The MENA region, like much of the undeveloped world, is characterised by an omnipresent Informal Economy with however differing specifics. This label dates back to most countries Planned Economy. So why is now the Fintech industry poised for significant growth in the MENA region? And how? All world economies have an informal economy, and the duties of all business and governments alike leaders are to sustain, help and assist in its good maintenance and eventual development. Informal Economy is not Black Market and can easily be formalised to become the locomotive of any nation’s economic life. Could Fintech be of serious help here?
Any way, the reasons are tied to those specifics at this conjecture as well summarised by Ayad Nahas below.
The Financial Technology (Fintech) industry in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) looks well placed to enjoy a period of substantial growth.
As many as 69% of adults remain totally unbanked in the region
Internet penetration in Saudi Arabia stood at 95.7% in January 2021
Fintech is going to be the “game-changer”
Fintech industry poised for significant growth in the MENA region
By Ayad Nahas, Communication Strategist
The Financial Technology (fintech) industry in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) looks well placed to enjoy a period of substantial growth.
Part of this growth could come from a large unbanked population.
GCC expatriates with low and middle-income salaries constitute a large proportion of the unbanked such as in the UAE, where around 80% of the population is outside the current financial system.
Yet, regional smartphone and internet penetration is very high, reaching 2 mobile-cellular subscriptions per UAE inhabitant in 2019, while Internet penetration in Saudi Arabia stood at 95.7% in January 2021.
Regional governments spotted this opportunity and introduced regulation to substantially attract investments into the sector.
Fintech is a term that describes new technology which seeks to improve and automate the delivery and usage of financial services. At its core, fintech helps companies, business owners, and consumers better manage their financial operations, processes, and lives by applying specialized software and algorithms on computers and, increasingly, smartphones.
Fintech’s adaptability across a slew of consumer sectors is propelling its widespread acceptability. Managing finances, trading shares, furnishing payments, and shopping online (often on your smartphone) has never been more convenient.
At the forefront of the fintech disruption are agile innovations such as peer-to-peer (P2P) lending and crowdfunding, providing alternative lending platforms, and widening access to fundraising.
While they may currently still need some centralized form of finance, at the minimum, P2P lending and crowdfunding can use fintech and blockchain to quicken the process, avoid paying high banking fees, and garner the interest of digitally-minded Millennials and future Z-generations.
A recent report by consultancy firm Deloitte also states that the UAE houses over 50% of the region’s fintech companies, with nearly 39% of the population using fintech for P2P money transfer.
According to a report by Crowd Funder, a leading online source for the fintech industry, the number of financial technology companies in the Middle East increased from around 105 companies in 2015 to 250 firms in the year 2021.
Hanna Sarraf, a senior banking executive from the MENA region, said fintech is going to be the “game-changer” that will decide the winners and losers within the financial services industry, globally and in the Middle East, in the short and long terms.
He points out that new technologies and advanced data analytics are transforming the traditional banking business models from the way banks interact with customers to the way banks manage their middle and back-office operations.
The global fintech market is expected to reach $309.98 billion at a CAGR of 24.8% by the year 2022 according to many key sources from the banking industry. In the MENA, the fintech industry is expected to hit a record valuation of $3.45 bn by 2026.
The growth of this sector is currently being propelled by the rapid rise in fintech startups as a result of the very high internet penetration in the region. Another major factor is that several traditional banks are undergoing digital transformations or even becoming neo-banks, a trend especially evident in the UAE.
In a survey by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) last October, 70% of respondents said they are actively searching for a new bank, and 87% said they would be willing to open an account with a branchless digital-only lender.
Today, the UAE is leading the pack in financial technology and developing itself as a digital-first nation when it comes to banking, payments, and fintech, as evidenced by the UAE’s first digital bank to provide both retail and corporate banking services and which will soon be launched and led by Former Emaar Chairman, Mohamed Alabbar.
According to many experts, the fintech market in the MENA region is set to account for 8% of the Middle East financial services revenue by 2022. COVID-19 turned out to be a wakeup call to switch from traditionally deployed financial services to more sustainable finance and technology platforms
The fintech revolution is set to continue to disrupt, and traditional banks must keep up with the pace of technology in order to stay relevant and competitive. In this rapidly evolving, ever-changing market, it’s time to innovate, integrate and accelerate into the future.
The pandemic has helped boost digital marketplaces in the region, opines Muhammad Chbib, CEO at Tradeling.
7 November 2020
The pandemic has propelled the use of e-commerce in the region and globally. What are the key trends you have seen? The most significant trend is the growth of homegrown capabilities in e-commerce in the region. Globally, while e-commerce has been recording strong growth – accelerated no doubt by the pandemic – the region has witnessed a transformational growth in the evolution of the digital economy. Not only have our homegrown companies demonstrated strong resolve to meet the needs of the people and support them, we have seen a tremendous amount of entrepreneurship – with new startups entering the market and building their own niche.
