The Spirit of Innovation: Fintech is Booming in UAE

As populations in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region grow at increasing rates, developing a financial infrastructure capable of serving those who live in the Middle East and North Africa – from the underbanked to the ultra high net worth individual – is a massive challenge. We speak to HE Younis Haji Al Khoori, Undersecretary of MoF about how the UAE Ministry of Finance’s (MoF) innovation strategy reflects its support to the National Innovation Strategy of the UAE and what this means for the fintech environment in the MENA of the future.

Finovate: What are the main features of the Ministry of Finance’s (MoF) innovation strategy over the next 12 months?

HE Younis Haji Al Khoori: The UAE Ministry of Finance’s (MoF) innovation strategy reflects its support to the National Innovation Strategy of the UAE, which acts as an umbrella for the UAE Government’s efforts in innovation.

Through this strategy, MoF aspires to showcase its innovation projects that are in support of the innovation ecosystem in the UAE. This is currently being achieved through the introduction of high-calibre projects like the Mohammed bin Rashid Innovation Fund, which is aimed at supporting innovators by granting them access to affordable financing solutions.

In addition, MoF’s innovation strategy focuses on fostering a culture of innovation within the Ministry, and offers its employees comprehensive skills-building and training programmes that are specific to innovation, and empowers them to apply related tools and business practices professionally.

Finovate: How do you define innovation?

HE Younis Haji Al Khoori: Innovation is a broad term with numerous applications. From my perspective it relates to businesses improving competitiveness by developing new and creative processes, products and services to meet and overcome the challenges they face.

The UAE Government aspires to become one of the world’s most innovative countries by 2021. For that, the Ministry of Finance has adopted innovation as a methodology integral to the way every one of our divisions operates and to how every service we deliver works. This spirit has also driven the launch of various initiatives, programs and incubators that support the spread of innovation-culture throughout the country and support its future growth.

Finovate: What’s on the agenda to increase innovation within government and finance?

HE Younis Haji Al Khoori: The UAE Ministry of Finance has announced a 2 billion dirham fund, The Mohammed Bin Rashid Innovation Fund. This fund offers affordable financing solutions to innovators at different levels of their development through a government backed guarantee. MoF is collaborating with Emirates Development Bank to operate the fund and partners within the banking sector to provide the required financing to innovators.

Recently, the Ministry has announced the Fund’s very first success story where an applicant achieved a complete disbursement in virtue of his highlighting an interesting aspect of social innovation in his business.

The fund also offers the opportunity for international value to be brought into applicant businesses through the network of high profile SME owners from around the world working as members of the fund Advisory and Decision Committee. The Ministry is also currently working on broadening the scope of our contribution to the innovation ecosystem through a number of initiatives that will be announced soon.

Finovate: How are emerging technologies going to disrupt the financial services sector?

HE Younis Haji Al Khoori: The advent of fintech, especially with regards to Blockchain and Cryptocurrency spells significant change for the financial services sector which will need to evolve to keep up with the rapid changes we are living through. It is speculated that there will be more changes in the industry over the next decade than there have been in the past 100 years, however I believe the core principles which have seen the financial services sector continue to perform through other periods of change will continue to serve us well through periods of significant upheaval. Embracing a culture of innovation, as well as continuing to acquire smart and informed talent will ensure the sector is prepared regardless of the technological advances that occur elsewhere.

Finovate: How do you see the fintech sector developing in the UAE and beyond?

HE Younis Haji Al Khoori: 2017 has seen fintech enter the popular consciousness in a big way, the meteoric rise of Bitcoin and other emergent digital currency, developments in mobile payment technology, and the introduction of Blockchain have ignited the public interest and pushed the sector’s growth. It is easy to say that the fintech revolution is transforming the financial services sector, and will continue to do so by forming a globally connected world.

The UAE can consolidate its position at the leading edge of this new frontier by attracting the most promising enterprises to develop in our cities, continuing to develop cutting edge business infrastructure and providing accessible and generous funding through funds and incubators. We aspire to become a leading light in the accelerating fintech sector.

FinovateMiddleEast Sneak Peek: Wealth Migrate

A look at the companies demoing live at FinovateMiddleEast on 26 and 27 of February in Dubai, U.A.E. Pick up your tickets today and save your spot.

Wealth Migrate is a KPMG award-winning, global online investment marketplace that offers global investors direct access to commercial real estate investments from only $1 in premier global markets.

