Fintech Abu Dhabi closes with focus on upscaling initiatives

October 23, 2019

ABU DHABI — Future trends in the FinTech industry and the next generation of startups took center stage as FinTech Abu Dhabi Festival drew to a close Wednesday.

Held under the patronage of Sheikh Hazza bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Vice Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council, FinTech Abu Dhabi attracted 5,000 registrations and brought together world-class business leaders, a blessing of successful unicorns and FinTech innovators.

Startups RISQ and Jibrel Network were announced as the two winners of the FinTech Abu Dhabi Innovation Challenge and took home a “Proof of Concepts” grant of up to SGD 200,000 (AED 540,000) each and the opportunity to attend Singapore FinTech Festival in November.

The final day of FinTech Abu Dhabi began with the official ringing of the bell by Khalifa Salem Al Mansouri, Acting Chief Executive Officer of ADX, signaling the start of trading at the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange.

Dia Haykal, Editor-in-Chief of MiT Technology Review explained at the panel ‘Follow the One Belt Road (BRI): Unpacking the Impact China Will Have On MENA’ how the UAE will benefit from BRI, with trade between the nations reaching $33 billion in 2018.

The panelists at the session discussed how China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is providing US$8 trillion of infrastructure investment to 65 countries. Richard Teng, CEO ADGM Financial Services Regulatory Authority (UAE), said China’s relationship with the UAE is blossoming.

“The relationship has never been stronger with strategic ties on all levels,” said Teng. “UAE is China’s top investment destination in the region with bilateral trade expected to reach $70 billion.”

Omar Christidis, Founder and CEO of ArabNet, discussed how different regulations and an unwillingness to share client data by banks are among the hurdles facing FinTech firms.

“Talent and upscaling initiatives in Abu Dhabi and Dubai are training the next generation,” said Christidis. “However, the sector is held back by different regulations in different countries.

“Entities such as GFIN (Global Financial Innovation Network) are trying to harmonise regulations across countries so FinTechs can move quickly from market to market. Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain are part of GFIN, which shows how important these markets are.”

Open Banking that allows FinTech's to access a client’s bank details to build services, is another area where companies are facing issues with many banks not sharing key information.

“Bahrain is the only place that has mandated open banking by the banks, but it needs to happen elsewhere.”

Zeeshan Feroz, CEO of Coinbase UK and Steve Kirsch, CEO of Token, explained why there is a bright future for digital currency.

Speaking in a session moderated by Elizabeth Schulze, Technology Correspondent for CNBC, Zeeshan said: “We are going through a pioneering shift on what a bank account is. I think in a few years’ time, a crypto account will be the account where your salary will be paid into and spend from. It will do everything that a normal bank account does because crypto is a currency that will have value.”

Addressing the audience during his keynote speech, Steve Kirsch said digital money will totally transform the banking industry in the future.

He said: “I think the way forward, using digital currency is going to be inevitable. This will be a rare opportunity for banks to unite and gain competitive advantage and defend against existential threats.”

Mark Curtis, CFO at ADNOC, explained how social innovation will empower the UAE’s move from oil to a knowledge economy.

“Schools should have more internships and pilot new ideas. Society has to get comfortable with making mistakes and moving on to create meaningful change,” said Mr Curtis. The panel discussion, titled Growing a Knowledge Economy in the UAE, heard how ‘data is the new oil’.

Mohamad Elewa, Partner at Grant Thornton, said: “Fluctuations in the oil price show the UAE was right to drive another stream of venue through the growth of a knowledge and skills-based economy.

“Global economies are shifting and changing, so by laying solid foundations now at schools, colleges and start-ups we will see the benefits in 10-20 years.”

More than 80 students and young professionals gathered to learn and discuss how they can play a key role in the future of FinTech and how to achieve success.

Alexander Graubner-Mueller, Founder of Kreditech, said the best time to start a business is when you are young, allowing you to enhance your skillset and knowledge.

The panel heard from Khalifa Salem Al Mansouri, Acting CEO of Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange (ADX), who emphasized the importance of research and being motivated. He said: “You have to understand the landscape and know your competitors and leverage on your strengths.”

Youngsters also heard from Salama Al Ameemi, Director-General of Ma'an, on how the growing social entrepreneurship sector is flourishing in Abu Dhabi. She highlighted the success of the inaugural Ma'an Social Incubator programme and invited the participants to apply for the next cycle.

"At Ma'an, we believe social entrepreneurship is the key to unlocking many of the solutions to common social challenges,” said Al Ameemi.

"The Ma’an Social Incubator, the first in the region, was initially launched in May and received 531 registered interests worldwide and 131 ventures applied from different parts of the world.”

"Through this programme, Ma’an brings together innovation, entrepreneurship and social impact with business development expertise to grow new social enterprises in Abu Dhabi.”

The achievements of 10 aspiring entrepreneurs and professionals for their innovative ideas and initiatives were also recognised during the FinTech Abu Dhabi Awards. Each applicant was judged by an expert panel of global FinTech luminaries on their innovation, impact and influence.

Among those to receive the awards in front of hundreds of delegates was Ambareen Musa. The Founder of Souqalmal won two awards – FinTech Leader and FinTech Woman of the Year.

Ian Dillon, Co-founder at Now Money, was awarded the UAE FinTech Founder accolade, while Invoice Bazaar (MENA FinTech of the Year), Shorooq VC Partners Ltd (FinTech Investors), and Hardik Bhatia, Founder at SolarGridX Ltd (Emerging FinTech Talent) also claimed awards.

Mayasoft LLC (Emerging Markets FinTech), Startupbootcamp Fintech Cairo (Fin Tech Accelator), Bahrain Fintech Bay (FinTech Corporate Innovation Programme) and Wahed Invest LLC (Islamic Fintech of the Year) were the other winners.

“Fintech Abu Dhabi is one of the most prominent events in the emirate,” said Rashid Abdul Karim Al Balooshi, Acting Undersecretary of Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development.

“The event offers solutions capable of transforming Abu Dhabi’s financial services sector, which accounts for 14.3 percent of Abu Dhabi’s non-oil (GDP), and is a prime engine of future growth.

“Abu Dhabi’s financial and insurance sector saw bank licenses rise to 2,390 and insurance activity licenses reach 318, which reflects the strength of the local economy.

“The government also recently launched the unified AED 520 million ‘HUB71 Platform,’ a flagship initiative of the AED 50 billion economic accelerator program,” said Al Balooshi. — SG

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