First fintech licenses show Saudi Arabia is a ‘serious player’

Riyadh’s Kingdom Center Tower. The Capital Market Authority — the Saudi government’s financial regulatory authority — said it would be reviewing applications for more fintech licenses later in the year. (Reuters)
Updated 15 July 2018
0

First fintech licenses show Saudi Arabia is a ‘serious player’

  • Manafa Capital and Scopeer to offer crowdfunding investment services on a trial basis
  • The Kingdom is driving development in the fintech sector as part of its plan to diversify the economy and meet the targets outlined in Vision 2030

LONDON: Saudi Arabia kick-started the evolution of its financial technology sector on Tuesday by approving the first fintech licenses for companies in the Kingdom.

The move, which granted permission to Manafa Capital and Scopeer to offer crowdfunding investment services on a trial basis, marked an important first step in realizing Saudi Arabia’s ambitions to become a fintech hub for the region, experts said.

“There’s huge potential in Saudi Arabia,” said Paul Alfing, a senior consultant at Payments Advisory Group, a Netherlands-based consultancy specialized in payments and financial transactions.

Actions like this show the Kingdom is becoming “a serious player in this field.”

This first step “is perhaps the most difficult” but subsequent licenses will follow more easily, he added.


The Capital Market Authority — the Saudi government’s financial regulatory authority — said it would be reviewing applications for more fintech licenses later in the year.

The Kingdom is driving development in the sector as part of its plan to diversify the economy away from oil and meet the targets outlined in the Vision 2030 reform plans.

Ambareen Musa, founder and CEO of souqalmal.com, a successful fintech startup based in the UAE, said: “With everyone from regulators, customers and businesses embracing fintech, and even established financial institutions ramping up investment in non-traditional technologies, the opportunity for fintech is enormous, in Saudi Arabia and in the region as a whole.”

Fintech expert Jim Marous said that new players and new innovations from existing financial services organizations across the MENA region are allowing firms to compete more effectively on a global stage.

“With innovation and digital transformation occurring across all industries, the consumers in the region are increasing their expectation of all organizations they engage with regularly. To keep pace with these expectations, new financial technology firms will emerge that are able to apply data and advanced digital technologies to improve the consumer experience,” Marous said.

“This disruption of the finance sector provides a tremendous opportunity for the Saudi fintech sector (and financial services firms in general).”

Pointing to the Kingdom’s large youth population, Alfing described a strong demand for “new solutions and products in the market.”

Competition is fierce in the region as other MENA countries look to take the leader in fintech but as the largest economy in the Arab world, Saudi Arabia is a stronger contender, Alfing said.

Decoder

What is fintech?

Financial technology — known as fintech — has been a major growth area in the Internet space. Many startups in the field aim to compete with traditional financial services operators, ranging from the use of smartphones for mobile banking, online investing services and cryptocurrency exchanges. Some of the biggest players in the sector include Coinbase, a cryptocurrency exchange, payments processing startup Stripe, and online lender SoFi. Many established players in the financial services sector have attempted to offer high-tech offerings to compete with often more agile startups.


Saudi Arabia seeks stable, not soaring, oil prices

Updated 22 September 2018
0

Saudi Arabia seeks stable, not soaring, oil prices

  • Due to market tightness, Brent rose to nearly $80 per barrel but deteriorated to $78.80 on Friday.
  • The average price for Brent crude per barrel over the past five months has been between $72.11 and $76.98

RIYADH: Oil prices rose this week on continuing market tightness. With the price rise, some Saudi-bashing has begun. Bloomberg reported that increasing prices were due to Saudi Arabia’s comfort with Brent crude above $80 per barrel. Such “analysis” is hogwash.

Due to market tightness, Brent rose to nearly $80 per barrel but deteriorated to $78.80 on Friday. WTI rose above $70 per barrel for the first time in three months and settled at $70.78 per barrel by the week closing.
The average price for Brent crude per barrel over the past five months has been between $72.11 and $76.98. As may be noted in those numbers, the Brent crude price has been resisting the psychological barrier of $80 per barrel. The fact is that, since October 2014, the Brent monthly average has never gone above $80.
The oil price outlook might be raised as a result of this upward tendency and the continuing tight oil market. For instance, with the latest numbers in hand, HSBC has revised its oil price forecast upward with Brent to average $80 per barrel in 2019 and $85 in 2020, before settling at about $75 in 2021.
Bloomberg was inaccurate about Saudi Arabia’s comfort with a Brent price above $80 per barrel. The Kingdom has never been among the bulls when it comes to oil prices. Again and again, Saudi Arabia has been a major advocate for stable oil prices, not increasing oil prices, which it views as unsustainable and damaging to the global economy. Bloomberg is also predicting that Saudi Arabia will follow its allegedly bullish nature and refrain from ramping up production to compensate for the oil lost once the US sanctions on Iran come into effect.
US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry has confirmed that Saudi Arabia, Russia and the US are well able to add enough crude oil supply into the market to compensate for Iran. Indeed, the Kingdom has begun to increase output to adjust for market needs, from 9.87 million barrels per day (bpd) in April to 10.42 million bpd in August.
The upward movement in oil prices came after strong fundamentals showed market tightness that spurred record levels of speculative traders, with nearly all betting on higher prices. The price rise also recognized that total US inventories are below the five-year average for the first time since May 2014. Oil prices have been gradually trending upward with gentle fluctuations. There have not been any steep surges or declines. There is nothing artificial about the trend. In reality, it is boringly predictable.
Last month, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reported OECD commercial crude oil inventories at 32 million barrels below the five-year average. Stocks at the end of Q2 2018 were up 6.6 million barrels versus the end of 1Q 2018, the first quarterly increase since 1Q 2017. The IEA also noted that global refinery throughputs in the second half of 2018 are expected to be 2 million barrels higher than in the first half of the year. These refined products stocks will draw down before building again in 4Q 2018.
Global crude oil inventories peaked in 2016. The OPEC+ agreement that worked for market balance was the reason for a fall in inventories. Since May 2017, global oil stocks have been on the decline and now global crude oil stocks are below the five-year average. Product stocks are also below that level, with strong demand and healthy refining margins.
Inventories have kept falling despite American producers pumping at all-time highs last month. It is only the massive flood of oil from the US which has kept crude oil prices at low levels from early 2015 to the end of 2017 — along with a resulting lack of upstream investment in the oil industry. Therefore, the IEA predicts that in 2022 spare production capacity will fall to a 14-year low.
Global oil markets are rebalancing. Oil prices started their upward momentum from the end of October 2017. They went above the psychological barrier $60 a barrel after 10 consecutive months of tireless efforts by OPEC and non-OPEC nations that started on January 2017. The market rebalancing will continue through the end of 2018, and beyond.
Such upward momentum in oil prices isn’t artificial movement because it came after many months without steep price fluctuations. In 2016, the Brent price average was $43. The 2017 Brent price average was $54, and prices just surpassed $60 in October 2017. The Brent average surpassed $70 in late March 2018 and has been hovering between $72 and $78 since. There is no evidence of a steep fluctuation or an artificial movement.
The claims of an artificial price movement have come just at the time when OPEC and the world are reaping the positive outcomes of 24 nations collaborating in output cuts that managed to successfully rebalance the oil market in a situation where global oil inventories were running at record highs. Also, these false claims came when the oil industry needs capital inflows to reactivate upstream investments for major international oil companies. Such investments are essential for the price stability that benefits oil producers and consumers globally. Low oil prices result in low investment in discovery and production of petroleum resources, which damages various industry sectors and energy needs. That leads to a vicious cycle of up-and-down price fluctuations.