Features

  • Investors in developing nations can invest in a stable currency with real assets with real yield
  • Transactions recorded using the blockchain to eliminate fraud issues
  • Partners with best-in-class operators

Why it’s great
Most of the developing world does not have access to direct investments that would help them with currency swings which can wipe out wealth. Fraud is a challenge and it is hard to find trusted partners.

Presenters

Scott Picken, Founder and CEO of Wealth Migrate
Picken is a serial global entrepreneur and investor who is passionate about helping people create global wealth. He is an authority on fintech, crowdfunding, collaborative social investing, and the intersection with real estate.
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Jaco Maritz, Chief Information Officer
Maritz leads the technology team, bringing decades of experience in financial services IT management. He is additionally a seasoned global real estate investor.
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FinovateMiddleEast Sneak Peek: Dorsum

A look at the companies demoing live at FinovateMiddleEast on 26 and 27 of February in Dubai, U.A.E. Pick up your tickets today and save your spot.

Dorsum is an innovative investment software provider. This time, Dorsum will present its enhanced botboarding platform which helps banks in the customer onboarding process.

Features

  • Banking customer acquisition and account opening with a chatbot
  • Using workflows and IBM Watson-powered natural language processing
  • Real-time analytics and customization on a live infographic dashboard

Why it’s great
Botboarding shows how the usage of AI-based chatbots can boost customer acquisition rates and open new ways for account opening.

Presenters

Thomas Buemsen, Managing Director – Middle East 
Buemsen has over 20 years’ experience in banking, working across a number of different fields – mainly in investment banking, wealth management, and retail banking.
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Agnes Bati, International Project Assistant 
Bati has profound knowledge of the entire software delivery lifecycle by performing a variety of analytical and project supporting tasks.
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FinovateMiddleEast Sneak Peek: CapitaWorld ME

A look at the companies demoing live at FinovateMiddleEast on 26 and 27 of February in Dubai, U.A.E. Pick up your tickets today and save your spot.

CapitaWorld is an AI-enabled digital, smart, and automated lending platform that provides a complete digital experience to fund seekers, providers, and intermediaries.

Features

  • Digitized lending ecosystem
  • Machine learning algorithms and artificial intelligence
  • Platform provides reduced TAT and real-time lending experience

Why it’s great
U.A.E.’s first artificial intelligence-enabled lending platform for fund seekers, providers, and intermediaries. Getting a loan is now just a click away.

Presenters

Jinand Shah, Promoter and Global CEO 
Jinand Shah has more than 12 years of experience in investment banking. He is founder and promoter of CapitaWorld, which is being constructed as one of the finest AI-based fintech platforms.
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Rajiv Shah, Middle East CEO 
Rajiv Shah has more than 21 years experience in professional consultancy and is now Middle East CEO of CapitaWorld ME, an AI-enabled lending platform incorporated and incubated at ADGM.
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Fintech News from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)

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As Finovate prepares for its first conference in the Middle East, here’s a round up of recent fintech news and need-to-knows from the MENA region. Learn more about how to join us in Dubai in February for FinovateMiddleEast.

  • Cryptocurrency exchange BitOasis to add Ripple to its platform.
  • Gulf Business interviews Dubai Chamber president and CEO Hamad Buamim on the importance of developing a culture of innovation.
  • Saudi Arabia’s mada payment system chooses FIME to develop bespoke cloud-based testing platform and certification process.

MENA Fintech Fact UAE startups received 70% of all investment amounts in 2017, with Saudi Arabia seeing the biggest pick up in investments, a gain of 4%. The two most active VC firms in 2017 were 500 Startups and Middle East Venture Partners.

  • Dubai-based IBC Group-owned Acumen Advertising to now accept payment in digital currency.
  • Tehran Stock Exchange to reduce settlement cycle to T+2 from three business days.
  • Bahrain Fintech Bay (BFB) and Fintech Consortium (FTC) team up with U.S.-based fintech RobustWealth to provide robo advisory services.

Thought Leadership – Challenges, Successes and Opportunities of Financial Inclusion in MENA – A Webinar on Fintech in the Middle East with Hans Henrik Christensen (CEO, Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority) and Devie Mohan (CEO, Burnmark). Thursday, February 8.

