CNN explores the future of finance in the Middle East

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Marketplace Middle East airs on CNN International on Saturday 18th June at 1900 GST

In the latest edition of Marketplace Middle East, CNN’s Eleni Giokos explores the future of finance in the region. From digital banking to the future workplace, Giokos sees how innovation and technology are changing the way business is done in the Middle East.

With almost half the population in the region under the age of 25, the push for a digital-first solution in finance continues to surge. Jody Waugh, Deputy Managing Partner and Head of Banking & Finance at Al Tamimi and Co. says that this digital-first approach has grown quickly in the last few years, “I’ve been here for a long time. And probably the change over the last two years, has exceeded the change I experienced over the last 15 [years]. And I think that the speed and the paradigm shift in terms of financial services will continue over the next two to three years.”

In Bahrain, Giokos meets Areije Al Shakar, Director and Fund Manager of the Al Waha Fund. The Fund is on a mission to support the startup and tech scene in Bahrain and its neighbouring countries. One of its latest backings is Dubai-based VentureSouq. They created the MENA region’s first fund focused specifically on fintech.

Tammer Qaddumi, Partner at VentureSouq says that fintech cooperation is the key to success for the region, “We’re in a region divided into 20 different countries that all have their own rules and regulations. And so to build a product and a service that can apply realistically to someone in Algeria and someone in Qatar at the same time is a challenge. If we don’t move more and more in the direction of a unified economic market, then it’s going to be hard for us to get mega outcomes.”

The adoption of digital banking in the region has been accelerated by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Michel Sawaya, Country Manager of Citi Group Bahrain speaks to Giokos about this acceleration, “If you look at what Covid has done, it has sped up the pace and acceleration of digital economies. Everybody has increased the pace of digitisation of the businesses, the efficiency, and so forth.”

In Dubai, Visa recently opened its regional headquarters serving over 90 markets from Europe to Asia. At the heart of the HQ is its innovation centre. Akshay Chopra VP and Head of Innovation & Design at Visa talks about the company’s goals, “We want to make it easier for people to pay to get paid, we work with governments, with fintechs, with banks and merchants of all shapes and sizes to help build payment experiences that are, more convenient, more seamless, and more secure.”

While the pandemic has sped up the adoption of digital payments, Chopra says the next step is to onboard small businesses, from the souk or market owner to the baker. She tells Giokos, “This is the backbone for the global economy but unfortunately a lot of the small businesses are often left out in the latest in digital and they are the ones who need it the most.”

Chopra continues, “I think it’s going to digitise the economy to a much greater extent than we have now and I think that bringing those people into the formal digital economy is going to make them more productive more efficient and make the whole system more transparent.”