Editor's Choice Fintech Middle East & Africa Partnerships Weekend read

Can Fintech Solutions Further Partner With Banks in the Middle East & Africa?

The rise of fintech has seen its adoption across much of the world – even in traditionally minded banks and the wider financial services sector as a whole. Can solutions in fintech further partner with banks in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) across improving the wider customer and internal journey?

Relatively large market of banking but still smaller in comparison to a global stage

Across MEA as a whole the region is home to a large banking industry. In the Middle East region, in particular the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region that includes Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar,  the region is home to some of MEA’s largest banks such as Qatar National Bank, First Abu Dhabi Bank (FAB), Emirates NBD, Saudi National Bank (as a merger between the former National Commercial Bank and Samba Bank which both are from Saudi Arabia), and Abu Dhabi Commercial bank (ADCB) – to name a few. Last year, the top ten largest banks in the GCC had total assets of $1 trillion dollars.

If looking at Africa, the top ten largest banks (with last year having a combined net worth of over $600 billion when looking at assets) included the likes of South Africa’s Standard Bank, ABSA, FirstRand, Investec, and Nedbank or Nigeria’s Zenith or Egypt’s National Bank of Egypt and Afreximbank. While it seems like a lot for each of Africa and the GCC, it still pales in comparison to say the USA, where JP Morgan Chase, the largest bank in the country alone had estimated total assets of under $3 trillion. The same can be seen in Europe, where HSBC and BNP Paribas last year were at worth at least 2 Billion Euros.

Slower To Adapt? 

Fintech has been growing across Africa and contributing to the region’s wider digital transformation IMAGE SOURCE GETTY

Digital transformation as a whole has seen a spotlight in the MEA region as a whole, in particular within certain nations seeing wider economic development strategies being implemented such as in the GCC. Despite that, from the surface, it appears that the MEA region as a whole appears to be slower to adapt fintech solutions or at least wider digital solutions.

Part of which could be the traditional habits of the MEA region as a whole, which often consumes products and services through traditional means. This includes for instance purchasing goods and services in person such as in markets or in shopping malls in comparison to online.

In addition, much of MEA as a whole has lacked the relevant infrastructure to digitally transform with its current ecosystem – let alone have the capacity to adapt fintech solutions. For instance, in many countries in MEA, a significant proportion of the population remains to be unbanked nor even be insured.

To Counteract – in many ways innovation has made major strides in the region due to necessity and forward thinking

The Middle East as as whole has also had fintech growing in importance and contributing to the region’s wider digital transformation IMAGE SOURCE GETTY

From mobile penetration to a young population to national economic development strategies with a pillar on digitalisation – the region as a whole has had a fusion of innovation playing a huge part in the way fintech has come into play. For those who have followed my work in the past this is nothing new – but that a combination essentially of ambition, youth and support from the top has all blended to help develop a new mechanism where the wider fintech ecosystem across MEA can help bridge gaps and find solutions to everyday challenges.

According to estimates of under 3,000 fintech solutions across MEA, how can the wider financial services industry collaborate with them?

Partner, Do It Yourself or Don’t Adapt At All?

It is fair to say that most of the banks in MEA, as what is being seen in much of the world, is having to embrace at least digital transformation in various aspects of both its customer journey and the way it conducts business. The pandemic has made the digital experience much more imperative and this was felt across MEA.

With regards to fintech solutions and banking – banks as a whole in MEA have been waking up to the necessity of aspects of it. The question is – does partnering make sense or even have your own in-house solution or both – via developing one’s own product and/or through acquisition?

For instance, there has been a rise in the likes of challenger banks that can be strong players. From targeting the young generation to the unbanked to a combination of all factors, they all have been providing their own solutions across MEA. They include the likes of Israeli-born Rewire or Jingle Pay from Dubai. In addition, banks themselves have also either acquired and/or started their own challenger banks. These have included the likes of Liv bank from Emirates NBD, Pepper from Bank Leumi, Mashreq Neo from Mashreq Bank, ila Bank from Bahrain–headquartered Arab Banking Corporation (Bank ABC) and also First Abu Dhabi Bank‘s Magnati.

As a whole, across MEA there have been various recent examples of fintechs collaborating with the wider financial services sector across the customer journey. And despite the previous example of many banks having their own fintech and/or digital solution many are appearing to partner with digital solution third parties which often in many cases are fintechs. This was a trend pre-COVID 19 and one that has further accelerated during the times of the pandemic. Examples seem endless but include the following highlights:

  • Layer, a digital banking platform, partnering with United Bank for Africa (UBA) to fuel its digital transformation in Kenya.
  • PayMate extended a partnership that its platform will change the way UAE corporates pay their suppliers with Citibank-issued Visa corporate cards. These collaborations are expected to enable businesses with end-to-end payments automation, saving them time, costs, and resources
  • UAE’s National Bank of Ras Al Khaimah (RAKBANK) announcing a renewal of partnership with Invoice Bazaar. It will align with the RAKBANK’s efficient ecosystem and environment for SMEs by offering unique financial solutions to e-commerce traders that include a comprehensive suite of banking services, short term working capital loans, cloud-based accounting solutions, and instant access to its portal

In addition, the wider ecosystem provides a strong component of partnerships across the financial services industry as a whole. These include the likes of:

  • Mastercard partnering with HSBC that will provide the bank’s commercial customers in the UAE with an enhanced business-to-business payment experience via the Mastercard Track Business Payment Service.
  • Bahrain-based Payment International Enterprise (PIE) will have a new service that will enable the payment of customs fees and taxes through its self-service electronic payment platform via with its construction in cooperation with the Customs Affairs in Interior Ministry, and the Information and eGovernment Authority (iGA)
  • Pan-African fintech Carbon partnering with Visa via a strategic five-year partnership to offer both digital and physical issuance of Visa cards to its customers.

Of course, more can be done in terms of fintech and banks in MEA but for now it is clear that fintechs can be strong partners for banks and the wider financial services industry, which they have doing so at present.

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