Gulf financial centers battle it out to be the region’s fintech hub

Dubai's DIFC launched its "FintechHive initiative in early 2017. (Shutterstock)
Updated 08 May 2018
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Gulf financial centers battle it out to be the region’s fintech hub

  • Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have all launched a series of fintech initiatives
  • “Saudi Arabia is in a unique position where it can learn from global successes and achieve tangible results more efficiently and effectively.”

LONDON: Gulf countries are vying to become the regional hub for fintech start-ups and entrepreneurs and are pouring money into educational campaigns; schemes to develop talent and trendy co-working spaces.

The region is racing to catch up with the global tech hubs of London and Silicon Valley, as well as individual countries competing with their neighbors to be the most attractive destination for Fintech firms.

In Dubai — typically seen as one of the region’s pioneers in fintech — the Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) is set to accept applications from startup tech firms this month for the second round of ‘FintechHive,’ a 12-week talent mentorship program originally set up last year.

This year the scheme is expanding its focus into Islamic finance and insurance.

“We always want to make sure that we are looking to stay ahead of the trends and understand what the region needs so that we can provide an adequate framework to enable innovation to flourish,” said Amr ElSaadani, managing director and financial services lead for Accenture in the Middle East and Turkey.

The US-based consultancy firm signed an agreement on May 5 with the DIFC to continue to back the DubaiHive program.

Saudi Arabia has also ramped up efforts to secure a slice of the the fintech market with the launch of ‘FintechSaudi’ initiative last month. Bahrain launched its Bahrain Fintech Bay in February, a new co-working space that brings together startups, banks and other companies into one space.

Both Saudi Arabia and Bahrain set up their own regulatory ‘sandboxes’ earlier this year, a concept which allows start-ups and companies to test out banking ideas and solutions in a ‘safe’ live environment without dealing with the burden of too much regulation.

While barely a week goes by without a new launch, conference or seminar on the latest fintech innovations, experts warn there is still a lot of work to be done to help attract and keep firms working in the region.

Rushdi Duqah, partner, consulting and operations at Deloitte, based in Riyadh, told Arab News that there was a need for Gulf countries to work more closely together, particularly on regulation.

“The region is demonstrating strong commitment for fintech. It is seen as a strategic priority with each country has its own strategic positioning,” he said.

“What I would like to see is how the different fintech hubs would collaborate with each other in the region, because there is more to do on that front than just being seen as competing (with each other),” he said.

“Fintechs that emerge in one country would want to come and scale, operate and test in another country, and that collaboration would be something that would benefit both Fintechs and the countries in which they operate. Rather than companies having to reinvent the wheel every time they need to go to another country,” he said.

Fintech firms told Arab News that regulation and access to financing were obstacles to growth.

Craig Buchan, founder and CEO of Qpal, a mobile payment app company based in Dubai, said: “Early stage financing would be desirable. Challenges relate mainly to regulation, Know-Your-Customers (KYC) and access to finance.

“The UAE government has great initiatives in place to transform Dubai into a global fintech hub, but until banks revise their risk propensity then early stage fintech’s may find it hard to get off the ground and make significant traction.”

Qpal is a startup supported by In5, the Dubai-based tech incubator platform owned by the Tecom Group.

Artemisa Jaramillio, professor of digital marketing, technology & innovation at the Princess Nourah Bint Adbulhahman University, said that those working in the fintech industry in Saudi Arabia must have a clear focus.

“Urged by the NTP 2020, stakeholders have started to create a number of events, without a clear goal in mind. What are our success metrics? Are we only creating events to tick the box,” she told Arab News.

“Are these real, scalable solutions or are we only following the trend of inflating our numbers,” she said.

Adrian Quinton, head of financial services at KPMG in Saudi Arabia, said the fact that Saudi Arabia has lagged behind its peers could play to the Kingdom’s advantage as it strives to be a fintech hub.

“Saudi Arabia is in a unique position where it can learn from global successes and achieve tangible results more efficiently and effectively,” he said.


Bookmark History Brent oil rises back above $80 as Iran sanctions loom

Updated 7 min 23 sec ago
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Bookmark History Brent oil rises back above $80 as Iran sanctions loom

  • The US sanctions on the oil sector in Iran are set to start on November 4
  • other producers may struggle to fully make up for the expected Iran disruption, and that oil prices could rise further

SINGAPORE: Brent crude oil prices rose back above $80 a barrel on Monday as markets were expected to tighten once US sanctions against Iran’s crude exports are implemented next month.
Benchmark Brent crude oil futures were at $80.26 a barrel at 0646 GMT, up 48 cents, or 0.6 percent, above their last close.
US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $69.60 a barrel, up 48 cents, or 0.7 percent.
The US sanctions on the oil sector in Iran, the third-largest producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), are set to start on November 4. The United States under President Donald Trump is trying to reduce Iranian oil exports to zero to force the country to renegotiate an agreement on its nuclear program.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told Reuters on Sunday that it would be harder for countries to get sanction waivers than it was during the previous Obama administration, when several countries, especially in Asia, received them.
OPEC agreed in June to boost supply to make up for the expected disruption to Iranian exports.
However, an internal document reviewed by Reuters suggested OPEC is struggling to add barrels as an increase in Saudi supply was offset by declines elsewhere.
Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), said on Monday that other producers may struggle to fully make up for the expected Iran disruption, and that oil prices could rise further.
Some relief may come from North America, where US drillers added four oil rigs in the week to Oct. 19, bringing the total count to 873, Baker Hughes energy services firm said on Friday, raising the rig count to the highest level since March 2015.
The US rig count is an early indicator of future output. With activity increasing after months of stagnation, US crude production is also expected to continue to rise.
Reflecting rising US crude exports, the Intercontinental Exchange said its new Permian West Texas Intermediate crude futures contract deliverable in Houston, Texas, will begin trading on Monday.
In addition to the potential for rising oil supply, the ongoing Sino-American trade dispute is expected to start dragging on demand.
“The full impact of the US-China trade war will hit markets in 2019 and could act as a considerable drag on oil demand next year, raising the possibility of the market returning to surplus,” said Emirates NBD bank in a note.
Shipping brokerage Eastport said “Chinese manufacturing is beginning to slow” and that “Trump’s proposal of slapping ... tariffs on additional ... Chinese goods from 1 January would be a further drag on trade.”
K.Y. Lin, spokesman for Taiwan’s Formosa Petrochemical Corp, a major fuel refiner, said “weaker demand in Europe and the US” was already affecting gasoline profit margins as excess fuel is being sent to Asia.