Why and how does open banking make MENA an oasis of financial opportunities for investors? Maddyness answers quite elaborately as follows.
Economic growth in the MENA – Middle East and North Africa – region is on the rise, with Gulf countries leading the charge. The pace of innovation in places such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia is attracting foreign investment at a rapid rate, which, combined with dedicated tech programmes and an increasingly skilled workforce, sees the region stand out on a global front.
Although MENA’s escalating influence is widely known, it’s not necessarily talked about for facilitating financial progress in particular. Nonetheless, that’s about to change. In the past decade, the region has carefully cultivated a fertile soil that’s ready to flower. And it’s starting to blossom thanks to technological advances driving concepts like open banking that have the power to transform our financial future forever.
The UK’s longstanding relationship with MENA
It’s safe to say that the extensive opportunities haven’t gone unnoticed in Britain. Over several decades, the UK has maintained strong business ties and fostered stable relationships with MENA countries. For example, the UK has consistently been one of the largest investors in the global hub city of Dubai. So, with such a strong history, why is now an especially opportune moment to take notice of Middle East fintechs?
The transformation of the financial ecosystems in the region is certainly clear. MENA’s finTech sector is growing rapidly, with a compounded annual growth rate of 30%, paving the way for it to become a leading destination for digital financial activities in the very near future.
However, there is still plenty of room to maximise MENA’s full financial potential. The great disruptor of open banking (not to mention the even more progressive world of open finance) will be a driving force in attracting British investors to the region.
MENA as an emerging hotspot for investment
Before discussing the opportunity for fintechs, let’s take a step back. Why is there an opportunity in the first place?
The region’s demographics should enthuse any investor looking for innovation. The MENA population is one of the youngest globally, with an estimated 60% of the population under 30. Much of the region’s youth are also motivated to embrace new ways of thinking and leverage digital technologies to improve both their own lives and those of their communities. Internet penetration in MENA is one of the world’s highest.
Furthermore, the local population has proved willing to adopt digital solutions for their financial needs. According to research by Deloitte in 2020, 82% of customers in the Middle East are eager to start using fintech solutions, which coincides with the rise of a cashless economy.
Savvy entrepreneurs are already stepping up everywhere to capitalise on this market demand. Backed by the financially progressive infrastructure – which provides fintechs with regulatory support and government incentives – the fintech sector in the region has a very high growth rate. The UAE has become a hive of fintech activity – 465 fintechs there are set to generate over $2B in investment capital funding in the upcoming year, compared to merely $80M five years ago.
Open banking as the game changer
MENA is ready for disruptive innovations, which open banking can plentifully provide. Regulated access for fintechs to use financial data in order to provide solutions to a hungry audience will drive significant and sustainable economic growth. Consumers want more freedom to handle their finances and there is a need for better banking solutions, such as instant access to money and fully digitised payments.
Open banking makes all of this possible and more when banks, fintechs and even telcos work together to improve their products and put the customer in control. Against this backdrop, everyone can benefit if we move quickly to meet demand.
The emergence of a solid regulatory framework
We’re seeing MENA tread in the footsteps of the UK when it comes to regulating open banking. The PSD2 directive, which kicked off the concept in the UK, informs much of MENA’s recent developments in terms of its financial ecosystem. In Europe, the regulatory framework proved successful in levelling access to the financial services market and promoting the role of non-traditional financial institutions. As a result, the framework enhanced competition between financial service providers and provided consumers with better financial tools.
Similar regulations are shaping the evolution of MENA’s financial landscape, offering security for investors while remaining flexible enough to stay relevant in the face of constant technological development. Although the regulations differ across jurisdictions, making it potentially challenging for fintechs to scale throughout the region, any obstacles are well worth overcoming.
How to navigate your fintech journey in MENA
Considering the whole picture, MENA should get your attention as a rising star of the global financial scene. It is easy to see how becoming part of an emerging, but promising ecosystem yields tangible benefits for investors.
To comply with the regional frameworks and regulations, interested parties should seek local experts who know which paths to travel and how to traverse them. The rise of open banking is already a fundamental factor driving MENA’s financial environment forward, and its growth will only increase. As opportunity knocks, it’s better to be at the front of the queue than at the end of it.
