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.


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 (global platform for marketing real estate properties), (comparison shopping for financial products), and DareebaTech (online tax return filing and payment facilitator). Lebanon’s Berytech includes interactive retail banking portal, 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 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.


  • 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.


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.


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.

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.


  • 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.


Iván Nabalón, Founder and CEO
Nabalon has led Electronic IDentification to the greatest growth of any European company in the identification industry.

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.

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.


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

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.

  • Panamax Partners, a technology business vertical of Bankai Group, announces partnership with UAE-based fintech, Trriple.
  • Zawya looks at Oman’s leading Islamic bank, Bank Nizwa and its range of sharia-compliant, wholesale banking solutions.
  • Tahawul Tech profiles “The Dubai banking CEO with a PhD in AI,” Dr. Bernd van Linder.

MENA Fintech Fact Analysts expect the number of startups in the MENA region to grow to 250 by 2020, with half offering payment solutions and a third innovating in the money lending and capital raising space, per to Wamda.

  • U.A.E.’s NOW Money offers an explainer: UAE VAT for Fintech companies explained
  • Revenue management and customer experience specialist SunTech teams up with Abu Dhabi’s Al Hilal Bank.
  • BitOasis founder Ola Doudin talks crytocurrency regulation with Zawya.

Thought Leadership Bahrain aims to become gateway to FinTech in the Middle East according to Bahrain Economic Development Board managing director Simon Galpin in FinTech Global.

  • JadoPado and Esanjo founder Omar Kassim previews plans to launch cryptocurrency exchange, BitPado.
  • The Central Bank of Iran (CBI) to modernize online banking transactions with tokenization announcement.
  • Kuwait Times article on rental laws in Kuwait references Ajar Online as an example of an innovator in paying rent online.

Innovation and Collaboration: The Rise of Fintech in the MENA Region

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With more than 400 attendees, more than 100 scheduled speakers, and more than 20 fintech innovators demonstrating their technologies live on stage, Finovate’s first foray into the Middle East next month is an event not to be missed.

Dubai, the largest and most populous city in the United Arab Emirates, will host FinovateMiddleEast on the 26 and 27th of February. And in addition to our trademark live, seven-minute technology demonstrations, FinovateMiddleEast will also feature a strong slate of keynote addresses, roundtable conversations, and panel discussions on some of the most contemporary themes, trends, and topics in fintech. Here’s an advance look at some of what we’ll talk about at the conference.

Day One – What do fintechs want? What do banks want? What do investors think?

How do we successfully leverage technology to help solve 21st century financial challenges for the Middle East and North Africa? Finding harmony in the different interests and agendas of technologists, banks, and investors is key to creating the kind of environment that will lead to dynamic fintech innovation. During our FinovateMiddleEast Summit Days, we’ll learn what fintechs and banks want and need in order to effectively and profitably collaborate with each other. We’ll also explore the role of investors in providing the critical capital and guidance that will help turn today’s innovators into tomorrow’s market leaders.

For all the talk of disruption, leaders in MENA countries are looking for a more constructive relationship between fintech innovation and the societies they are innovating in. This means a fintech industry that is flexible enough to serve both the sizable number of ultra high net worth and high net worth consumers in the MENA, as well as the fast-growing, mobile-inclined, social media-connected youth population. Innovations that are able to respond to needs resulting from these “second wave sectors” like wealth management and international money transfers, are as important as those catering to traditional areas like banking and payments and “hot” technologies like the blockchain.

From banking and payments to AI and blockchain

Fintech in the MENA is dominated by innovations in the banking and payments space. As much of 84% of fintech in the MENA is payments-related, per Wamda/Payfort. Digital wallets are one area where banks and fintechs are working together and providing solutions. Earlier this month, Batelco and Arab Financial Services launched a new digital wallet and payment solution. Also this month, UAE-based Noor Bank partnered with UB QFPay to offer new mobile payment solutions. We’ll take a look at just how far digital wallet adoption in the MENA region can go, and look at how the launch of Apple Pay in the UAE may provide some visibility into the future of contactless payments in the region.

At the same time, new technologies like AI, the blockchain and cryptocurrencies are being explored eagerly by fintechs, banks, and governments alike in the MENA region. Dubai-based ArabianChain announced last week that it was launching a cryptocurrency exchange. In June, a company called MAG Lifestyle Development will introduce a Sharia-compliant cryptocurrency for buying property in June. Finovate alum NCR plans to introduce bitcoin-enabled ATMs in the UAE in the spring.