  • Egyptian Center for Public Opinion Research (Baseera) reports value of financial transactions via Fawry electronic payment network in Egypt grew to EGP 25 billion ($1.4 billion USD) in 2017.
  • Luxury retailer Al Tayer Insignia announces acceptance of mobile payment platform, Alipay, at select outlets.
  • Forbes presents its list of the Top 100 Startups in the Arab World for 2017.

FinovateMiddleEast Sneak Peek: ebankIT

A look at the companies demoing live at FinovateMiddleEast on 26 and 27 of February in Dubai, U.A.E. Pick up your tickets today and save your spot.

ebankIT platform is the hub that enables banks to provide customer journeys with empathic experiences. The next banking revolution will demand this.

Features

  • Flexible omnichannel digital banking platform, business middleware, class-leading apps
  • Fully empathic customer interactions
  • API gateway to embrace fintechs and third parties

Presenters

Diana Winstanley, Business Developer 
Winstanley coordinated several projects on business analysis and international business development, with experience showcasing the latest technology innovation to financial institutions throughout the globe.
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Vitor Barros, Pre-Sales Director 
Project Director for R&D department of ebankIT, Barros has managed and implemented several projects over the years, ranging from middleware to mobile platforms and development of innovative applications.
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FinovateMiddleEast Sneak Peek: ZagTrader

A look at the companies demoing live at FinovateMiddleEast on 26 and 27 of February in Dubai, U.A.E. Pick up your tickets today and save your spot.

ZagTrader is a leading financial technology company specializing in serving the global financial services industry and licensing its proprietary technology solutions, market data, and hosting services.

Features

  • Electronic connectivity to crypto exchanges globally
  • Access to more than 200 exchanges worldwide
  • Robo-advisory and structured product capabilities

Why it’s great
ZagTrader provides the ability to handle multi-asset class instruments such as stocks, commodities, futures, FX, as well as digital crypto assets such as Bitcoin, Ripple, and Ethereum ETC within the same platform.

Presenters

Shihab Khalil, CEO 
With in-depth experience in fintech and capital markets, Khalil is driving ZagTrader towards becoming a global fintech company serving the banks, brokers, asset management, and capital markets.
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FinovateMiddleEast Sneak Peek: Munnypot

A look at the companies demoing live at FinovateMiddleEast on 26 and 27 of February in Dubai, U.A.E. Pick up your tickets today and save your spot.

Munnypot is an award-winning, easy-to-use, fully-automated, B2C and B2B online investment advice service. It provides low cost, goal-based, jargon-free advice.

Features

  • Regulated investment advice
  • Investment decisions made for the customer based on goals and appetite for risk.
  • Monitoring of investment performance in relation to the goal with actionable advice.

Why it’s great
Munnypot is engaging, easy-to-use, and builds customer confidence. All the complex decisions are taken away, making investment advice accessible and convenient for anyone.

Presenter

Andrew Fay, CEO
Fay is a former IFA who went on to form Cavanagh Group and worked as Head of Wealth Management at Close Brothers prior to co-founding Munnypot.
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Growth, Wealth, Modernization Drive Fintech Innovation in the MENA Region


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The MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region has experienced the highest rate of population growth of any region in the world over the past 100 years. Today, the countries of MENA boast more than 380 million people or 6% of the world’s population. And as leaders in the region respond to this population growth, developing a financial infrastructure capable of serving those who live in the Middle East and North Africa – from the underbanked to the ultra high net worth individual – is a massive challenge.

Much of what is driving change in the MENA region is taking place in partnership with some of the world’s biggest financial institutions. But as the foreword to EY’s World Islamic Banking Competitiveness Report 2016 cautions,

Participation banks are still attempting to transform their rather generalist business models to more direct integration with priority sectors of the Islamic economy. There is increasing pressure on these banks to demonstrate the purpose of existence – specifically their role in enabling important sectors such as transportation, retail, telecommunications, and SMEs to name a few – that have the greatest impact on the economy and on creating employment alternatives.

So how does financial technology make it possible for the people of the MENA countries to have the tools necessary to manage their finances efficiently and securely in the context of an emerging, increasingly mobile, increasingly social, and yet exceptionally diverse Islamic world? Fintech authority Chris Skinner observed last spring:

The net:net is that you have a rapidly growing economy, with a mix of young migrant workers who need remittance services; another group of professionals who expect mass affluent services; and a small group of High Net Worth and Ultra High Net Worth individuals who take exceptional service for granted.