The second trend is more consumers warming up to the possibilities offered by e-commerce. While digital commerce was gaining momentum, one of the factors that has stymied its growth in the region is the relatively lower credit card penetration in some markets. There have also been typical concerns associated with conducting everyday business online. However, one thing the pandemic has brought about is the adoption of digital payments and the increased confidence of consumers to shop online and conduct e-commerce transactions.
In the B2B e-commerce space, how high is the penetration in the GCC market? Has it grown significantly this year? While B2B e-commerce was evolving at a slower pace compared to consumer-oriented digital business, this year has witnessed a real transformation. I believe it is a case of supply and demand. What matters is that in the new reality, business customers too want to access products and services easily, quickly and efficiently. We see a growth in the B2B marketplace – here in the UAE – and growing enquiries from across the GCC.
Which are the verticals within the sector where you see most scope for growth? It is really a matter of bringing more options to the customer, whatever the vertical. Customers like to shop around and feel they get value for money and exemplary service. But it is also a matter of sourcing new products and services that aren’t in the region yet.
For those entering the digital B2B industry, what are the main challenges? The main challenges are finding the right talent with expertise and insights into the B2B sector, which is a different terrain compared to B2C e-commerce. An in-depth understanding of the global market is essential in addition to knowledge of the trading dynamics. You must be flexible and agile to overcome any unprecedented situation. It is also a matter of understanding the customer – the B2B customer is very different from the B2C customer.
Our priority is making the customer journey seamless, taking away their pain points and streamlining processes to ensure efficiencies that save them time and money.
Tradeling launched in April, in the midst of the lockdown – how was your experience? Do you have any immediate plans to expand? We created Tradeling during the pandemic to connect regional and global suppliers to MENA-based business demand. Today, we have close to 400 suppliers from over 25 countries with gross merchandising value increasing from zero to a high two-digit million figure in just three months.
The key to overcoming the challenges was to enhance market confidence and we took decisive steps in this regard. Today, we have gone from a team of 40 to nearly 100 people and we continue to hire.
From logistics to financing support to ensuring a fully secure payment gateway, we are the first of our kind B2B platform across the region. This is our USP and this integrated approach to business has enabled us to address the challenges.
Looking ahead, what is the future of digital marketplaces in the region? Digital marketplaces constitute the future of retail and in the new reality, they will record a stronger rate of growth compared to brick-and-mortar retail. But the key for success is to define your own unique niche for the marketplace; increasingly, we see online aggregators trying to capitalise on the opportunity, which will only lead to market fragmentation. What we need is bold, innovative ideas that will help accelerate the momentum of e-commerce growth in the region.COVID-19DIGITAL MARKETPLACEE-COMMERCEGCCTRADELING
In Manama, 5G and edge: unlocking new possibilities could have been perceived by all elites of the Gulf media as a reassuring means to help reach landscapes of a better future.
With 5G we’ll see an entirely new range of applications enabled by low latency of 5G and the proliferation of edge computing – transforming the art of the possible, said professional services firm Accenture in a new report.
“5G standards have been finalized late last year. We’ll soon start to see a growing number of devices rolling out across the regions. By 2025, it’s estimated that there will be 1.2 billion 5G connections covering 34% of the global population,” said Tejas Rao, Managing Director – Technology Strategy & Advisory, Growth Markets at Accenture in the company’s Business Functions Blog.
From digital to augmented consumer
The evolution of the consumer is one major leap forward. 3G and 4G helped to create the digital consumer, always connected to the internet through their mobile devices. But with 5G we’ll see an entirely new range of applications enabled by the low latency of 5G and the proliferation of edge computing – transforming the art of the possible. Rather than simply experiencing digital through their devices, consumers will have their experience of the world around them enhanced and augmented through real time data and the technologies such as augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR) that it enables through edge computing.
The edge cloud forms
The evolution of the network in this context is synonymous with the evolution of the cloud. So rather than what we typically see today in the public cloud, which is services residing in centralized data centers, those cloud services will move to the edge of a mobile network – the ’edge cloud’ – to drive real time cloud computing capabilities. And that development will support a wide range of new use cases across every industry, with network connectivity itself becoming the platform on which others can build new services and solutions.
From capacity and coverage to network as a platform
Accordingly, we are starting to see the strategic intent of maximizing capacity and coverage that informed network build in the 3G/4G world shift. Instead the focus is now on how to unlock 5G to deliver innovative solutions and services.
With networks no longer having to be the same everywhere, they can be built or sliced to support new use cases and opportunities for specific industries. Today’s web platform companies are already exploring this and making investments in order to capitalize on the transformational changes that 5G’s low latency can offer.
