The above image is for illustration and is of Finance Magnates by Daily Advent.
In an exclusive interview with Finance Magnates, Achraf Drid, Managing Director of XTB MENA, recently discussed the global growth in trading volumes across the FX and CFD market. Drid believes that the MENA region holds a special place in the global financial services industry.
XTB is one of the largest financial brokerages in the world. Listed on Warsaw Stock Exchange, the financial trading services provider witnessed rapid growth in 2021.
It’s a pleasure having you with us Mr. Drid, for our readers, can you please introduce yourself?
Thank you for having me; it is my pleasure. I am the Managing Director of XTB MENA DIFC in Dubai, and XTB is one of the world’s leading brokerage companies. In my role, I’m actively involved in the company’s business development, legal processes, and all compliance aspects. I am also deeply involved in the company’s financial strength in investing in Fintech since we provide our customers not only the highest level of customer support but also the highest level of technology. Since XTB entered the MENA region, I have focused mainly on setting up and managing the company’s core sales and risk management processes. I’m also involved in the regulatory framework of the company to lead XTB into the future with integrity and transparency.
We are new to the MENA region, but we have been around since 2005 when XTB was founded in Warsaw as a company. We are one of the biggest brokerages in Europe and are also listed on the Warsaw Stock Exchange. Worldwide, we have been offering CFDs, Forex, commodities and indices for years, and then we saw an opportunity in the MENA region to cater to the increasing demand for a reliable and trustworthy broker in this part of the world.
What differentiates us from other brokers? First, we are not just a financial company, we are a fintech firm, since we employ more than 200 IT developers in our headquarters, and we keep improving our offering and services every month. We are not looking to be compared with other brokers; our goal is to be the Amazon or Netflix of trading.
Secondly, many brokers rely on the MetaTrader 4 platform, but we also offer our proprietary platform called xStation, which has won numerous awards. We have a large IT team responsible for keeping it up-to-date and who ensure it’s always working at top efficiency. I’m proud of our GUI platform and honestly believe it’s one of the best in the market.
Finally, we place a significant focus on education. I believe we’re one of the most education-focused brokerages in the world. Many resources are found on our platform, including various educational videos and reading material. The content recorded hasn’t only been produced by us and by some of the world’s most famous traders. We heavily focus on education when we present our platforms to the clients virtually and when we meet them in person.
Trading volumes across the FX and CFD industry jumped substantially in 2020 due to the lockdown, while the industry sustained growth levels in 2021, do you think the trend will continue into 2022?
The actual gross market value of OTC FX and CFDs has been rising; the Covid-19-induced market turmoil and strong policy responses drove developments in FX markets throughout 2020. This increase coincided with the significant depreciation of the US dollar against other major currencies. Acting as the primary vehicle currency, the US dollar was on one side of more than 80% of all currency pairs (measured by both notional amount and gross market value). Sizeable US dollar exchange rate movements can lead to more trading in FX and CFDs in the current year (2022).
Additionally, if you look back into the last ten years, forex trading has grown exponentially. Looking at the forex market in 2008, there were about US$48 trillion traded, and today that number is closer to US$80 trillion, which shows a growth of over 50%. I believe that the volume will continue to grow in 2022 at a steady rate, with forex trading making up 40% of the world’s total market.
In terms of financial services, the MENA region is one of the fastest-growing regions in the world, what makes MENA different from other locations?
The Middle East’s importance is rapidly growing in the global forex market, especially with its retail segment, compared to a relative slowdown and decline in other international markets.
It is driven by increased investor awareness of the opportunities available in global trading and the region’s strategic location between Asia and Europe as a hub. The local time zone enables it to capture market opening hours in the Far East and the US…and closing hours in the same working day, giving it better access to the broader global market, particularly the G7 currencies.
As we are based out of Dubai and regulated by the DIFC, we have experienced substantial growth of the UAE economy and the increasing number of ex-pats coming to live and work here; we have seen FX transactional flows rising, both in and out of the country.
Going forward into 2022, how is XTB MENA planning to expand its presence in the region?
