Middle East’s FinTech revolution to be showcased in Bahrain

Monday 11 February 2019
Khalid Al Rumaihi, Chief Executive of the Bahrain Economic Development Board
Manama - MENA Herald:

Bahrain’s central role in the rapidly developing world of FinTech will be celebrated later this month as the annual Fintastic Week, a series of conferences and seminars for experts from the global financial and technology communities, is held in Bahrain between 24 and 29 February.

Over a thousand delegates from the worlds of business, government and academia will be in Bahrain to learn more about the latest trends in the reinvention of financial services and enjoy keynote speeches from world-renowned speakers. Events will also include best practice workshops for start-ups and fireside conversations with respected FinTech pioneers and leaders.

Fintastic Week will see Bahrain hosting the eighth GCC Financial Forum between 26 and 27 February, an annual event that has become an increasingly important date for the diary of the region’s FinTech community. Global tech innovator and Apple Computers co-founder Steve Wozniak will take centre stage and share his thoughts and predictions on the current and future state of the global financial technology industry.  Other notable speakers at event include His Excellency Shaikh Salman bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, Minister of Finance and National Economy, and Louise Beaumont, co-chair of the Open Banking & Payments Working group, at Tech UK.

Commenting on the Forum, Victoria Behn, Director of Middle East and Africa at Euromoney Conferences, co-organisers of the GCC Financial Forum noted:

“We are honoured to host the GCC Financial Forum in partnership with the Economic Development Board of Bahrain for the eighth consecutive year. With international financiers, senior regional policymakers and leading fintech firms attending from across the Middle East, the GCC Financial Forum will once again be an unmissable event.”

The disruptive power of FinTech is being increasingly felt across the Middle East as Governments look to diversify their economies and improve productivity through increased uptake of innovation and technology. Such transformation is showing through in the numbers already, with GCC start-ups expected to raise US$2bn of private funding in the next decade, in comparison to only £150m in the previous ten years.[1]

The potential for even greater change is illustrated by the fact that 86% of the MENA population remained unbanked in 2017[2]. This is despite a very high mobile phone penetration rate and more than half the region’s population being under 30. Two factors that would usually help drive the uptake of digital services.

To make the most of the conducive conditions internationally recognised reforms have taken place across the region, such as open banking; regulatory sandboxes; and the updating of regulations to reflect the digitised economy. Bahrain has been at the forefront of these efforts, often collaborating with global partners, including the Global Financial Innovation Network, a coalition of 11 financial regulators including from the UK, US, Hong Kong and Australia seeking to design and implement a global sandbox. Or through the region’s first and largest FinTech Incubator, Bahrain FinTech Bay, which has a roster of international supporters including Microsoft, Cisco and American Express.

His Excellency Khalid Al Rumaihi, Chief Executive of the Bahrain Economic Development Board, a co-host of Fintastic Week noted:

“The FinTech space in the Middle East is growing and its opportunities and potential are being recognised by the global FinTech community. In Bahrain, we are building on our heritage of excellence in financial services by developing innovative new products and services that will transform how consumers and businesses right across the region approach this sector, and events such as Fintastic Week bring these fresh and new ideas to the table.”

“As we look to diversify our sources of growth, FinTech will play an increasingly important role in creating coordinated, agile and action orientated economies across the region. That is why Fintastic Week is so important. It will bring together like-minded individuals and companies who want to take advantage of this opportunity and work together to achieve a more financially inclusive and sustainable future.”

All Fintastic Week events have been deliberately designed to provide meaningful insights that can have a direct impact on the development of new innovations, whether by FinTech entrepreneurs or established financial players. The events include:

  • The GCC Financial Forum on 26 and 27 February, where Steve Wozniak will take centre stage and deliver the main address followed by an interactive session with the audience. The event will tackle industry topics such as responsible finance, open banking, women driving innovation in finance, and the changing regulatory landscape, under the theme ‘The Reinvention of Financial Services’.
  • The 3rd Middle East & Africa FinTech Forum under the theme ‘Banking Beyond Disruption’ will be held from 20 to 21 February. The event is sponsored by Bank ABC and AFS (Arab Financial Services) and will bring together internationally renowned thought leaders, practitioners and innovators from the FinTech and artificial intelligence (AI) arenas to discuss a wide range of issues including the future of banking, potential impact of AI and how it will transform the future, open banking, crowdsourcing, and financial inclusion.
  • Bankruptcy Law and its Impact on Banking and Startups Seminar on 24 February will be an interactive session addressing how FinTech start-ups can ensure their innovations can be successfully rolled out across the region through high quality compliance and regulatory adherence.
  • RegFact Conference 2019, held under the patronage of the Central Bank of Bahrain and organised by Bahrain FinTech Bay, takes place on 25 February and will explore how the private sector and regulators can work together to design the most pro-innovation regulatory system possible to allow FinTech to flourish.
  • The BDB Rowad Majlis ‘Fireside Debate’ on 25 February will provide an enlightening opportunity for start-ups to meet international venture capitalists to discuss the booming FinTech sector in the Middle East and how access to funding can be improved.

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