The Battle For Your Wallet

When I first heard about digital wallets coming to Bahrain, I was pretty excited. I had a friend from the merchant side ask me what I thought about them, given that I was following the fintech space closely. I gave him the honest answer. I didn’t want to install it because it was too much effort. I admit that would be sacrilege for me to say that. So I went ahead, for the sake of experimentation. And here are my thoughts.

Initially, I had only seen Benefit Pay (From The Benefit Company) and BWallet (From Batelco & AFS) – and decided to wait until I see Viva Cash (From Viva) come out. before writing this. Prior to this, I had seen NFC or Near Field Communication technology being used but little is to be seen in terms of adoption.

Wallets are primarily targeted at consumers. If they don’t use it, no one will. Unfortunately, from what I’ve seen – these ones I tested have some major flaws, starting from User Onboarding to User Interface, to actual User Experience. I’ll touch upon each below, so you get a feel of what you’re getting into.

Mind you, I have no affiliation with any of these companies, was not asked to do a review in any way – just thought of sharing my experience when it came to being a user and also my thoughts as an independent advisor who follows payments in the fintech space. Let’s dive in…

Viva Cash

The on boarding was relatively smooth. They ask you for your mobile number, then a password, and provide a OTP (One Time Password) via sms to confirm your mobile number, followed by asking you to set a PIN. Then they ask you to enter your name, gender, occupation, employer, nationality, address, date of birth as well as your CPR number and it’s expiry – that’s a lot of information and apparently all fields are mandatory!

This is fine, however I’m already Viva customer, they have all my information on file, in fact the mobile I was using was on the Viva Network – so it really made no sense why they had to follow a KYC process again and have me manually enter all this information again, when they could have just pulled up the information from my CPR on record and cross checked only with the PIN being sent to the mobile that I was registering.

Anyways, I filled the information and it asked for the front and back of the CPR – great, no problem – we carry that around. In addition they asked for Driving License or Passport – well, not everyone carries their passport around with them, so Driving License was fine. After that – I was done. The big red label said my account was “Under Review” meanwhile I could browse the app and get a feel of it.

(P.S. for some reason the date selector on VIVA doesn’t work so well)


The on boarding was the least user friendly, more like a nightmare. After giving my mobile number and PIN, I was confronted with a registration message. Ah, ok – I realize I had to register first. Accept Terms & Conditions, then a message popped up to tell me to keep on hand my CPR and if I’m non-Bahraini my Passport. Oh cmon! Passport, who carries around their passport with them!? Why not another option like Driving License?

Ok, so now I have to provide my mobile number and EMAIL? I’m not sure how many low skilled people have email addresses, so I guess BWallet just doesn’t care about them. What makes matters worse, is that I can only use one email per mobile. Ok, this gets interesting. I have two mobile numbers, so what gives? Should I create another email address just for signing up?

Ok, so OTP time, I like the fact they have a timer to tell me when the OTP will expire, and won’t allow me to resend the code until its over.

Next, name, date of birth, gender, nationality, and add address (again why?!) and next… a security question – “what is the name of my first school?” I wish I knew, as I’m quite old now and can’t even remember the name of my school teacher! Great, no choice in security question – just have to wing this.

Enter PIN. ( I get an sms that my account is created and awaiting verification.)

Ah, but it’s not over. I haven’t uploaded CPR scan yet. Oh, they want a selfie of me (sure, I can smile:) Next, CPR front (no need for back) and I have to type in my CPR number – here’s where errors can creep into the system, then Passport – besides finding it difficult to keep the Passport page open, I also could be typing in the passport number wrong on a small screen. Let’s see how verification goes.

Ok, so I submit everything and then what… nothing, I’m brought back to the apps home page – I have to wait, because now I have to get it reviewed. I can’t even get to know the app. Fortunately, they sent an SMS saying – call this number 17299717 – for faster activation – that number doesn’t do anything other than play some music and say “one”?!?!

Did someone actually test this software app before releasing it to the public?

Benefit Pay

This was the first I actually tested – and was initially impressed, add number, get OTP for mobile registration, then give option for finger print login (which was pretty nice), then add card.

Ahhhhh. Here’s where the problems start – it was not clear whether I should add a “debit card” or “credit card”. Unfortunately, it didn’t recognize my HSBC debit card or credit card. So I really couldn’t go beyond that screen! Sorry folks, good luck Benefit Pay. Unfortunately, this app will get uninstalled for me, unless someone from The Benefit Company can reach out to help me, if they want to.

Verification Followup

I have to admit, I’m beginning to like VivaCash – within hours of signing up, I get a call from Viva informing that she was calling from VivaCash and that someone would call for a video verification, through the app itself. And that all I had to do was open the VivaCash app.

A nice lady comes online sporting an operator headset, with a VivaCash banner behind her. She informed me that it was a recorded session, asked a couple of verification questions and then informed me the account was active, and that I could top up my account using various debit cards. Professional & Quality Service.

From BWallet – I received a similar call, but was told that someone would call me via WhatsApp (not the app itself), which made me wonder – how could I be confident that it was BWallet’s staff and not some prankster or hacker trying to steal my identity or information.

That to me is a failure in KYC.

The caller on the other side, reminded me of my brother, wearing a distinguishable iPhone white earphone and looking down as if the iPhone he was calling from was on his desk. Pretty much like when I call someone from my family. Sorry guys, but you need to stop using WhatsApp for calling, and call from within your App to give confidence to the consumer that it is really your company calling.

So what did I learn?

Well, besides the very bad user onboarding, I’m confused as to the business model these players wish to adopt. Are they trying to become proper digital wallets, which allow you to buy things through your mobile. Or are they just like The Entertainer Coupon app, that gives you offers for purchasing through their app. If they’re trying to become like PayPal or PayTM – then the next part is VERY important….

After asking a couple of friends (who managed to signup) about their usage – the answers were not impressive. Yes, you may get some 3 BD on signup, yes you may have some nice offers. But it seems like you can only use Debit Cards right now. If you know that most of the population use credit cards as against debit cards, why would you restrict the usage to only debit cards?

Second, if you’ve purchased something using the digital wallet, and you’re not happy with it – as per consumer protection laws, you can ask for a refund. But what happens with the digital wallet is that the money gets refunded back to the wallet, not back to your bank account. You can use that refund balance for another purchase, but it’s like PRE-PAID wallet. So don’t top up more than you’re possibly going to use.

[clickToTweet tweet=”In short, ‘pre-paid’ wallet companies shouldn’t be holding your money hostage, you should be able to transfer any refunds back to your bank account.” quote=”In short, ‘pre-paid’ wallet companies shouldn’t be holding your money hostage, you should be able to transfer any refunds back to your bank account!”]

Keep in mind, a PRE-PAID anything has definite purpose, and typically a definite timeline. It’s not clear what the case is with these wallets. What happens if I lose my mobile phone, or disconnect it? Will I lose my money on the wallet? I hope the Central Bank will look into this matter as well.

So what of all this? Well, it’s a great start – at least companies are trying to provide applications that make life easier. But there’s more to it than meets the eye. I’ll post an update once I’m onboard fully and have tested these apps in real life situations.

If you’re from one of these digital wallet companies and want to reach out to me, I’d be happy to entertain the conversation if it can make your app better.

Update: If you have an HSBC card, you could not add your debit card to any of the wallets. Apparently, you cannot use HSBC debit cards online. Well, as of 16 December 2018 HSBC debit cards can be added to the digital wallets and used on the Benefit Network.