The MENA region did go through significant challenges during the last two years, (with) the COVID-19 pandemic having an impact on the regional economy, like the rest of the world. However, some countries have adopted rapid, decisive and innovative measures to contain the virus, such as the smooth crisis management developed by regional governments.
MENA countries have responded rapidly to mitigate the economic consequences of the crisis on the private sectors and households and keep the financial market functioning. On average, 2.7% of GDP was allocated to fiscal measures, while 3.4% of GDP (over USD 47 billion) in liquidity injection was activated by Central Banks across the region during the first few weeks of the crisis.
The MENA market is estimated to witness significant growth, and at XTB, we feel very confident. The reason we decided to establish XTB regional office in the UAE is part of our strategic growth plan to support our customers locally, not only in FX but across other asset classes under our portfolio, including oil, gas and bullion.
Sponsorships played an important role in global brand awareness of financial trading platforms, how is XTB planning to use sports sponsorships for its global growth?
In the past, we had a partnership with McLaren Mercedes, then with Hollywood actor Mads Mikkelsen, and now we have a partnership with Jose Mourinho, and we have other plans for the future – for obvious reasons; we would like to keep this as a surprise!
A Press Release of Zawya‘s FINANCIAL SERVICES informs that Citi launches sustainability-linked supply chain financing in Algeria. Here it is.
The above image is for illustration and is of the ICC Academy.
12 January 2022
Algeria – Citi has launched its first Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Sustainability-linked Supply Chain Finance (SSCF) program in Algeria with the aim of supporting clients as they advance their ESG priorities, improve the resilience of their supply chains and manage their working capital needs.
Supply Chain Finance (SCF) programs benefit companies and their suppliers as they prioritize their working capital positions respectively. In using Citi’s SCF program, for example, the bank would provide financing to a client’s suppliers from the date of collection of specific goods/provision of services to the date on which payment is owed to these suppliers. The cost of this financing is borne by suppliers at a rate lower than their usual cost of funds. As a result, suppliers benefit from cash flow acceleration, quicker payment, and improved financing costs.
Citi’s first MENA SSCF program has been implemented for German chemical and consumer goods company, Henkel. The program has been initially launched with suppliers in Algeria and will be expanded to include additional markets and suppliers in the coming months.
The program is also a first for Henkel in IMEAT and is targeted at existing or new suppliers who demonstrate strong or improving sustainability performance. Qualifying suppliers can access Citi’s supply chain financing at preferential rates, improving as a supplier’s sustainability score improves. Henkel, with the support of a global leading sustainability assessment agency, will periodically assess the sustainability performance of its suppliers.
Commenting on the collaboration, Bülent Pehlivan, Regional Head of Finance – India, Middle East and Africa said: “With sustainability being at the core of our company’s strategy, we are engaging in a range of activities with new ways of growing and innovative solutions to create value. We are delighted to collaborate with Citi Group to introduce a sustainable supply chain financing program for the first time in the region. Launching first in Algeria, we are committed to continue to implement it in other countries of the region in the near future.”
Citi’s SSCF program in MENA aligns with the bank’s ESG commitments. To help accelerate the transition to a global low-carbon economy, Citi launched its updated Sustainable Progress Strategy in July of last year, which includes its global US$500 Billion Environmental Finance Goal. Citi also recently established a commitment to US$1 trillion in sustainable finance by 2030, which includes the environmental finance goal and a US$500 Billion Social Finance Goal.
“We are proud to be collaborating with Henkel in this first SSCF program in the MENA region. It is really pleasing to see that Henkel and Citi share a strategic focus on ESG. At Citi we are looking forward to this partnership and journey with Henkel which will ensure that we continue to adapt and develop our ESG solutions even further” said Dave Aldred. MENA Head, Treasury and Trade Solutions, Citi.