Low latency–currency for the 5G world
Ultra-reliable low latency is the new currency of the network world, underpinning new capabilities in many industries that were previously impossible. And these are not in the realm of science fiction. They are becoming possible today, ranging from real-time language translation to remote robotics and from autonomous logistics to AR-enabled industrial maintenance.
As they plan their future networks, operators need to understand how to intelligently direct 5G network investments from just pure coverage and capacity, and towards unlocking new revenue streams and business value. This is a significant departure from previous generations of network deployment. The network has moved from being a pipeline to instead becoming a platform and gateway for solution innovation and real-time connectivity services.
Partnering and collaboration will become more important than ever as operators sit at the center of new ecosystems developed around the ultra-reliable low latency, real time data at scale and responsiveness that the ‘edge cloud’ delivers.
New landscape of opportunity–and challenge
This emerging landscape of mobile edge networks can unlock many new opportunities to create value. These consist of new services to drive revenue and new possibilities for managing network costs. But the new networks also pose some novel challenges to preserving margins.
Today’s cloud world is characterized by the presence of a limited number of mega data centers in remote locations with data travelling from device to cloud and back again in order to execute a computational process or data analysis. Data typically makes the round trip travelling at 50 to 100 milliseconds over today’s 4G mobile networks.
Data travelling over 5G at less than five milliseconds facilitates the edge cloud and the ability to create new services that it empowers. But achieving that requires a proliferation of micro data centers numbering in the tens of thousands. To support edge capabilities, these will need to be deployed closer to the consumers and enterprises that use them and densely installed in urban settings.
They will need to handle the progression from millions to billions of connected devices. And move from remote connectivity to providing ultra-reliable, low-latency capabilities at the edge as data flows accelerate to real-time in order to execute time-sensitive services, from autonomous vehicles to real-time visual analytics.
Deciding where and how to play
As they create these capabilities, operators need to understand where they want to locate the edge and what the operational implications of their choice will be. That means understanding the likely demands of the territories they cover and the use cases for specific industries that are likely to be most relevant.
The one-size-fits-all approach of the 3G/4G world is no longer useful. Instead, operators need to take a more targeted view of where they want to play and the likely returns they can generate from placing much more specific bets than in the past.
An analysis of the results of this year’s WARC Prize for MENA Strategy reveals key takeaways for the region’s marketers looking for growth opportunities, from finding niche audiences in smaller markets to developing more resonant touchpoints.
“As certain MENA markets are already enduring their second wave of COVID-19 and several continue to be buffeted by economic recession, identifying new strategies for growth is vital for brands,” says Lucy Aitken, Managing Editor, Case Studies at WARC.
“In this report, we’ve identified new approaches that this year’s winners have incorporated in their campaigns that can help brands to build strong strategic frameworks that have growth baked in.”
The four key takeaways highlighted in WARC’s 2020 MENA Strategy Report are:
1. Target the frontier markets
Pragmatic solutions that help specific communities in MENA’s frontier markets can be instrumental in driving growth. Empowering marginalised communities, particularly within the region’s smaller markets, can be an effective way to brand-build.
This year’s Grand Prix-winning initiative from Tunisie Telecom helped female farmers access social security via their handsets. The technological innovation instigated by the campaign set the precedent for a new digital government vision.
Melek Ourir, Strategic Planner at Wunderman Thompson Tunisia, advises: “Resist the temptation to ignore smaller markets and audiences that could unlock significant growth for your business.”
2. Unconventional touchpoints can underpin strategy
Identifying new, creative touchpoints strengthens strategy, resonating with or delighting audiences.
Three standout campaigns addressed consumer challenges and were not constrained by where the brands were traditionally ‘allowed’ to be present: clothing retailer Babyshop promoted the long-term health of mothers; cheese brand Puck reclaimed share at breakfast and lunch; and NGO Donner Sang Compter encouraged those who spill their own blood onto the streets in the tradition of Ashura to donate it instead.
Admiring the risks and the rulebreakers among this year’s winners that explored new touchpoints, judge Sunjay Malik, Associate Director, Strategy at PHD UAE, says: “Media mixes are rulebooks that we set ourselves, which over time make us less imaginative and less brave. Long live the rulebreakers, who in challenging themselves inspire us to be better.”
3. Humour: a strategic shortcut to likeability
Making people laugh is one of the most powerful ways to connect and can make your brand distinct from the competition.
Winning brands that used humour include Burger King, which launched a new spicy menu with its Who Said Men Don’t Cry campaign; telco Jawwy, which used entertaining video content to resonate with Saudi youth; and Egyptian telco Etisalat crafting a comic campaign to win customers over to its hybrid offer.
Jury member Shagorika Heryani, Head of Strategy at Grey MENA, says: “There’s always a place for humour – even during a crisis. Smart brands understand the relationship between humour and humanity. Companies know that we buy from brands and people we like. And humour is a shortcut to likeability and authenticity.”
