BENEFIT Company: In Conversation with Shafaq Alkooheji, Head of Payments Services

Posted on Jun 21, 2022 by Shafaq Alkooheji, Head of Payments Services at the BENEFIT Company and ProgressSoft

ProgressSoft speaks with Shafaq Alkooheji, Head of Payments Services at the BENEFIT Company, about the development, launch, and adoption of e-cheques in Bahrain, part of the Central Bank of Bahrain’s broader digital transformation strategy.

ProgressSoft: Cheques have been around for hundreds of years now, and there are tons of ANSI and ISO standards that have been set to control the production, security, regulation and processing of paper-based cheques. Why did Bahraini regulators decide to adopt electronic cheques?

Shafaq Alkooheji: Bahrain has a clear, defined strategy for digitalizing its economy and has always played a pioneering role in the digitalization of its payment infrastructure. The decision to digitalize cheques is part of the digital transformation strategy of the Central Bank of Bahrain (CBB) and the government. Digitalizing cheques will enable the trading and market in Bahrain to benefit from all the legal validity and functionalities of cheques in a completely paperless digital means.

ProgressSoft: Can you briefly tell us the story behind the electronic cheque project in Bahrain, such as how it was initiated, developed and executed, and how you prepared for the project launch?

Shafaq Alkooheji: CBB guidance and support was vital for the success of the e-cheque. This is in addition to the synergy between different entities within Bahrain's governmental bodies, such as the support of the Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (TRA), in the trust service provider licensing, which was another important success factor. The introduction of the e-cheque from a project idea to the designing and planning of the scope and requirements, to the implementation and testing of the product, ‘til the go live was a result of a true partnership at the industry level between the regulators, BENEFIT as an operator, and the banks and major users and providers of cheques services in the Kingdom.

ProgressSoft: Introducing a pioneering innovation that utilizes key public infrastructure to convert both a payment instrument and a wet signature seems to pose a real challenge. How did you manage to acquire the specific technical knowledge needed to understand such technologies within this new innovative direction?

Shafaq Alkooheji: BENEFIT was blessed by many partners throughout the implementation of the e-cheque project. The tremendous support and guidance given to the project from the owner of the digital signatures and certificate enabled BENEFIT to acquire the required set of skills. Moreover, BENEFIT was also blessed by state-of-the-art partners and vendors in the process of implementing the trust services in Bahrain for digital signature, from EY as consultant of product implementation, to ProgressSoft and Cryptomathic as technology providers, to Certi-Trust as auditors assessing the compliance of BENEFIT’s module against the best international practices. Not to forget TRA, as the accreditation body, for confidence and providing BENEFIT with the first trust service provider license in Bahrain.

ProgressSoft: The cheque is an instrument that is deeply legalized and strongly regulated. We can imagine that you had to go through cycles of legislative and regulatory changes and amendments to support this new solution. What are the basic laws, acts and legislation that the country needed to alter or even introduce to support this change?

Shafaq Alkooheji: Multiple laws had to be published before allowing the e-cheque to exist as a service. It started with the issuance of two royal decrees: one for electronic financial transactions and communication law, the other for electronic transferable records. Each regulator had to issue multiple ... 

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