“We are excited to be partnering with Henkel and helping them to achieve their sustainability goals via the launch of the first Sustainable Supply Chain Financing Program for Citi in the MENAPT region. Like Henkel, our ESG commitments are an essential part of our firm’s strategy and we are committed to provide innovative ESG-linked solutions to our clients and to expand the use of our Sustainable Supply Chain Financing Program in the region,” said Marcel Hanen, Citi Regional Head of the Global Subsidiaries Group – Middle East, North Africa, Pakistan and Turkey
Henkel AG & Co. KGaA is a German chemical and consumer goods company headquartered in Düsseldorf, Germany. It is a multinational company active both in the consumer and industrial sector. Founded in 1876, the DAX 30 company is organized into three globally operating business units (Laundry & Home Care, Beauty Care, Adhesive Technologies) and is known for brands such as Loctite, Persil, Fa, Pritt, Dial and Purex, amongst others.
About Citi’s Treasury and Trade Solutions
Citi Treasury and Trade Solutions (TTS) enables our clients’ success by providing an integrated suite of innovative and tailored cash management and trade finance services to multinational corporations, financial institutions and public sector organizations across the globe. Based on the foundation of the industry’s largest proprietary network with banking licenses in over 90 countries and globally integrated technology platforms, TTS continues to lead the way in offering the industry’s most comprehensive range of digitally enabled treasury, trade and liquidity management solutions.
Citi, the leading global bank, has approximately 200 million customer accounts and does business in more than 160 countries and jurisdictions. Citi provides consumers, corporations, governments and institutions with a broad range of financial products and services, including consumer banking and credit, corporate and investment banking, securities brokerage, transaction services, and wealth management.
Hassan El-Banna, Sr. Business Development Manager Middle East, Turkey & Africa (META) at Genetec gives us in AMEInfo, a Look out at these physical security trends in 2022.
Standardization of open and interoperable solutions across smart cities, faster hybrid cloud adoption, and a tighter focus on supply chain risks are some of the top physical security topics to keep an eye on
Organizations are employing spatial analytics data to cut wait times
Video analytics apps will be easier and more cost-effective to implement at scale
Smart city investments would reach $203 billion by 2024
The long-term impacts of the pandemic and other geopolitical events will generate new technical developments and considerations in 2022. Standardization of open and interoperable solutions across smart cities, faster hybrid cloud adoption, and a tighter focus on supply chain risks are some of the top physical security topics to keep an eye on.
Top physical security trends in 2022
Monitoring occupancy and space usage will continue to be a significant focus.
Occupancy tracking is still expanding nearly two years after the pandemic began, as businesses see value in the data collected. Organizations are employing spatial analytics data to cut wait times, manage staff scheduling, and improve company operations, in addition to safety goals.
Corporate organizations are also figuring out how to make their workplaces more efficient by splitting their work time between the office and home. The use of data on space utilization translates to increased operational efficiency, better resource management, and significant cost savings.
Large-scale deployments of video analytics will become more feasible.
Video analytics solutions have been in high demand in recent years. More companies are keen to invest as AI techniques such as machine learning, and deep learning continues to increase the power of analytics. However, complex video analytics still necessitate extremely powerful servers for appropriate data processing, making them impractical for large-scale adoption.
We predict that by 2022, video analytics apps will have matured to the point that they will be easier and more cost-effective to implement at scale.
Cybercrime will continue to evolve, requiring new approaches.
According to an analysis by Cybersecurity Ventures, global crime expenditures are expected to exceed $10.5 trillion annually by 2025. This is the most significant transfer of economic wealth in history, with a growth rate of 15% per year. According to the EMEA Physical Security in 2021 survey results, with the rise of work-from-home and the growing adoption of IoT, 48% of MEA respondents believed in the prioritization of the implementation of better business continuity plans. Against this backdrop, 67% of respondents planned to prioritize the improvement of their cybersecurity strategy in 2021. Cybersecurity concerns will continue to be a priority in 2022, with companies needing new approaches to face the growing cybercrime risks.
Businesses will need to be agile and sensitive to the expanding threat landscape as more devices come online and data processing becomes vital to operations. Customers want companies to keep their data safe and secure. Thus businesses must provide more openness. This will bring in a new cybersecurity model based on continuous verification rather than network and system hardening, alongside an increased focus on choosing partners who offer better degrees of automation.
The smart city movement will be aided by open architecture.
