Founded in 2019 by Kevin Kilty, UAE-based fintech Hubpay is an e-wallet that enables customers to send money both domestically and internationally. One of the first startups licensed in the United Arab Emirates for digital money services, the company has offices in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Karachi, and London, and recently announced plans to expand into East and West Africa.
In January 2021, Hubpay launched a cross-border digital platform to drive financial inclusion across the region, starting with retail offering low-cost remittance transfers. In October 2023, Hubpay announced the launch of its Africa “Collect & Remit” solution, which allows businesses with entities and trade partners across Africa to send payments to the UAE, driving cross-border trade, particularly between Asia and Africa. The startup services a wide range of industries, from soft commodities to electronic devices across the UAE and the broader region, with a focus on Africa.
Hubpay CEO Kevin Kilty and COO Maia Van Paridon tell Inc. Arabia that, notwithstanding the challenges of the fintech market in the region, they are excited about their expansion into Africa.
An edited excerpt of our conversation follows.
Inc. Arabia: Take us back to the beginning. Why did you decide to move from the UK to the UAE and start a fintech company in Dubai?
Kevin Kilty: I wanted to work at an impact investment fund in the wider region. I'd already been on the ground in Palestine and Libya and was looking to join a financial inclusion business or an impact fund directly targeting that goal. When I was here in the UAE, I was surprised at the lack of fintech solutions in the market. At the time, there was no legal framework for fintechs, but that changed in 2019 when ADGM issued a license for EMI. We applied for the license at the time and we were the first startup to receive the license in the UAE in 2020, and we've been building ever since.
IA: You used to live and work in Singapore, and now you are based in the UAE. What similarities can you draw between the two countries in terms of fintech?
Maia Van Paridon: Operationally and logistically, Singapore is a very busy hub that is enabled by a sophisticated and mature financial hub. I’m seeing a lot of parallels in the UAE now. Dubai is an eight-hour flight away from most of the world, so it is a logistical nexus, but the financial ecosystem that underpins and supports that trade has yet to mature. And so what I'm really excited about with Hubpay is being able to support the growth and development of that financial hub.
IA: What challenges have you faced with Hubpay?
KK: Elon Musk once described building a startup as chewing on glass and staring into the abyss. After three years of this, I think I agree with some of that. My background was more financial, so I found fundraising, financial modeling, planning, and regulation easier. The concept of building a product and product strategy was the more challenging part, and I think the challenges are doubled because it's a nascent market. The ecosystem is still underdeveloped, and we still don't have an open and rich API across the region. There weren’t a lot of tech companies to recruit from when we started, which is why we have some people back in the UK. Also, the venture capital scene is still quite early on. There are no billion-dollar VC funds in the region – they're all quite early and quite modest.
MVP: On the flip side, once you get going, you realize that there's an enormous market opportunity because there's very little competition. And I think we're finding that out right now as we go from the launch phase into the scaling phase, which will be pretty exciting.
IA: Why did you decide to expand into Africa?
KK: I think that, in many ways, fintech started in Africa. We've seen a number of unicorns there and some real innovations from payments and micro-insurance to financing solar cells and mobility. We've seen a lot of great businesses start from scratch there, like Flutterwave, and Chipper Cash on the West Coast. If you look at the genesis of fintech, it started with M-Pesa in Kenya in the early nineties. M-Pesa was so ahead of its time because it made these services possible on feature phones and used the U.S.S.D. rails to send money.
IA: What opportunities do you see in connecting the Arab and African Markets?
KK: The UAE has set itself apart as not just a trading hub, but also as an investment and FX hub. But the real game changer is the relationship between the UAE and African fintech markets. We're the first company to have so much capability and product functionality around both inbound and outbound payments to Africa, and that's because we are connected with other fintech businesses across the region. So we have great relative capabilities and that has allowed us to build a full payment network in and out of Africa from the UAE.
IA: What is your take on integrating AI and other automated fintech technologies into the business?
MVP: People don't send money to bank accounts, they send money to people. We wanted to make sure that there was a human touch to the digital elements that we were offering. Here in the UAE, there used to be a famous autobot that answered customer service calls, and people really disliked it. That's something we've intentionally stayed away from. It's a little bit unconventional for a tech company to have such a strong human element, but it’s something that helps us stand apart.
IA: What stage are you at in terms of funding and growth?
KK: We're in that phase between launch and scale-up. We're building the car and driving it at the same time. That's what it feels like as a business right now. We’re anticipating that things are going to take off in the next year or so.
Hubpay has raised $30 million to date in Series A funding across several rounds by US Federal Capital. Our next funding round will be Series B, but that won't be for at least another year. We have no need or plans to raise funding in the short term.