zenda: Creating Cashless Education Systems in Saudi Arabia

In strategizing for a digitally-led economy, Saudi Arabia has been working to advance financial inclusion as a key tenant to embracing sustainable economic growth. The Kingdom’s fintech industry, as a result, has significantly grown over the past few years, with the growth attributed to its thriving e-payments sector, digital banking, and the increasing consumer demand for digital financial services. 

This measured progress is partly driven by strong IT and digital infrastructure, rapidly expanding 5G network coverage, coupled with a tech-savvy population. These factors, combined, make Saudi one of the world’s largest end markets for the IT sector and a global fintech powerhouse, as the Kingdom aspires to be home to a total of 525 fintech companies by 2030. 

The sector’s forward momentum is helped by a meteoric rise in fintech deal activity, with the sector taking home the majority of funding allocated to startups in Saudi and the wider region as well last year, securing $704 million, marking a 181% increase from a year ago. This signifies a strong fintech ecosystem that nurtures the growth of disruptors eager to partake in the transformation of local financial services.

The rapid expansion of the Kingdom’s fintech sector is reflected in the increasing adoption of cashless transactions in the country. By 2025, 70% of domestic transactions will be cashless, compared to 36% in 2019. 

The ripple effects of the fintech boom spill over to various sectors of the economy, such as education, with customers demanding greater payment flexibility that caters to their needs. One company that looks to accelerate e-payments in the education sector is zenda, a UAE-founded fintech that recently made strategic inroads into the Saudi market, leveraging its core competencies to reshape digital payments in the Kingdom.

Entering Saudi Arabia with a Unique Approach

Since its founding in 2021 by Haseeb Ahmed and Raman Thiagarajan, zenda has quickly gained traction among families and school administrators and has a market share of 30%.

A few months ago, zenda was recognized as a Future 100 company by the Ministry of Economy, Government Development, and the Future Office. The Future 100 is an initiative that identifies, showcases and recognizes the UAE’s top 100 emerging companies that contribute to improving the competitiveness of its economy.

The accomplishment highlights their prowess in the fintech space and their ability to be a driving force of the digital economy across operational markets. Having established a robust presence in the UAE, zenda is set to emulate its success in Saudi Arabia.

zenda’s approach in Saudi Arabia involves not just expanding the reach of services and broadening its market base but also customizing them to meet local demand while adhering to the regulatory frameworks of Saudi Arabia. By expanding its footprint in the Kingdom, the company is faced with strong growth trajectories, enabling it to play a pivotal role in local economic development.

“Leveraging our proven business model, tailored to address similar challenges in education payments, we are poised to make substantial strides in the Saudi market. With the government’s focus on advancing the education sector, we see a unique opportunity to contribute to the country’s digital transformation journey by providing flexible payment options for both schools and families,” said Haseeb Ahmed, co-founder of zenda.

zenda’s Saudi market foray was supported by AstroLabs. Ahmed emphasized AstroLabs’ crucial role in enabling zenda to seamlessly navigate the changing dynamics of the Saudi market, adding that “[AstroLabs’] proactive assistance and comprehensive responses to our inquiries have further empowered us to make informed decisions and drive impactful outcomes in this dynamic landscape.”

Spurring the Adoption of Digital Payments in the Education Sector

Digitalization, accelerated by the Vision 2030-led transformation, poses the main impetus for zenda’s Saudi market entry and further aligns with the company’s mission to drive digitization efforts in the education sector in the country. In doing so, zenda works to address an unmet demand and capitalize on a first-mover advantage by accelerating the adoption of fintech solutions in education systems. 

“The pandemic acted as a catalyst for digitization within the sector, highlighting both its potential and existing shortcomings. While strides have been made in other sectors, there remains a significant gap in digitization efforts in education. The government’s commitment to improving education quality is evident, recognizing education as vital to national prosperity,” Ahmed explained. 

The Kingdom continues to raise the bar for the education sector in alignment with economic transformation and diversification plans. This, coupled with a Saudization drive to create a skilled workforce with a high level of expertise, boosts the demand for quality education as a crucial pillar of the country’s development spree. The education sector has been growing at a rapid clip as a result, with the value of Saudi Arabia’s K–12 education market expected to increase to $15 billion by 2030, up from $4 billion in 2017.

For zenda, “the combination of [education] market potential, alignment with Vision 2030, and a commitment to driving education digitization made expanding into the Saudi market the natural progression.”

Operating at the intersection of financial services, technology, and education, zenda remains a transformative integration in Saudi Arabia’s fintech space, supporting the Kingdom’s transition to a cashless, knowledge-based economy and achieving financial inclusion.