We’ll examine the results of an interbank blockchain pilot involving Emirates NBD and ICICI Bank India launched last fall, as well as a look at how blockchain technology can increase efficiency and accountability for financial transactions in the GCC more broadly. We’ll also take a tour of 3D printing facilities and visit local accelerator, Future Foundation, as a prelude of sorts to our accelerator showcase on Day Two.

Day Two – Regulations and regtech as catalyst for innovation

What are the biggest challenges to the vision that fintech entrepreneurs, banks, investors, and technologists have for the MENA region? Ensuring that regulation is used as a tool to steer fintech toward its most productive possible role in society – one in which its solutions are effective, trusted, cost-effective, and widely available – is important.

So in addition to discussing future opportunities for fintech in the MENA region, we’ll take the time to understand both the current and emerging regulatory infrastructure that will define the kind of fintech that will develop in the Middle East. These topics range from helping fintechs in the region offer new, innovative Sharia-compliant products and services to anticipating the effects of the introduction of VAT in the UAE.

Part of our journey into this topic will hosted by a panel of leading fintech research analysts from firms like Gartner and Forrester who have specific expertise in the MENA region. We’ll also look at fintech regulation in the Middle East and compare it to how regulations are being developed in other areas like Asia and Europe. Do the differences between these regions – and their different regulatory needs and concerns – help us better understand how regulation and innovation should go and in hand for fintech in the MENA?  Our conversation on Day Two is designed to help us explore these issues deeply.

Uniting fintechs, banks, and investors to better serve the underbanked

There can be no discussion of financial technology without a discussion of serving the underbanked. And while this is an important conversation in all areas, it may be especially acute in the Middle East and North Africa. According to a recent report from Wamda/Payfort, more than 85% of adults in the MENA do not have access to a bank account. Moreover, as Daniel Navarro wrote last spring in the Khaleej Times, financial inclusion is a major requirement for broader economic development.

“The solutions to increase financial inclusion need to be implemented properly, customized for each market segment, include microfinance services, low cost transfers, international remittances and other digital services to leverage the economic and social development. Also, the financial inclusion initiatives shall always be accompanied by proper security measures for KYC, AML, and CFT controls.”

Our conversation looks at opportunities, challenges, and successes alike. We’ll discuss Turkey’s plan to go cashless by 2023, as well as look at what is necessary from banks, fintechs, and the rest of the players in a modern economy in order to serve “the digital person.”

Another big feature on Day Two is the accelerator showcase which spotlights fintech startups that are based in the MENA region or doing significant business in the area. Added to the Finovate format last fall, the Accelerator Showcase provides a no-middleman opportunity for attendees to see and hear first hand what some of the MENA region’s most innovative young fintech startups are developing. And by viewing MENA startups through the lens of the accelerator programs that sponsored them, we get another opportunity to see and discuss the importance of startup culture and a dynamic, supportive ecosystem when it comes to preparing the next generation of fintech innovators.

What can banks gain from fintech innovation? What can fintechs gain from bank partnership and collaboration? And what incentivizes investors to come in from the sidelines with their critical support? Join us next month in Dubai as we tackle these and other issues driving the future of fintech in the Middle East.

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.

  • Dubai-based ArabianChain launches cryptocurrency exchange, Palmex.
  • Qatar commits to building fintech hub.
  • UAE-based Noor Bank announces partnership with UB QFPay to offer new mobile payment solution.

MENA Fintech Fact E-commerce and fintech topped tech startup funding for MENA region in 2017, according to a report from Magnitt

  • Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange (ADX) inks MoU with SWIFT and seven global CSD companies to collaborate on distributed ledger technology projects.
  • Oman’s Bank Nizwa takes to the road to promote its Ladies Banking Account services.
  • Jordan’s InvestBank teams up with F5 Networks to boost cybersecurity protections.

Thought Leadership What is the key for success for technology entrepreneurs innovating in the Middle East? Arabian Business writes “The Middle East is still building towards the right start-up culture.”

  • Gulf News Banking looks at how Dubai is “charting a unique story in fintech.”
  • Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Finance announces signing of MoU with Japan’s Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group to promote financial education for Saudi youth.
  • Thomson Reuters’ ZAWYA interviews Ola Doudin, CEO and co-founder of Dubai-area cryptocurrency exchange, BitOasis.

Fintech News from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)

Image by Tamer Fahmy

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.

  • Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) and Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB) forge fintech cooperation agreement, the first of its kind for the MENA region.
  • Batelco and Arab Financial Services launch new digital mobile wallet and payment solution, bWallet.
  • Egyptian fintech Moneyfellows raises $600,000 in new funding in round led by Dubai Angel Investors and 500 Startups.

MENA Fintech Fact:

  • Jordan’s Central Bank reports online payments through online bill payment service increased by 5x in 2017, topping JD3.3 billion ($4.6 billion)
  • Islamic bank Kuwait Finance House-Bahrian (KFH) organizes FinTech Training Program.
  • Emirates NBD announces plans to introduce battery-powered smart payments cards developed by U.S.-based fintech Dynamics.

Thought Leadership – Writing about trends in global Islamic finance in Daily Fintech, Arunkumar Krishnakumar asks:  “Would the digitization drive overcome a lack of standards?”

Although the Fintech Fever hit the West over the last few years, the uptake to digitization in the Islamic Finance world has been relatively slow. Over the last year or so, this trend has been changing, and 2018 is expected to be the year when Islamic Fintech players will start emerging across the world and not just in the Islamic countries.

  • Ethereum-based blockchain venture studio ConsenSys opens office in Dubai Design District.
  • Fintech News Middle East lists its 9 Fintech Startups in the Middle East to Watch in 2018.
  • Worldpay teams up with payments provider iyzico to aide in expansion into Turkish market.

Demoers from Near & Far at FinovateMiddleEast this February

2017 was a big year for fintech investment in the Middle East.

Amazon acquired Middle Eastern e-commerce firm,, local powerhouses joined the race (i.e., Kingdom Holding Company driving Careem’s Series E funding), startup accelerators launched across the region, and overall investment soared.

So, at the start of 2018, the message is clear: Look to the Middle East for fintech investment opportunities, acquisitions, partnerships, inspiration and competition. And there’s no better place to start than Finovate in February.

For this launch event, Finovate has partnered with the UAE Ministry of Finance and joined UAE Innovation Month and Dubai Innovation Week. Signature 7-minute demos will remain at the core of FinovateMiddleEast 2018 with startup and established companies showcasing their latest fintech innovations live on stage.

Dorsum — A chatbot platform that improves the difficulties of customer acquisition for financial institutions.

ebankIT — An omnichannel banking platform that enhances digital transformation for banks and financial institutions.

efigence — The Insights Now! platform uses smart web analytics’ tools to arm banks and financial institutions with real-time data driven conclusions.

Munnypot — An automated online solution providing accessible and affordable investment advice for millions of people in the U.K. and overseas.

Ondot Systems — Provides mobile card services supplying financial institutions, card processors and cardholders with mobile applications for credit and debit card control.

RISQ — A financial software platform improving the effectiveness of corporate loan acquisition and customer management for commercial banks.

Wealth Migrate — A global, direct investment platform remedying the lack of direct investment products for middle class, overseas investors.

Zagtrader — An end-to-end pre-integrated framework that connects banks, brokers, asset managers, and investment banks to the ultra-complex global trading ecosystem with ease.

Additional companies will be announced over the next several weeks.

Register by January 11 to save $300. Book online, call +1 (888) 670-8200, or email


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.

  • Jordan’s first bank, Jordan Ahli Bank launches beta version of chatbot service.
  • Alrajih Islamic Bank for Investment and Financing selects Path Solutions’ Islamic core banking system, iMAL.
  • Mortgagetech Meets Crypto Assets: New Sharia-compliant crypto currency for purchasing property slated for June launch in Dubai.

MENA Fintech Fact: 86% of MENA area adults do not have access to a bank account. But the number of startups in the MENA region doubled from 46 to 105 from 2012 to 2015.

  • Crowdfunding platform for farmers, BOOSTani wins first prize at Startup Weekend Bekaa in Lebanon.
  • Egyptian payments firm Fawry announces plans to expand nationwide in 2018.
  • ACI Worldwide partners with HyperPay to bring real-time fraud prevention solutions to ecommerce merchants in the MENA region.

Thought Leadership Fintech – 6 disrupters facing the Middle East – Mossadiq Ali Ghanghro, Middle East Director in Transaction Services for PwC, writes about top themes in fintech in the MENA region.

  • Bahrain Middle East Bank to deploy OneSumX from Wolters Kluwer for core banking and reporting.
  • NCR to introduce bitcoin-enabled ATMS in the UAE. Join Finovate in Dubai in March for FinovateMiddleEast.
  • Moneyfellows wins MetLife Foundation Inclusion Plus competition in Egypt and Lebanon.