Smart city investments would reach $203 billion by 2024, according to a report titled IDC FutureScape: Worldwide Smart Cities and Communities 2021 Predictions. These smart towns are gathering massive amounts of data and seeking to improve urban safety and liveability. According to the IMD-SUTD Smart City Index 2021, the UAE ranks 29th amongst the world’s smart cities, with 78.5% of the respondents believing in the importance of data-driven physical safety procedures such as facial recognition as a part of necessary processes to improve law enforcement.
The ecology of the smart city also includes intelligent structures. Various businesses are attempting to evaluate data from different sensors and automate procedures. The problem is that this necessitates a shift away from proprietary solutions by cities and corporations. Human and data silos are inherently created by the closed-architecture concept, which stifles growth prospects.
By focusing on open and interoperable solutions, decision-makers will get the most out of their current technology investments by improving data sharing and collaboration. Longer-term, they’ll become more adaptable to changing requirements and more self-sufficient in data unification and ownership.
Adaptable access control technology will continue to be adopted by businesses.
Today’s businesses want more from their access control systems. They desire more flexibility in hardware choices, streamlined processes, and increased convenience for those who pass through their buildings daily.
Many businesses had to get innovative to comply with increased health and safety regulations during the pandemic. Regardless of where they are on the return-to-work spectrum, organizations today recognize that the new normal necessitates agility. This is why they’re investing in PIAM systems (physical identity access management).
Businesses may automate employee and guest access requests and remotely alter access rights for all employees using a self-service PIAM system, ensuring greater safety and compliance. Additionally, by combining access control and PIAM systems, onsite movement may be tracked, making it easier for businesses to spot possible COVID-19 transmission. We expect this trend toward more modern and adaptive access control systems to continue as the new year progresses.
Supply chain operations will receive more attention and emphasis.
Organizations are under pressure to evaluate their entire supply chain ecosystem as cyber threats get more sophisticated and global disruptions influence supply management everywhere. During the SolarWinds Attack, a flaw in its own IT resource management system exposed over 18,000 customers to malware, including Fortune 500 firms and US government agencies.
More enterprises and government agencies will widen the scope of their cybersecurity policies to create baseline security criteria for the products they acquire and the vendors they engage with, in a world where organizations no longer have clearly defined network perimeters.
Any supply chain issues in obtaining physical security equipment will encourage firms to become less reliant on proprietary solutions from a single provider. Should product availability, best practices, or lack of transparency for a specific vendor be questioned, decision-makers will be able to browse different vendor options and easily change out system components.
More businesses will migrate to the cloud and use a hybrid deployment model.
The adoption of cloud computing is increasing. While many businesses aren’t ready to make the entire leap to the cloud, many are looking to the hybrid cloud deployment approach as a way to try out new apps.
As more physical security teams begin to experiment with cloud apps, the advantages of hybrid cloud will become clear. This will propel the use of cloud technology even further forward this year.
FOOD SECURITY‘s article on this new trend is merely a description of the rediscovery of oneself’s subsistence way of living one’s life in the large but empty regions of the MENA. It addresses the particulars of how the Lebanese grassroots food security initiative fosters Agricultural self-sufficiency as if by chance. Here it is anyway.
“The idea back then was to create a mechanism that would link local production to the markets,” Nicolas Gholam, founding coordinator of Ardi Ardak, tells Food Tank. Working with rural, small-scale producers under an agroecological, climate-smart approach is central to Ardi Ardak’s mission, explains Gholam.
The food security initiative formed as “a response to the deteriorating socioeconomic situation in Lebanon,” says Gholam.
In October 2019, protests ignited against government corruption and austerity measures. Prior to the 17 October Revolution, Lebanon faced a massive economic downturn. By the end of 2019, Lebanon’s public debt ballooned to the world’s third highest, estimated at 171 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In 2020, with the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy worsened. During the first six months of 2021, the inflation rate averaged 131 percent, disproportionately affecting the poor and middle class.
According to a recent report from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the U.N. Economic and Social Commission For Western Asia (ESCWA), the loss of purchasing power renders 40 percent of Lebanese households unable to satisfy their basic food necessities.
