American Express launches banking app in Saudi Arabia; will it take off?

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Amex app

Global credit card giant American Express just launched an Arabic and English iPhone app for Saudi Arabia, offering users greater control over their credit card accounts via their mobile phone.

App users can track their balance, view details about transactions made with their card, check available offers and discounts, and discover the nearest ATMs.

New customers who want to sign up for American Express can also apply for a card via the app, or add more than one credit card. They can control each card separately and download a printable copy of their banking transactions to their personal computers.

But will the app fly in Saudi Arabia?

With one of the highest mobile penetration rates in the Arab world at 187.5% in 2012, Saudi Arabia seems a logical choice for entrance into the region. Just behind the UAE, smartphone users in Saudi Arabia are the region’s most likely to use their mobile phones to complete a financial or banking transaction, according to a study conducted by TNS.

And yet many customers in Saudi are still leery of completing a financial transaction online due to a lack of regulations or structures to protect their purchases. Credit card use isn't terribly low, at an estimated 51% in 2009, compared to 60% at that time in the U.S., but cash and prepaid cards still dominate; an estimated 98.1% of purchases in Saudi Arabia are conducted using cash.

Although AmEX opted to jump straight into offering online credit card management in Saudi Arabia, it may find that supporting prepaid cards might enhance use in the Middle East. The credit card company could perhaps port services from Serve, an online platform and mobile app that it launched in the U.S. in 2011, which allows customers to open up a prepaid Amex card account and manage it online and via mobile. 

American Express is clearly also betting on the growth of e-commerce in the region, following companies like PayPal who have recently launched operations in Egypt, expanding their reach across the Arab world.

Their new app is available for free download on iOS and will soon be available for Android, Blackberry and Windows phones as well.

Will you be more comfortable shopping online if you can manage your transactions via your smartphone? Share your thoughts.

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