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An Overview of Expo 2020 Dubai: Showcasing Financial Services, Fintech and Wider Digital

The World’s Fair, or Expos, is the world’s largest gathering of people. 2021 is seeing Dubai hosting the latest expo – but what can one expect? In particular with regards to financial services, fintech and wider digital?

An Overview of Expo

Original scheduled for 2020 but rescheduled a year later due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Expo 2020 Dubai commenced on the 1st October and is scheduled to run until 31st March 2022. The first time that World Expo is being held in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) region, as well as in the Arab World, Expo 2020 Dubai has so far showcased the world various innovations around its three subthemes of opportunity, mobility and sustainability.

Expo 2020 Dubai is happening from the 1st October 2021 until the 31st March 2022
Expo 2020 Dubai is happening from the 1st October 2021 until the 31st March 2022 IMAGE SOURCE GETTY

The Middle East and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been a spotlight for the world, as it has been host to events as the world’s meetings incentives conference and events (MICE) industry slowly recovers from the consequences of the pandemic. Overall handling the pandemic well with some of the world’s highest vaccination rates, Dubai for instance has hosted leading global events such as GITEX 2021 and Seamless Middle East and North Africa.

As a fan of not only expos but just general wider economic development, given my expertise, I generally summarise expos or world’s fairs as a giant education lesson to the masses. It allows for countries to showcase the best and latest they are providing, as well as companies and other innovations. After all, the world’s fair were the stage that showcased the world the likes of things we as a society have taken for granted – from electricity to the modern hamburger to the ice cream cone to the ferris wheel to even the maglev train. Landmarks it has produced are also endless – but key ones include the likes of the Eiffel Tower in Paris to Crystal Palace in London to the famous museums in Chicago like the Art Institute of Chicago.

Taken from the recent The Fintech Times Fintech: Middle East and Africa 2021 Report I main authored and conceptualised, Expo 2020, now more than ever, with its theme of ‘Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability’ will be key to celebrating humanity and the challenges and optimism we all have during the troubling times of 2020. In addition, digital innovations, which fintech plays a key part of in general, will have an opportunity to showcase current and future technologies and aspirations.

Host UAE, who themselves have been a leader in digital transformation, will have an opportunity to showcase that alongside other country participants. Taken from a guest entry at the Bureau International des Expositions, a quote from myself, following the pending confirmation to confirm Expo’s decision to delay for one year, states: “Now more than ever with the Covid-19 pandemic – which will hopefully be eliminated soon – World Expos have a huge role to show to the world the innovations and the best that humanity can do. The novel coronavirus came out of almost nowhere, affecting basic daily interactions and impacting almost everything. This has included the cancellation or postponement of large gatherings such as the recent Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games as well as various international industry trade shows like Mobile World Congress (MWC) and SXSW. Even our everyday lives, from educating our children to going to the shop have been impacted, sparking fears across the globe.

“Explaining the value that Expos bring is fundamental as they are global events aimed at finding solutions to challenges facing our world, offering a journey inside a particular theme through engaging and immersive activities. World Expos, one of the four Expo categories alongside Specialised Expos, Horticultural Expos and the Triennale de Milano, are global gatherings of nations where universal challenges – impacting all of us – can be addressed. What is unique about Expos, unlike industry trade shows, is that the events are centred around educating the public.

These events, therefore, introduce the participants, business leaders, and political decision-makers to the Expo’s theme. It gives those in the industry and government an opportunity to learn best practices and collaborate, while interacting with the public and gauging reactions to new concepts, ideas and solutions.” Prior to Covid-19, Expo 2020 aimed to target 25 million visitors. Despite the challenges of Covid-19, visitor numbers for Dubai’s expo have been impressive. For instance, during the first ten days of the fair there were over 400,000 visitors.

Showcasing Financial Services, Fintech and Wider Tech

Countries from around the world are taking part in the first ever expo (world's fair) that is being held in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) region. Pictured is the Polish pavilion
Countries from around the world are taking part in the first ever expo (world’s fair) that is being held in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) region. Pictured is the Polish pavilion IMAGE SOURCE GETTY

It is difficult to summarise the showcases of the financial services industry, fintech and wider digital in this article and how expo is doing so. Nevertheless, in its simplest form, as those sectors obviously play a strong component in the global economy, their innovations will play key parts throughout expo – from either at a country level across various country pavilions and beyond. In terms of the former, showcasing the strengths (or aspirations) of a nation’s financial services sector and wider digital which includes the likes of fintech is playing a strong part in various country participants’ agendas.

First, this can be in various displays across various country pavilions for the public to see. Second, from a more business point of view, events/weeks or other initiatives to showcase one’s financial services, fintech or wider digital initiatives will and have been seen during Expo 2020 Dubai. Given its vital component across much of the world, this of course is panning out in the world’s largest gathering of people. This has seen or will seen delegations and other business 2 business (B2B) components that expos are also known for outside of the public eyes. Despite it being an education lesson to the masses, expos also provides the business community an opportunity to gather and have a world’s fair as an anchor to do so.

To note, a major example of fintech and wider digital includes the likes of Mastercard, the official payment technology partner at the world’s fair. In terms of financial services, this includes UAE-headquartered bank Emirates NBD being an official premier partner. And in wider digital this includes the likes of SAP and Siemens and Terminus Group, which creates exceptional AIoT (Artificial Intelligence + Internet of Things) and robotics solutions.

Stay tuned here to see examples of how countries are promoting not only their financial services industries but also fintech and wider digital as part of their participation during Expo 2020 Dubai.


  • Executive Economic Development Advisor (Emerging Markets) | Contributor

  • Tyler is a fintech journalist with specific interests in online banking and emerging AI technologies. He began his career writing with a plethora of national and international publications.

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