Ex-pat workers living life online; but remain family first
Ding was delighted to celebrate 10 years of doing business in the Middle East in September. For the past ten years Ding has provided ex-pat workers in the Middle East with a virtual digital highway connecting them with their loved ones back home. In Oman, Qatar, Saudi and the UAE Ding has facilitated more than 140 million transactions for the region’s international workers.
With our anniversary in mind, we felt it only fitting to take a closer look at prepaid customers in the region and how their needs are evolving. To do this we undertook a piece of research, with OnDevice Research, looking at ex-pat workers across the UAE, Qatar, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and Oman. The research, which allows for an interesting geographical comparison between the markets surveyed, looked at remittance habits, mobile payment preferences and mobile device usage of these international workers.
The UAE is the third largest remittance sender in the world with US$33 billion sent in 2018 alone. According to the research, UAE’s ex-pat workers still prioritize the needs of their family back home, with 90% ensuring they budget to send top-ups and remittances on a monthly basis, this is despite a reported slowing in international remittances by the UAE Central Bank in September.
Ex-pats have reasserted that sending money home to support family is their top priority followed by paying their rent. The survey also found that three quarters pay bills and almost two thirds directly transfer funds on a monthly basis. Interestingly, 53% of the workers reported that they are responsible for paying 75% of the communications needs of family back home, with a whopping 86% paying 50% of more of their loved ones phone bill.
The land of plenty
Interestingly, when it comes to improved living standards, ex-pats in the UAE are more upbeat than their fellow workers in other Gulf Nations with 61% earning more than US$1,361 per month, the highest percentage in the region. In addition to using their earnings to fund basic bills and utilities, their interest in leisure activities is also on the rise.
Their appetite to transact more regularly online was also evident. This community wants to transact online with 58% using their devices to make purchases two to three times per month varying from food to entertainment related purchases.
The research also confirmed that prepaid is still the preferred method of contract for their phones. And like the rest of the world, they are also struggling with how reliant they are on their mobiles and how much they are living their lives on line.
While staying connected with family and friends is a top priority, 78% of those surveyed feel they use their mobile phones too much, rising to 83% for KSA. In fact, 81% reported they browse the internet for at least one hour daily for entertainment purposes.
When asked what application they used most on a daily basis, 73% use WhatsApp the most frequently followed by Facebook (65%) and Instagram (52%).
These social apps are used more frequently than practical apps such as work and personal emails, emphasising the importance of social communication to the expat workforce. There is also a distinct usage difference between nationalities. Filipino ex-pat workers for example have a significantly higher appetite for app usage, with Facebook their number one, followed by WhatsApp.
Unsurprisingly, given app usage, social networking (38%) remains the primary activity for their phones, followed by entertainment, sports, news, education, fashion and health and beauty as the next keen areas of interest. Once again Filipino’s are more active than other nationalities.
Nearly all of those surveyed had engaged in some mobile commerce (91%). The catagories they are transacting most in are food (28%), followed by travel (23%), fashion, restaurant/bars/coffee shops (all 22%) and tickets (20%).
Cash remains king
While there are changes afoot and the appetite to transact online is certainly growing for ex-pat workers, there remains some constants which haven’t changed over recent years – the first is the majority still operate in cash (57%), although this is certainly shrinking. And secondly, ex-pats in the Gulf fear lost personal connections with loved ones without the ability to top-up their devices and 31% would feel guilty if they weren’t able to top-up regularly in order to communicate and stay connected with their with loved one. The key motivator for this group continues to be family and staying connected comes first.