In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), the financial technology sector, or fintech, is coming of age with regulators and governments across the region thinking more deeply about the impact that fintech companies will have on the broader economy.
Over the past decade, fintech startups in the region have raised over $100 million in funding, and investment is predicted to double by 2020, according to the State of Fintech report. Disclosed investment in fintech had jumped 100% to over $35 million by October 2017 — Paytabs ($20million), Souqalmal ($10 million) and Beehive ($5 million) — compared to $18 million last year. The number of fintech startups also increased from 46 in 2013 to 105 in 2015. It is estimated that it will more than double again to 250 by 2020, according to the report.
It’s easy, however, to get bogged down in statistics and overlook the market forces driving these figures. Aside from the fact that the sector encompasses every tech startup active within the financial services industry, beyond the ones that specialize in online payments or money transfers, e-commerce in the region is set to quadruple until the end of this decade. Additionally, despite the ubiquity of smartphones and internet connectivity, 86% of the adult population in the region is unbanked, while three in four GCC bank customers are ready to switch banks for a better digital experience.
Provide cheaper services
Boosting financial inclusion is crucial for economic diversity and growth across the region. Moussa Beidas, co-founder of Dubai-based startup Bridg, which allows smartphone-to-smartphone payments using bluetooth, says fintech has become an innovative way to bridge the divide and provide cheaper services to the unbanked.
"Although it is challenging to provide financial services in a cash reliant ecosystem because legacy financial institutions require all customers to be ‘banked’ in order to legally offer financial services, fintech is paving the way for a less black and white reality," says Beidas. "Instead of forcing customers to be banking clients, fintech focuses on the customer experience by solving challenges one step at a time, thereby breaking down the 'cocktail' approach banks tend to follow. It has the ability to run lean customer-driven businesses and still leverage a bank’s processing, issuing and acceptance systems.”