In 2020, the explosion in Beirut’s port—which handled 70 percent of food imports in a country importing about 85 percent of its food—devastated Lebanon’s food supply. The blast destroyed a major grain silo and damaged 120,000 metric tons of staple food stocks stored at the port, including wheat, soy and other beans. Food prices skyrocketed.
Ardi Ardak emerged in response to these events. The initiative links investors and large landowners with small farmers and rural women, and rehabilitates abandoned arable lands. Almost 89 percent of Lebanon’s population lives in urban areas, while agricultural land comprises 64 percent of the country. According to Gholam, “Those people who came from rural areas still have lands they were not looking after.”
According to a 2020 report from the Lebanese Ministry of Agriculture, the agrifood sector remains a low priority from the government. This has resulted in limited public investment in infrastructure and research, and poor organization of the agrifood value chain.
To address these challenges, Ardi Ardak first conducts assessments on the agricultural viability of abandoned lands. The initiative aims to act as a hub connecting large landowners who have left their lands—whether they are “bankers, or restaurateurs, or anything,” says Gholam—with farmers still living in rural areas. Then, the initiative provides technical guidance to promote sustainable agricultural practices for farmers willing to work the land.
“In the first year, we reached 180 assessments, and it’s been steady ever since,” Gholam tells Food Tank.
Ardi Ardak believes it is also important to provide market access and adequate infrastructure for rural small-scale producers. The initiative aims to ease the burden of managing every single aspect of the value chain for smallholder farmers, because, Gholam says, “not all smallholders are entrepreneurs.” Through partnerships with humanitarian organizations and private sector start-ups, the initiative works to create an environment where farmers can focus on production.
Gholam notes that, on average, rural small-scale producers spend two and a half days per week focused on delivery or selling activities. “This time should be spent in the workshop, or on the farm, or testing products,” Gholam says.
The marketing channel Soul aal Souk helps to achieve this goal. A monthly farmers market established in partnership with AUB, it fosters linkages between urban residents and rural producers, offering city residents access to healthy, traditional food. Ardi Ardak supports food trails promoting smallholder Lebanese producers through rural tourism. To further cultivate market access, Ardi Ardak also collaborates with Food and Roots, a company that gathers, packages and sells traditional and innovative products from rural areas.
In the future, the grassroots initiative hopes to complete two projects to transform landscapes, livelihoods, and the Lebanese food system. Ardi Ardak is partnering with a local municipality in the Beqaa Valley to implement an agroforestry model on a large swath of land. They hope to help residents sustain the local forest, work the agricultural land, and enjoy a public park. In Tripoli, Afif Wehbe, an Agricultural Engineer at AUB, says Ardi Ardak is in the early stages of plans to build a small urban garden divided among community members, which would include a section for a farmers market.
“We have potential, but we need the infrastructure,” Gholam tells Food Tank. “We’ll start by giving people an option they did not know existed beforehand, and that’s a good enough thing to start with.”
The increase in entrepreneurship and start-ups in the region has been happening over the past decade as revealed by Arabian Business in the latest trends shaping the region’s start-up ecosystem
Financial technologies and e-commerce businesses dominated the market in the Web 2.0 wave, while blockchain and cryptocurrencies are slowly growing in the region
In the post-pandemic economy, it feels like start-ups are launching almost daily in unprecedented numbers, but the Middle East entrepreneurial ecosystem has been steadily growing for almost a decade now, explained Walid Hanna, CEO and founder of MEVP, a venture capitalist firm.
Talking exclusively to Arabian Business, Hanna looked back at the evolution of start-ups in the region and the major trends that dominated each phase until today.
What can you tell us about the regional landscape for start-ups in the post-pandemic economy?
The increase in entrepreneurship and start-ups in the region has been happening over the past decade.
We [at MEVP] began our journey back in 2010 and, at that time, we used to see one or two start-ups a week, while now we receive three or four business plans a day, so the multiplier has been enormous in terms of the number of start-ups.
This has been the case post-Covid as well. When the whole ecosystem realised how important technology is during the pandemic, it gave a boost to our portfolio of companies and they grew faster and it also gave a boost to potential entrepreneurs who left their jobs to start their own businesses.
Why do you think fuelled this growth in the pre-coronavirus days?
