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

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.


Lufthansa accepts tweaked demands by Brussels over state bailout

Updated 30 May 2020

Lufthansa accepts tweaked demands by Brussels over state bailout

  • Lufthansa and the rest of the airline sector have been hard hit by what is expected to be a protracted travel slump

BERLIN/FRANKFURT: Lufthansa’s management board has accepted a more favorable set of demands from the European Commission in exchange for approval of a $10 billion government bailout, the carrier said on Saturday, paving the way for its rescue.
The agreement comes after the airline’s supervisory board on Wednesday rejected an initial deal with Brussels including conditions that were significantly more painful.
Lufthansa and the rest of the airline sector have been hard hit by what is expected to be a protracted travel slump due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Under the latest agreement, Lufthansa said it will be obliged to transfer up to 24 takeoff and landing slots for up to four aircraft to one rival each at the Frankfurt and Munich airports.
This translates into three take-off and three landing rights per aircraft and day, it said, confirming what sources had earlier told Reuters.
“For one-and-a-half years, this option is only available to new competitors at the Frankfurt and Munich airports,” Lufthansa said, initially excluding budget carrier Ryanair. “If no new competitor makes use of this option, it will be extended to existing competitors at the respective airports.”
The previous deal had included forfeiting 72 slots used by 12 of 300 jets based at the Frankfurt and Munich airports, a source familiar with the matter said.
The slots, to be allocated in a bidding process, can be taken over only by a European peer that has not received any substantial state aid during the pandemic, Lufthansa said.
The Commission said once it has been officially notified by Germany on the aid package it will assess the issue as a matter of priority.
“(Lufthansa’s remedies will) enable a viable entry or expansion of activities by other airlines at these airports to the benefit of consumers and effective competition,” it said in a statement.
The airline’s supervisory board needs to approve the deal, Lufthansa said, adding it would convene an extraordinary general meeting to obtain shareholder approval for the bailout.
The largest German corporate rescue since the coronavirus crisis struck will see the government get a 20 percent stake in Lufthansa, which could rise to 25 percent plus one share in the event of a takeover attempt. A deal would also give the government two seats on Lufthansa’s supervisory board.
Rivals such as Franco-Dutch group Air France-KLM and US carriers American Airlines, United Airlines and Delta Air Lines are all seeking state aid due to the economic effects of the pandemic.
Germany, which has set up a $110 billion fund to take stakes in companies hit by the pandemic, said it plans to sell the Lufthansa stake by the end of 2023.
“The German government, Lufthansa and the European Commission have reached an important intermediate step in the aid negotiations,” the Economy Ministry said in a statement.
It said talks with the Commission over state aid would continue.