An interesting place to be a bank.

Fintechs

Or a fintech? Looking at a map of the MENA region – which consists of more than 20 countries from Algeria to Yemen – the first observation to make is that a majority of MENA fintechs come from a handful of countries. According to a recent study by Wamda Research Lab (WRL) and Payfort and published in their Spring 2016 report, State of Fintech, three out of four fintech companies in the MENA are based in just four countries: UAE, Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon. And four out of 12 countries host 73% of all MENA fintech startups. A second observation is that, as is the case with fintech in most areas of the world, payments and lending are the areas with the greatest number of fintechs in the Middle East and North Africa. Per Wamda, payments-based companies represent 84% of all MENA fintech startups.

Who are these companies? Among payments companies, Jordan’s MadfooatCom (founded in 2011), UAE’s Beam Wallet (founded in 2012), and PayMob and Fawry of Egypt (founded in 2015 and 2008, respectively) are some of the more notable fintechs in this space. MadfooatCom is a online real-time bill presentment and payment system. Beam Wallet is the leading mobile wallet in the UAE with more than 500,000 users. PayMob builds white label mobile wallet solutions for MNOs and FIs. And Fawry is an electronic payment network that provides billpay, mobile wallet, and other services.

Given Islamic sanctions against usury, or charging interest, there is ample space for companies specializing in Sharia-compliant lending practices. In the MENA region, this includes companies like Moneyfellows of Egypt (founded in 2014) , Zoomaal of Lebanon (founded in 2012), Jordan’s Liwwa (founded in 2013), and companies like YallaCompare (formerly Compareit4me) and Durise from the UAE (founded in 2011 and 2014, respectively). Moneyfellows is a social savings and lending service. Zoomaal is a crowdfunding platform. Liwwa caters to small business borrowers. YallaCompare is an insurance, credit card, personal loan comparison shopping site. Durise specializes in real estate crowdfunding.

It’s also worth pointing out that many companies headquartered outside the MENA region have nevertheless made major commitments to bringing fintech innovation to communities in the Middle East. Among Finovate alums recently making major MENA-related headlines are ACI Worldwide, Fidor BankNCR, NetGuardians and Thomson Reuters.

That said, behind every great fintech startup is not just a great idea, but also significant guidance and support. In the MENA region both accelerators and incubators as well as leadership from the public sector play major roles in helping area entrepreneurs turn their technologies into solutions that can be brought successfully to market.

The role of accelerators

With regard to accelerators, a recent look by Forbes shared 15 Middle East Accelerators to Watch, and a number of the organizations featured in the Forbes article have made significant recent commitments to supporting fintech innovation. Flat6Labs, founded in Egypt, partnered with Barclays to launch a fintech accelerator, 1864 Accelerator, in the fall of 2016. Last month, Jordan’s Oasis500 announced its latest round of investments including support for fintechs like Akaryana.com (global platform for marketing real estate properties), Amwal.com (comparison shopping for financial products), and DareebaTech (online tax return filing and payment facilitator). Lebanon’s Berytech includes interactive retail banking portal Bnooki.com, mobile payments solutions provider Via Mobile, and the Bank of Baghdad among its fintech alums.

But no discussion of the development of fintech in the MENA region is possible without a discussion of the sizable degree of support from the leaders of countries in the area. Last month the Bahrain Economic Development Board partnered with fintech accelerator FinTech Consortium to launch Bahrain FinTech Bay. The goal is to help support MENA-area fintechs and guide Bahrain toward becoming a regional fintech hub. In the UAE, the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM), which launched in 2015, will play a major role in helping build a 21st century financial services sector and, by extension, stimulate development of vibrant fintech innovation, as well. Back in October, ADGM announced a pair of new initiatives – launching the ADGM FinTech Innovation Centre and a partnership with Plug and Play – as part of its first FinTech Abu Dhabi Summit.

