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Looking Beyond Funding at Fintech in MENA

Fintech is a global game, so why don’t we always hear about all of the global players? The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, for example is often overlooked when it comes to fintech.

The Milken Institute, a non-profit think tank, recently looked beyond the borders of the U.S., Europe, and Asia to better understand the state of fintech in MENA– specifically in the UAE and Bahrain. The findings come in the Milken Institute’s recent report The Rise of FinTech in the Middle East: An Analysis of the Emergence of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

The publication reports that the region receives only 1% of all VC fintech investment across the globe. But considering funding numbers alone paints a different picture than looking at fintech activity as a whole in the region. Looking beyond funding numbers, the report details the state of fintech in the region, its challenges, and what to watch.

MENA’s fintech pulse

Just getting started

It may be true that the rest of the globe receives 99% of all VC fintech investment, but the UAE and Bahrain are just getting started. Policymakers began forming fintech-specific initiatives in 2017 and, with only a couple of years of development, there is still plenty of time for the countries to grow the depth and breadth of fintech in the region.

Potential clients

The MENA region has around 450 million residents, an ample population to support a wide range of fintech initiatives. What’s more, half of all residents are under 25 years old and more likely to be tech savvy, having grown up with technology touching almost every aspect of their lives.

Geographical advantages

MENA acts as a gateway to neighboring Asia, which has two positive aspects. First, it is ripe with potential fintech partners. Second, Asia has a large population of financially underserved residents in need of the types of alternative financial services fintechs offer.

Growth

The region’s fintech sector is growing at a 30% compounded annual growth rate. By 2022, it is estimated that 465 fintechs in the region will garner $2+ billion in annual funding, a 25x improvement when compared to the $80 million in funding fintechs brought in in 2017.

What to watch

Milken’s report states that the following fintech subsectors are emerging regularly throughout the MENA region:

  • Payments
  • Remittances
  • Insurtech
  • Lending
  • Regtech
  • Digital banking
  • Crowdfunding
  • Blockchain
  • Cryptocurrency

And of that list, payments dominate. The fintech scene in MENA is comprised of 85% payments, money transfers, and remittances companies. This, the report details, is fueled by the prevalence of mobile devices and internet connectivity.

Challenges

Lack of local talent

As with many regions across the globe, MENA struggles to find local talent with specialized fintech expertise. Perhaps exacerbating the issue, the region’s major growth sectors such as traditional financial services, oil, and healthcare attract many of the experts from the talent pool.

Regulation

Again, MENA startups are not unique in their struggle with regulation. However, in its report, Milken pointed out that MENA fintechs often face extreme regulatory hurdles that outshadow typical regulatory challenges in their number and complexity. Examples include Visa requirements, licensing fees, quotas for employee hiring, and square footage requirements.

Cost of doing business

Regulation is just one aspect that adds to the cost of doing business in the region. Other factors are a high cost of living, licensing, and work visa costs.


For a more complete picture of the state of fintech in the region I highly recommend reading the full report. And to see MENA’s newest technology demoed live, and to hear from the most renowned industry leaders in fintech in the region, be sure to check out FinovateMiddleEast, taking place on November 20 and 21 in Dubai. Tickets are still available.