Arab News published article by JARMO T. KOTILAINE is an eye-opener on the currently trendy of the ongoing rush towards another type of gold. Digital this time and not good old solid bars. Does Fintech offer transformative change for financial services? Would the MENA Region be the next Fintech hub? Would it be sustainable? Let us find out.
Transformative change for financial services through Fintech
Fintech has become one of the catchwords of our time, shorthand for creative innovation and potentially transformative change in the way financial services are provided. It has spawned a multitude of start-ups and pushed many incumbent financial institutions to review their operating models.
The restrictions on economic activity during COVID-19 further validated and popularized many of these new ideas, as more and more people resorted to home delivery, touchless payments, and other solutions that reduced physical contact.
Technological change proved effective in driving the growth of disruptive innovators, protecting — or even increasing — the margins of banks, and allowing many companies to generate profits at a time when their survival was threatened.
To what extent, though, have we truly unleashed the transformative potential of fintech? Better payment systems and digitalized transactions are important, but ultimately represent the application of digital technology to something that was happening already.
A very different situation occurred in some developing countries where the rise of fintech has become a potent tool for financial inclusion as new providers have levered widely available mobile telecommunications technology to compensate for the shortcomings of formal financial intermediation in a widely accessible, low-cost manner.
Of course, some of this has been seen in the Gulf, in the form, for instance, of new mechanisms for the remittance payments of unbanked laborers.
How could fintech deliver even more? The true promise of technology stems from its ability to lower costs and boost transparency. Meaningful progress in these areas can deliver substantial benefits in terms of increasing access to finance and of doing so more cheaply.
Many countries have now capitalized on open banking to foster more competition among lenders. Technology can be used to allow customers to compare services and products between banks. This is pushing service providers to compete on price and quality.
Technology can also make it easier to structure complex transactions and products which can not only reduce their prices but also helps broaden the range of available solutions.
Digitalization is reducing the cost and time of on-boarding new bank customers. By decentralizing financial service provision, technology is enabling more business ventures and projects to raise capital through novel mechanisms such as crowdfunding.
Transparency is an issue of particular importance and potential. Perhaps the most profound change delivered by digital technology stems from the ease with which data can be collected and analyzed. This matters because informational asymmetries have been among the main factors restricting access to capital.
Central banks have used sometimes cumbersome regulatory and reporting requirements as a way of addressing the problem. Risk managers at banks are often forced to cite limited or unverifiable information as an argument for restricting access to credit or for pushing up their cost.
In principle, technology could be used to obviate some of the tasks currently pursued through regulation and supervision by making it easier to gain access to all the relevant data more accurately and swiftly. It should also make it easier and faster for customers to build reliable credit profiles which could be used to assess their eligibility for different products.
Again, open banking is being used by more and more lenders to access customer data and evaluate their financial history through hard data rather than assumption or generalization on the basis of potentially inaccurate or misleading applications.
Easy access analytics can help customers make more informed and efficient decisions. For instance, more investment platforms now provide access to a wide-range of investment options on a global scale, along with analytics on their performance and risks. They have reduced the costs of trading and dramatically boosted the speed of execution. Such platforms can also be used to build financial literacy, for instance through tools for financial projections or scenarios.
Of course, technology cannot overcome human myopia and wishful thinking. The way forward must be to build ways that properly account for data privacy and security. Today, though, the technological toolkit is more versatile than ever.
Progress is already helping us reimagine financial service provision, but much more is both needed and possible. Virtually every independent assessment of the financial services sector in the Gulf comments on constraints on access to capital, which in turn limit financial inclusion, economic diversification, and business growth.
Making the most of the opportunities presented by technology is thus not only a business opportunity but a chance to drive the economic paradigm shift, whose success, in large part, hinges on financial services. With governments repositioning themselves, the core task of financial institutions, the pooling and efficient allocation of capital, will matter more than ever. Doing it faster, more accurately, and for more customers will be an important driver of success.
• Jarmo Kotilaine is an economist and strategist focusing on the Gulf region. He writes on issues ranging from economic development to changes within the corporate sector.
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!
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.
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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