As the world gathers at the first-ever World’s Fair (Expo 2020 Dubai) being hosted in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA), we take a look at the fintech and wider digital transformation of the host country the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
THE PAVILION AND EXPO 2020 DUBAI
Calling the UAE pavilion impressive is an understatement – it is beyond just impressive. Walking past it by the main Al Wasl Plaza, located at the centre of the nearly 500-acre exhibition area at Expo 2020 Dubai, which has been host to the stunning opening ceremony and other high-profile events and performances just as the recent Black Eyed Peas concert, the UAE pavilion is a beautiful display of the country’s achievements.
The building itself was designed by world-renowned architect Santiago Calatrava. According to the UAE Pavillion Expo website: “Located at the heart of the nearly 500-acre exhibition area, the UAE Pavilion features 8,000 square meters of exhibition space, where visitors will be immersed in a multi-sensory experience. As a symbol of the UAE’s pioneering and innovative spirit, the sheltering form of the UAE Pavilion’s steel roof, influenced by the grace and force of the falcon, is equipped with contemporary kinetic capacities and innovative architectural elements.”
It was not too long ago that Dubai, the UAE and the Middle East region celebrated in 2013 when it won the right to host the first-ever World’s Fair in the MEASA region. The 154th Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) General Assembly in Paris that year had the UAE’s bid to host the Expo and celebrations and pride were evident. Since then, the country has been preparing hard and have welcomed the world to showcase the beauty of Expo 2020’s three key themes of opportunity, mobility and sustainability.
At the Expo itself, in terms of fintech and wider digitalisation, the UAE as a whole, as well as the other participants of Expo, have been showcasing both its current offerings and aspirations in their own various ways. These have included various aspects via business events, delegations and/or other showcases.
For instance, with regards to the international participation at Expo, Bahrain’s National Bank of Bahrain (NBB), in a strategic partnership with the fintech hub Bahrain FinTech Bay, launched the NBB Digital Banking Challenge end of last year that focused on Bahraini youth to develop new and creative solutions for NBB’s new digital banking app.
Also, with respect to the UAE, three was a Blockchain Economy Expo that was hosted last year at Expo 2020 Dubai. According to the organisers, it is the first Blockchain event in World Expo history. Blockchain-crypto companies from across the globe had the opportunity to showcase their products and services.
UAE’S DIGITAL AND FINTECH ASPIRATIONS FEED INTO ITS WIDER ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
The country, which consists of commercial hub of Dubai and the capital of Abu Dhabi, has been undergoing its wider economic development and diversification for quite some time. This has resulted in the country achieving tremendous growth and consequently increasing its digital competitiveness.
The Fintech Times published a report last year which I was pleased to main author and architect called Fintech: Middle East and Africa 2021. Within the wider Middle East and Africa (MEA) region, the team concluded, based on assessing wider economic indicators as well as tech and fintech specific ones, the UAE, alongside Israel, were the only two countries at present in the region with a tier-one premier hub rank. This is a combination of the three indicators but essentially the country is not only a developed economy with a high gross domestic product (GDP) at over $43,000
From what I’ve written previously, it is no secret of the once small fishing village solidifying its place on the global stage – both its aspirations as well as its successes. In fact, Dubai’s humble beginnings have, at present, secured a seat in the global stage as a global hub. The crown jewel of its financial sector hub and wider fintech hub is the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC).
DIFC is a leading global financial centre in the MEASA region with a vision to drive the future of finance. It is in fact the only one from MEASA in the world’s top ten leading financial centres, ranking in eighth place, joining other financial hubs such as London, Singapore, Hong Kong and New York City, according to the Global Financial Centre’s Index.
The ever-expanding DIFC Fintech Hive, the first and largest financial technology accelerator in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) region, is estimated to have over half of the Middle East and North Africa’s (MENA) fintechs. It has a highly competitive fintech accelerator programme, called DIFC FinTech Hive Accelerator Programme, where at the end of last year its Investor Day had 44 successful start-ups participate. This made it the largest cohort since the programme launched in 2017. Over the last five years, DIFC FinTech Hive has received over 2,500 applications for its key programme where over 160 start-ups have been selected to participate.
To note – Dubai is planning to have over 1,000 cryptocurrency businesses this year.
The capital of the UAE, Abu Dhabi is the largest of the seven emirates that make up the UAE by land size. It is also home to most of the country’s oil reserves but has been pushing, as is the wider Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) via its own economic development and diversification strategies such as with Abu Dhabi 2030 and also wider UAE ones like UAE Centennial 2071. Abu Dhabi has been building its financial services ecosystem as a whole, which, of course, fintech plays a large role, as is in much of the rest of the world. The clearest example of its growing reputation as a hub in the region and beyond is Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM). It is the city’s international financial centre and free zone.
Two visible efforts of the capital have been the following: First, there is the growth of the likes of Hub71, which is Abu Dhabi’s global tech ecosystem. In addition, Abu Dhabi is home to its own Fintech Abu Dhabi. In November last year, it happened in the fifth edition by providing a hybrid format.
Back to the stunning UAE pavilion and the Expo site as a whole, it is truly impressive to see how not too long ago it was just empty. As Dubai continues to host the world, one cannot help but be in awe of all the innovation in the region – from fintech to digital and wider digital economic development.