The blockchain

Sophisticated technologies such as bitcoin and blockchain are being studied by governments and central banks in the MENA region. This is particularly the case in the UAE, but is also true for institutions in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and Bahrain. In a post called “GulfTech is the Next Big Thing,” Skinner underscored the area’s fascination with the blockchain in a subsection titled “Everything on a blockchain.” Skinner discusses how blockchain technology might be used to help turn the region into an international leader in Islamic finance:

IslamTech is an opportunity for the GCC, and one they need to grasp, You would think that the GCC countries would lead in Islamic Finance, but they don’t. Kuala Lumpur and London take those honors. However, as a FinTech opportunity, building their presence as an Islamic FinTech center, or IslamTech as I like to call it, makes sense. In particular, because Dubai wants to build everything on a blockchain, and transparency of products through a shared ledger service for Islamic investments makes absolute sense.

Skinner also links to an article from CoinDesk that discusses Dubai’s strategic partnership with IBM for a city-wide blockchain pilot project run by Dubai’s innovation arm, Smart Dubai.

Partnerships

Partnerships are also developing between MENA countries as well as within them. In December, the central bank of UAE announced a joint project with the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (Sama) to use blockchain technology to issue a digital currency that would be accepted for cross-border transactions between the UAE and KSA. Individual companies in the MENA region that are innovating with blockchain technology include firms like ArabianChain, a UAE-based startup founded in 2016 that is building a public blockchain for Islamic banking and government services-related apps.

There are many aspects of fintech in the MENA region that make it easy to be optimistic about the industry’s future. According to Wamda, MENA-area fintech startups have raised more than $100 million in the last 10 years. And the opportunity is clear: 86% of the adult population in the MENA is unbanked, and SME lending by regional banks is significantly below the average for middle income countries. Combine this with (1) the growing appetite for mobile-based solutions driven in part by the disproportionately large under 30-population, (2) the emergence of increasingly-diversified sources of wealth and investment, and (3) the clear commitment of leaders in the region to leverage fintech to help modernize their societies and provide better life outcomes for their citizens, and you have one of the world’s most worthwhile fintech industries to watch.

FinovateMiddleEast Sneak Peek: RISQ

A look at the companies demoing live at FinovateMiddleEast on 26 and 27 of February in Dubai, U.A.E. Pick up your tickets today and save your spot.

RISQ empowers corporate banking divisions with a solution that combines an efficient platform with intelligence, data integration, and AI, presented in a radically intuitive user experience.

Features

  • Manages complex credit decisions with ease
  • Features integrated analytics using AI components to support the process
  • Integrates “out of the box” with multiple external data repositories

Why it’s great
RISQ | Corporate Lending Powered by CRIF puts the business banking user in the driver’s seat, giving them a 360-degree visibility of every credit decision in real time.

Presenters

Michael Jesse, CEO
Jesse has met with over 150 banks in 35+ countries as part of various management roles. This unique insight was channelled into RISQ to create a radically new approach in financial software.
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Ozan Vakar, CTO 
Vakar, being an entrepreneur for over 25+ years in the financial service industry, has the unique capability to transform a business requirement into a software solution exceeding clients’ expectations.
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FinovateMiddleEast Sneak Peek: Electronic IDentification

A look at the companies demoing live at FinovateMiddleEast on 26 and 27 of February in Dubai, U.A.E. Pick up your tickets today and save your spot.

Electronic IDentification has developed software to handle the customer authentication conducted in branch offices with video identification using AI and machine learning.

Features

  • Increases customer conversion rates from 70% to less than 10%
  • Speeds time to market from 3 weeks to only 3 minutes
  • Improves customer satisfaction and business growth and profitability

Why it’s great
Electronic IDentification’s solution is fully-compliant with Europe’s most stringent regulations for AML and eIDAS.

Presenter

Iván Nabalón, Founder and CEO
Nabalon has led Electronic IDentification to the greatest growth of any European company in the identification industry.
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FinovateMiddleEast Sneak Peek: Ondot Systems

A look at the companies demoing live at FinovateMiddleEast on 26 and 27 of February in Dubai, U.A.E. Pick up your tickets today and save your spot.

Ondot Systems, an innovative fintech company, brings together experts from mobile, security, and payment card industries to transform how consumers interact with their financial institutions.

Features
Ondot’s mobile application lets you control and personalize your card and those of your dependents – setting spending limits, specifying preferences around transaction types, merchants, and locations.

Why it’s great
Ondot’s innovative Mobile Card Services enable consumer control over payment cards, helping reduce fraud, bank support costs, and increase card usage.

Presenter

Gary Singh, Vice President of Marketing 
Singh has extensive specialist knowledge of the IoT market, mobile technologies, marketing, and digital payments.
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