This week for Finovate Global, we caught up with Mohammed Aziz, co-founder and CEO of Dapi, a fintech startup that offers a suite of open banking APIs to help connect customer bank accounts, initiate payments, and access data in real-time. Founded in 2019, the company currently operate in six countries in the Middle East and Africa, and is headquartered in both San Francisco, California, and the UAE.
We talked about the opportunity for open banking to fuel innovation in financial services in emerging economies, as well as the overall environment for fintech innovation in the MENA region. We also discussed the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on pre-existing trends such as digitization.
Finovate: Dapi is the third company you’ve founded, but your first fintech. What made you want to focus on the opportunities in this industry? What do you bring to fintech from your experience in other areas?
Mohammed Aziz: Dapi was the result of a problem that I personally faced when trying to build “Spendy” a hybrid between a peer to peer payment application and a personal financial management app. We were unable to build out Spendy for most emerging markets due to the lack of bank connectivity which got us super keen to build out the underlying infrastructure that would power the future of fintech in these markets.
Finovate: Tell us about Dapi. What problem does your company solve and who are your primary customers?
Aziz: Dapi’s mission is to provide the building blocks for a thriving fintech ecosystem in emerging markets around the world. Our API serves as the bridge between financial applications and banks, empowering developers to create digital wallets, budget trackers, investment applications and more. Our clients are developers working on fintech applications, businesses hoping to include financial services in their mobile and web offerings, and anyone that wants to include bank functionality within their digital offerings.
Finovate: Your business strategy relies on an embrace of open banking in the MENA region. How strong is the movement toward open banking there?
Aziz: The MENA region is a very exciting space to be operating in right now. Fintech is only beginning to develop here and the market is pretty much untapped, so we are hoping to serve as an influence towards the region embracing open banking and all the opportunities that come with that. I would also like to point out that we are able to activate and build connectivity regardless of open banking being present or not. We like to take the approach that companies like Plaid in the US or Truelayer in the UK did, whereby they were connected to banks despite frameworks and regulation being in place.
Finovate: Aside from open banking, what are some of the other exciting trends in the fintech industry in the Middle East/Abu Dhabi right now?
Aziz: There’s a general trend of growing interest for the kinds of applications that financial technology empowers, from digital wallets and peer to peer applications to investment platforms and digital banks. The market is new and rapidly evolving.
Finovate: We talk about the Middle East and North Africa as a region. But there is a great deal of variation among countries in MENA. How does this impact your ability to market your technology in the area?
Aziz: Beyond market considerations, the regulation surrounding the use of APIs in financial applications varies greatly from country to country. This is a new and mostly unregulated space, but we have had to consider completely separate approaches to integrating our services in the UAE as opposed to KSA, for example. Culture is also another important factor, as it varies between countries and impacts the products that you would want to launch along with the go-to-market approach.
Finovate: How has COVID-19 impacted the fintech industry in the region? Early in the crisis, we heard news from countries like Iran, but not as much since. How are businesses, especially fintech businesses, faring?
Aziz: The COVID-19 pandemic and its push towards social distancing and remote work has actually increased interest in digitization of financial services. For example, there have been a number of announcements within the UAE that the country will be moving towards enabling more online payments and other financial services without the need to physically go to a bank.
Finovate: You participated in the Y Combinator program. What was that experience like? What advice do you have for startups with the opportunity to pursue a similar path with a top-notch accelerator?
Aziz: Y Combinator has been a phenomenal experience for us. It really put us out there on the map and helped expand our network in silicon valley. From our experience, investors and VCs in the US are not usually convinced about investing in early stage MENA startups, but YC really helps establish that credibility.
Finovate: Tell us about your experience of setting up your business in Abu Dhabi.
Aziz: Abu Dhabi is an exciting place to work, since it is a rapidly growing and developing market, as mentioned above. Furthermore, we have received a lot of support from our involvement in ADGM and Hub71, which provided resources for us to establish and grow our operations in these beginning stages.
Finovate: What can we expect from Dapi over the balance of 2020 and beyond?
Aziz: We are very excited to continue growing and expanding into a variety of developing markets, beyond the UAE. At the same time, we have a number of exciting partnerships in our sights for the UAE, which we hope will bring our vision of a strong fintech ecosystem in the MENA region closer to reality.
Here is our look at fintech around the world.
- Singapore-based MatchMove launches cross-border remittance platform for businesses.
- Clik, a payment aggregator and merchant acquirer based in Cambodia, raises $3.7 million in seed funding.
- Leading Asian financial services platform GoBear teams up with UnionBank to launch lending-as-a-service solution in the Philippines; announces new Chief Financial Officer.
- Fiserv inks partnership with Absa Regional Operations (ARO) to enhance credit card management and processing in nine African countries.
- Ecobank Group unveils the finalists for its fintech challenge, now in its third year. Ten African startups from seven different countries made the cut out of an applicant pool of more than 600.
- Salaam Gateway looks at the development of Islamic fintech in Kenya.
Central and Eastern Europe
- Onfido to streamline digital identity verification for Poland’s Alior Bank.
- Russia’s Tinkoff Bank launches new charitable program, Cashback to Give Back.
- Austrian regtech kompany lands $7.14 million in funding.
Middle East and Northern Africa
- Salt Edge partners with Jordan Ahli Bank Cyprus, making it one of the first banking groups in Cyprus to achieve PSD2 compliance.
- Israeli fintech Approve.com raises $5 million in seed funding for its technology that automates the procurement process.
- Infosys Finacle to deploy its Liquidity Management platform with National Bank of Bahrain.
Central and Southern Asia
- Uzbekistan’s People’s Bank partners with Finastra to automate its risk management business.
- TerraPay collaborates with Bank Alfalah to enable instant money transfers to Pakistan.
- Indian B2B fintech Signzy announces plans to hire “close to 70” employees over the next six moths in response to increased demand.
Latin America and the Caribbean
- Feedzai expands partnership with PayU, enabling the company to enhance its fraud prevention capabilities in Latin America and the EMEA region.
- TechCrunch profiles Mozper, a digital banking service based in Latin America that caters to parents and Gen Z kids.
- MercadoLibre announces plans to launch branded credit cards in Brazil and Chile “in the near future.”