middle East & Africa. It was then listed on the London Stock Exchange in what was at that time the largest listing of a Middle Eastern company.
A year later, MTN of South Africa approached us to merge with them. The result was the largest mobile telecommunications operator in emerging markets globally.
Since then, we established M1 Group as a private family investment vehicle, which was diversified into numerous sectors.
Financial IT: Great. Where does payments come into all this?
MM: Six years ago, I took a personal interest in payments, seeing the potential it has, and the transformation that it will be going through.
We started looking at different opportunities. Ultimately, we approached Bank Audi, Lebanon’s largest bank, with the idea to carve out their payment business, monetise what they have built, and allow them to focus on their core business. The rationale was that payments is quickly becoming more technology-driven rather than finance-driven, and that banks won’t be able to keep up.
The idea resonated very well with the bank’s top management, and areeba was born!
Financial IT: What is unique about areeba?
MM: What is special about areeba is that it was born from the womb of a bank, but behaves like a Fintech.
Understanding the cultures of both ends of the spectrum is crucial, and this is why we always play the role of bridging the gap between both worlds.
Financial IT: What strategies do you have in place to achieve vision of facilitating cashless payments in Middle East and abroad?
MM: Areeba has two main business verticals: Issuing and Acquiring.
Each vertical has a different track of evolution, but what is common is a continuous research and development process.
With Issuing, we are working on numerous initiatives and ideas. For instance, we are looking to introduce new payment methods to the unbanked population, by creating new and easy onboarding methods, and so on.
With Acquiring, the name of the game is reducing the cost of acceptance, in order to accelerate market penetration.
Financial IT: Given growth in mobile and other payments, are we heading towards a cashless society by 2030?
MM: I sure hope so!
People often forget that electronic payments comes at a cost, but that that cost is far less than the cost of physical cash.
Cash needs to be printed, distributed, stored, and recycled!
The merchant will need to make sure it is not counterfeited.
The merchant also needs to reconcile the cash drawer with his/her sales.
The merchant needs to safely store cash.
The merchant needs to transport cash to be deposited in a bank.
All this is expensive.
Maher Mikati is Chief Executive Officer of areeba
Maher founded areeba SAL, a Fintech Company providing the latest payment technology, solutions and services. As Executive Director at Investcom Holding, he managed and oversaw all new business ventures in the EMEA region. As the Managing Director of Areeba Cyprus Ltd. (Investcom’s telecoms operator in Cyprus), he led the complete rollout of the first private mobile operator in the country. Currently, Maher is Deputy CEO of M1 Group, CEO of M1 Fashion, a member of M1 Group’s Investment Committee. He is also a board member of Growthgate Capital and Pepe Jeans Group and a director of the Mikati Foundation.