While places like the US, the UK and China have long been leaders in digital finance, new fintech companies are starting to pop up in unexpected locations such as Poland, Slovakia, as well as the Middle East, underscoring fintech’s global diversity.
One of these places is Qatar, where Omar Mahmood, partner and head of financial services at KPMG in Qatar, said there’s been a significant push to promote the country as a regional fintech hub.
“Qatar offers the right regulatory environment, extremely competitive operating costs, government support, funding support and a ready financial services sector to work with,” he said.
“We do see a lot of potential of fintech companies collaborating with financial services players to transform the financial services sector in Qatar and the region.”
Fintech is heating up in Qatar as the financial services sector is increasingly looking at the potential benefits of financial technology and digital platforms.
Earlier this year, the Qatar Financial Center (QFC) Authority organized a fintech event that gathered business and financial professionals from Qatar’s public and private sectors. The event was dedicated to discussing emerging trends in the financial services sector and how fintech is disrupting current practices and creating completely digitalized methods and ways of banking and financing.
Speaking at the event, Kamal Naji, QFC Authority’s chief strategy and business development officer, highlighted how fintech has transformed the financial services industry over the past few years.
“Now more than ever before, the financial industry is relying on cutting-edge technology and technological innovation to provide its consumers with the highest levels of service.
“For so long, the financial industry refrained from resorting to technology as it continued using traditional methods to manage assets, provide commercial and retail loans, raise funding and transfer money. All of this is now changing across the globe.”
The event came as part of the QFC’s efforts to push forward the Qatar National Vision 2030, a development plan launched in 2008 to “transform Qatar into an advanced society capable of achieving sustainable development” by 2030.
Compared to other locations such as the United Arab Emirates, the fintech startup scene in Qatar remains rather small. Yet, several startups have emerged in recent years with innovative products. These include for instance Hasalty, a mobile application dedicated to improving the financial literacy for kids, and Rinfo, a real-estate mobile app for finding places to rent or buy. Both are incubatees startups of the Qatar Business Incubation Center. Another startup is MaktApp, which provides an all-in-one cloud-based solution for accounting, offices and team management.
Bahrain aspiring to become a fintech leader
Alongside Qatar, the tiny Gulf country of Bahrain, too, is aspiring to become a leading fintech hub in the Middle East.
Last week, the Central Bank of Bahrain announced that it will create a regulatory sandbox for startups and fintech firms to test their products. The sandbox will be open to both local and foreign companies, and is aimed at attracting fintech businesses from around the world to “expand and thrive in the Gulf, and strengthen Bahrain’s position as a fintech and financial services hub in the Gulf Coopration Council,” the bank said.
The move followed the recent announcement of a partnership between the Bahrain Economic Development (EDB), Singapore Fintech Consortium, a fintech incubator and ecosystem builder, and Dubai-based asset management and advisory firm Trucial Investment Partners, to develop a fintech ecosystem and regulatory framework for Bahrain.
The collaboration seeks to boost interaction between fintech startups in the Middle East and those in the ASEAN region, as well as facilitate the entry of Singaporean companies into Bahrain.
Earlier this year at the two-day 6th GCC Financial Forum in Manama, David Parker, executive director of financial services at the EDB, stressed the necessity to launch a fintech fund for local and foreign entrepreneurs in Bahrain.
“I would like that fund to be available to entrepreneurs outside of Bahrain as well as inside,” Parker said.
“We need to acknowledge if Bahrain is going to be a player within this space. Bahrain is a small country (and) there is a limited market. We want to encourage Bahrain to be… where entrepreneurs come to test their ideas and services. Maybe in some cases we need to acknowledge the need to move on to a bigger market.”
According to Khaled Al Ahli, CEO of Eazy Financial Services, Bahrain is fertile ground for fintech startups like his because the national mindset is aligned with strategies supporting fintech development, he told Nuwait.
Eazy Financial Services, a Bahraini startup focusing on providing innovative technology solutions to financial institutions, is looking to introduce the region’s first Biometric Payment Network.
Featured image: Museum of Islamic Arts park in Doha, Qatar, via Flickr.
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