The advent of the smartphone has led to an explosion in financial technology (fintech) startups. Post the 2008 financial crisis, we entered a new era of fintech revolution, with the rise of blockchain and cryptocurrencies. This new wave of technology has also led to alternative forms of payments, funding, or lending. In recent years, fintech has become part of any financial market ecosystem, with emerging markets and developing countries the flag bearers of this new transformation, including Saudi Arabia.
In the Kingdom, the central bank (SAMA), in partnership with the Capital Market Authority (CMA), launched Fintech Saudi to support the development of the fintech industry with the objective to become the regional hub of choice for entrepreneurs and investors.
In the last Fintech Saudi annual report, there are some interesting statistics worth noting. Firstly, the fintech industry is growing at a rapid rate — over 18 percent each year over the past 3 years. Secondly, payments account for two-thirds of the market and almost 98 percent of the user base. Thirdly, personal finance accounts for 30 percent of fintech transaction values. The report also indicates that transaction values of these payments are expected to reach $33 billion by 2023.
To date, as part of the fintech ecosystem, there is an active list of 54 partners including banks, universities, corporates and government agencies. Furthermore, there is a growing membership list, now 47, of fintech companies at different timelines of development, market share and funding rounds.
At a recent BMG Foundation and Dar Al-Hikma function in Riyadh, I met with Nejoud Al-Mulaik, director of Fintech Saudi, who told me that it has three main pillars. First, to support regulation with tools through the soundbox process. The second pillar is working closely with the financial sector players by linking them together to ensure that service providers treat members as banks. The final pillar is education, engagement with the community through partnering with academic establishments to offer executive courses and internships.
As a testimony to the attraction of the Saudi fintech market to international investors, last November, STC Group announced an agreement with Western Union to sell a minority stake of 15 percent of its subsidiary, Saudi Digital Payment Company (STC Pay) for $200 million. Proceeds will be used to finance STC Pay’s capital and support long-term expansion plans. STC Pay is a member of Fintech Saudi.
In my opinion, we are heading for a completely digitized, transparent and decentralized global financial system much sooner than previously thought. Fintech Saudi will continue its speedy track to support local and international investors to have Saudi Arabia as a user-friendly launchpad for the region with its physical hub at King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD) opening in April 2021.
• Basil M.K. Al-Ghalayini is the chairman and CEO of BMG Financial Group.
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