Expo 2020 Dubai
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Expo 2020 Dubai: Summary of Fintech, Wider Digital and Financial Services

As the World’s Fair, the first in the Middle East, Asia and South Asia (MEASA) region comes to an end, host city Dubai showcased various initiatives around its wider theme of opportunity, mobility and sustainability.

Expo 2020 Dubai overview

Having had the opportunity to attend the Expo myself and visiting the various pavilions and other initiatives – both primarily from a professional aspect and also personal, the Expo grounds were short of impressive is an understatement.

The first-ever World’s Fair at the MEASA region, awarded by the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) in Paris back in 2013, truly delivered on its promise by gathering everyone from across the world to celebrate the beauty of humanity and the theme for this year around opportunity, mobility and sustainability.

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, visitor numbers were impressive and showed the world why Dubai is a leader in tourism, and in times like now, one that can provide a space for that in a safe yet fun environment.

Being billed as the first Expo ever to have every country participate, Expo 2020 Dubai showcased the best that the world had to offer as well as the host country, the UAE, as well. I had the opportunity to visit several of them on a personal level.

In terms of the series with The Fintech Times, various countries were spotlighted in terms of their general Expo 2020 Dubai presence and, in particular with this publication, specific to their wider fintech initiatives.

They included Israel, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Luxembourg, United Kingdom (UK), Kenya, India, China, Hong Kong SAR, Brazil, USA, Colombia, Slovenia, Uganda and Expo 2020 Dubai host country United Arab Emirate (UAE).

Also, other news was featured pertaining to Expo 2020 Dubai that included the likes of Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Emirates NBD, Mastercard, Rwanda and the wider African region.

Key aspects in the fintech and wider digital and financial services space

Expo 2020 Dubai attracted over 20 million visitors
Expo 2020 Dubai attracted over 20 million visitors IMAGE SOURCE GETTY

First, there were various events and conferences that occurred. This included the Global Business Forum (GBF) Africa 2021 that happened which was organised by the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Africa’s emerging contactless economy is growing rapidly in the Covid-19 era; creating new growth opportunities that African and foreign companies and investors can capitalise on was highlighted at the GBF Africa 2021, which happened at the Dubai Exhibition Centre at Expo 2020 Dubai.

The African continent’s growth rate of contactless adoption comes in tandem with a range of various initiatives that are currently underway across the region.

For example, Emirate NBD has recently run their ‘Get Together. Go Contactless’ campaign, which in parallel saw the rate of contactless transactions soar by 67 per cent. In addition, the International Trade Centre (ITC) recently cited the development of a comprehensive digital infrastructure as one of the main drivers of growth within Africa.

Second, delegations from across the world visited Dubai around Expo and this included some of the world’s leading fintech hubs. For example, London and fintech played a role in the wider ecosystem. As part of the Mayor of London’s International Business Programme, the business growth and destination agency London & Partners sent its recent cohort of UK fintech talent on a trade mission to the UAE, of which I was pleased to be a part of.

During the four-day visit in February this year, London-based fintech delegates are due to meet with an array of pioneers who are currently leading the cultivation of Middle East and North Africa (MENA)’s fintech industry. This included a reception at the UK Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai.

Third, there were not only delegations, but they also made significant announcements. For example, the first and only fintech-focused Africa Fund has been launched by The Kigali International Financial Centre (KIFC) at an announcement in Dubai. Valued at $50million and backed by MyGrowthFund Venture Partners, the fund hopes to facilitate homeland investment.

The fund domiciled in KIFC will create proximity on the continent between investments and fintech investment opportunities and is set to increase investment in African fintech by African firms; especially when considering how less than 10 per cent of private equity investment came from the continent last year.

The fund’s objective is to grow by 140 per cent. The delegation that was a part of this kicked it their mission at Rwanda National Day on 1 February at Expo 2020 Dubai.

Fourth, there were specific fintech events that happened during Expo 2020 Dubai. For instance, Bahrain’s The National Bank of Bahrain (NBB) launched its Digital Banking Challenge in partnership with Bahrain FinTech Bay; one of MENA’s largest fintech hubs.

NBB also took part in a flagship event sponsored by the Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB) in partnership with The Economist, entitled ‘Looking Ahead: The Middle East’s Path to a Digital Economy.’

Fifth, there is also sheer volume in terms of wider digital and tech visitors. India is an example of this, whereby India Innovation Hub, which is a project of the India Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai where over 500 Indian startups will be showcased.

This included recently where Dubai Silicon Oasis (DSO) and India Innovation Hub announced a partnership with Indian online travel company EaseMyTrip and HSBC to facilitate 200 Indian startups to showcase their business ideas and innovations to global investors at Expo; fintech, artificial intelligence (AI) and cybersecurity are key sector focuses.

Finally, there is of course the sponsors of Expo 2020 Dubai. One key one in the sector is Mastercard, which has done various initiatives during the World’s Fair. First, there is the Mastercard Cube, whereby Mastercard immersed visitors in a range of multi-sensory experiences as they embark on Priceless journeys tailored to their passion, including sport, food, and music, plus being a ‘force for good’.

At the Cube, visitors saw reality content that brought to life the next era of innovation, as Mastercard demonstrated how the power of payment technology will be harnessed to make life safer, easier, and more connected for all.

Also, Mastercard revealed an installation dedicated to its Priceless Planet Coalition, aiming to plant 100 million trees worldwide over five years. The innovative concept invited visitors to understand more about Mastercard’s efforts in bringing together governments, businesses, and consumers in combatting the effects of climate change; it offered them an opportunity to become part of the network and contribute towards a greener future.

Expo visitors had a chance to contribute to a greener future by donating to Mastercard’s Priceless Planet Coalition upon checkout as an add-on feature while buying their tickets to the World’s Fair.

Mastercard also supported Expo 2020 Dubai’s commitment to creating a more equitable future, whereby the company harnessed the platform to advance its efforts to drive gender equality around the world. The company and Expo hosted a range of activities at the Women’s Pavilion to celebrate the successes of women leaders by providing a platform for female voices that will culminate in a legacy project.

To note, another key partner, UAE-headquartered band Emirates NBD, also was active at Expo 2020 Dubai. A Premier Partner and the Official Banking Partner (Emirates NBD) and the Official Islamic Banking Partner (Emirates Islamic) of Expo 2020 Dubai, unveiled its pioneering vision for the future of global banking at Expo 2020 Dubai.

Spanning 3,000 square foot in the Al Wasl Avenue, the Future Banking space comprised of five distinct pods each housing deeply immersive, interactive and engaging exhibits that shine light on the role that banks will play in fulfilling customers’ future needs, aspirations and goals.

The innovative and futuristic concept-driven exhibits enabled visitors to experience different virtual personas, to learn about cutting-edge banking initiatives that aim to address future challenges. This was led by Emirates NBD and Emirates Islamic’s customer-centric philosophy, and developed in partnership with leading global players.

Each of the exhibits were designed to deliver meaningful and sustainable impact, leveraging emerging technologies, data, the power of ecosystems, and new business models and opportunities.

As the world looks to Osaka 2025 for the next World’s Fair, Expo 2020 Dubai nonetheless left a foundation and legacy for the rest to follow.


  • 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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