4. Localise to resonate
This year’s winners are a treasure trove of local insight, proving how time invested upfront to unearth strong local insights tends to pay dividends in terms of a robust strategy.
Best-in-class examples include: KFC in Saudi Arabia, which communicated its commitment to locally-sourced chicken by turning all of its brand assets green – the colour of the Kingdom’s flag; and Grand Prix winner Tunisie Telecom, which devised a programme to offer social welfare coverage to female farmers.
WARC’s 2020 MENA Strategy Report can be downloaded here. The full report is available to WARC subscribers and includes chapter analysis of the four themes with views and opinions from the judges; objectives, results and takeaways of the winning case studies, and what these mean for brands, media owners and agencies; and data analysis.
WARC’s Lucy Aitken will deep-dive into using humour as a successful marketing strategy at Lynx Live on 5-7 October in her keynote ‘Humour: the smart shortcut to brand fame’.
The WARC Prize for MENA Strategy is a free-to-enter annual case study competition in search of the best strategic thinking from MENA’s marketing industry. Next year’s prize will open for entries in January 2021.
Not that long ago, people like Abdullah, a young Syrian man who was forced by the ongoing war to drop out of university, would have found it nearly impossible to safely earn a living. But through Edraak, an Arabic platform for open online education launched by the Queen Rania Foundation in Jordan, he gained graphic design and digital marketing skills. Now, he earns a decent living as a freelance remote worker in Jordan.
Amid the dual economic shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic and the collapse in oil prices, digital platforms are becoming even more critical to the region’s economy. With schools being closed since March and 4 in 5 workers affected by business closures globally, per International Labor Organization estimates, the shut-down of public life has revved up the need to move to digital, virtual, and remote learning solutions to build skills and ensure opportunities for people to earn a living.
Yet this emergency need is not being met. Moreover, MENA is missing real-time opportunities for digital development. Digital transformation can lead to rapid, sustained growth, but only if countries invest in digital infrastructure and human capital.
The key to success in this changing landscape is a digital skills revolution. While definitions and typologies differ, ‘digital skills’ generally refers to students, workers and people of all ages having and applying competencies, knowledge and attitudes to learn, earn and thrive in digital societies.
Digital skills most commonly comprise a continuum of basic, intermediate or advanced skills; and, as we will discuss in our next blog on competencies, they may alsorefer to a range of different abilities, many of which are not only ‘skills’ per se, but a combination of behaviors, expertise, know-how, work habits, character traits, dispositions and critical understandings.
As laid out by the International Telecommunication Union, Basic Skills are the general ICT skills required “broadly for all workers, consumers and citizens in a digital society” — such as word processing or researching online. Building on that foundation, Intermediate Skills are “effectively job-ready skills needed to perform more complicated work-related functions” such as social media marketing or e-commerce. Advanced or ‘Specialist’ Skills, which “form the basis of specialist occupations and professions,” are necessary to test, analyze, manage, or create digitally based products or services. These advance skills are needed to harness technology to resolve complex problems, guide others such as policymakers, contribute to professional practices, and propose new innovative ideas to advance economic development.
Skills are the supply side of digital labor markets; jobs are the demand side. Digital or ICT work can be conceived in three terms: enhanced, dependent, intensive. Some jobs are enhanced by digital tools, whereas with others — such as Internet freelancing or call centers — technology is fundamental to the work. Digitally intensive work — such as machine learning or app development — requires more specialist and advanced skills.
While data is sparse and likely not as up-to-date as the pace of change, we have learned important baseline details about the digital skills match — or mismatch — in MENA’s digital labor market. There is a shortage of digital human capital in MENA, marked by skills and information gaps. For example, in its 2017Future of Work study, McKinsey found that across the region, only 1.7% of the workforce is ‘digital talent.’ In their last 2017 skills survey of the region, Bayt/YouGov, a leading jobs website in MENA, revealed that IT jobs are among the top open positions, evidence of an acute talent and skills shortage in the region.
The Gulf countries are arguably the most advanced in terms of digital transformation. Yet, GCC countries still have a significant digital skills gap. In a 2020 survey by PwC of CEOs in the Middle East, 70% said the availability of key digital skills is a business threat, and an earlier 2017 study found that only one of the 10 skills most commonly cited by digital professionals in the GCC matches the fastest-growing skills found globally on LinkedIn. Furthermore, none of the top 10 available skills in the GCC is a technical or specific digital skill.
In this blog series, MENA Digital Directions, we will analyze and compare digital skills competence frameworks, discuss how to build digital skills across the educational pipeline, explore the role of the private sector and identify digital opportunities for women, youth and refugees. With a thorough understanding of the digital landscape and the right investments in digital infrastructure and skills, countries can ensure that more young people like Abdullah have a chance for a brighter, more connected future.
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