It’s a natural progression that happened across the US, Europe and China over the past two decades and since there’s always a lag with the Middle East, it’s finally happening here now.
If you look at the penetration rates in internet usage or mobile phone usage, the Middle East has typically been lagging, the exception being countries like the UAE. But, now they’re all catching up.
What are some of the trends you’ve seen among regional start-ups, in fintech and tech in general?
Trends have been evolving over the past decade as well.
Originally there was the Web 1.0 wave, which was only content-based such as browsing the internet for cooking recipes, for example.[Start-ups] were making money, but it was based on reading, there were no interactions or transactions involved.
Then it evolved into Web 2.0, where we saw a lot of financial technologies, e-commerce sites and software-as-a-service for enterprises. We’ve invested in 60-plus companies across those verticals.
We’ve also seen a lot of mobility plays, such as Uber, and we’ve seen that model [replicated] across tuk-tuks, motorcycles, electric scooters and trucks which, in a way, is good for the environment.
Within fintech, we’ve seen a lot of sub-verticals, such as the Buy Now, Pay Later model, which is a big trend at the moment – there are around ten [such start-ups] in the region and we’ve invested in an Egypt-based one. But there are so many other trends within fintech, including micro-lending, SME-lending or treasury solutions; payment solutions in general.
The hype over non-fungible tokens and cryptocurrencies, the whole blockchain business model, has evolved tremendously over the past couple of years and is just starting to pick up in the Middle East. We’ve seen two NFT marketplaces and a couple of blockchain business models. It is still quite limited, although I expect it to grow much faster in the next three years.
How do you identify the companies you will invest in?
Just as they say “location, location, location” for real estate, it is “people, people, people” for start-ups.
If a start-up is at the earlier stages, the best thing you can look at is how investment-ready the business is and how qualified the founders are with relevant experience. We look at how dynamic, hardworking and motivated they are.
We look at the total addressable market and try to understand if it’s big enough and if they are really answering a pain point that is large enough to make serious money. This is because we are not interested in a small niche in a tiny country. For example, if a start-up is trying to solve a small issue in a country like Lebanon and the issue is not the same in Saudi Arabia and the GCC, then we are not interested.
We also look at the business model and the unit economics to see if it is viable, meaning we try to find out if the cost of producing, marketing and selling whatever product is worthwhile. If you look at the cost of acquiring a user and realise that the margin you are making out of this one product is inferior to that, then it is not worth it.
We also look at how robust and scalable the technology itself is and the stack they use. We invest in tech start-ups only.
Growth is key to our assessment of technology companies. We don’t do seed capital so when we invest in Series A, we can already witness a traction behind the start-up. If the traction is interesting, we get interested but if it is not already interesting, we don’t invest.
What are the challenges that remain for entrepreneurs in the region?
It depends on the country. In the GCC, there are no currency risks because they are pegged to the dollar, but if you look at currency in Egypt, they got really hit by the devaluation about three years ago.
There is also a political risk because of the region’s instability and relationship with its neighbouring countries.
Enablers are becoming better and better, but we still have some issues with the banks, for example. Opening up a bank account for start-ups is very challenging across the region. It takes ages and a lot of KYCs.
Five years ago, the logistics were very poor. Even the online payment systems were very poor so it was difficult for start-ups to thrive within that environment. This has been enhanced over the past couple of years but, for some reason, many customers here still want to pay cash-on-delivery and not use credit cards online. Penetration is increasing in terms of card usage but it is still lower than the global average.
Other than that, the ecosystem has evolved well and the enablers have followed. I would say the only challenge that remains is for fintech companies in terms of licence and regulations. Government regulations are making it easier by offering sandbox licences, but other than that, the regulatory framework is quite limited. The process is very slow but will happen one day I am sure.
Exits are happening, but still at a low rate where selling the start-up is difficult. There are more investors from outside the region looking at the region, which is positive, and the big regional conglomerates have also started to acquire start-ups so the trend is good but the numbers are still behind.
We have good start-ups and we want to sell them, but buyers are scarce. We should expand our horizon of buyers towards the global market, such as China or the US.
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