Over half a year into 2022, what have been the fintech developments in the State of Qatar in?
Highlighted in my previous The Fintech Times Fintech: Middle East and Africa 2021 Report, Qatar is one of the richest countries in the world, boasting a strong and developed economy similar to its neighbours in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). In fact, Qatar has the highest gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in the entire Middle East and Africa (MEA) region.
Saying that, Qatar is undergoing economic development and diversification, similar to the rest of the GCC, called the Qatar National Vision 2030. The abundance of natural resources within the country, in particular natural gas, has allowed it to be one of the richest countries in the world, but it must invest heavily in economic diversification, improving its fintech sector and allowing for greater digitisation.
In terms of financial services, Qatar has a mature financial services sector that includes 18 commercial banks, six conventional banks, four Islamic banks, seven branches of foreign banks, and a specialised development bank that finances small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Commercial banking in Qatar dates to the mid-20th century, with Qatar National Bank (QNB) established in 1965 – the largest bank in the entire Middle East and Africa (MEA) in terms of assets.
A clear example of Qatar’s financial services success is the Qatar Financial Centre (QFC): a one-stop-shop for all things finance, from licensing to other corporate services. It is expected to have 1,000 companies registered there by the end of 2022. In 2019 over 800 fintechs, IT, tax and investment consulting firms were part of QFC.
In terms of fintech, Qatar’s journey started back in 2017 with a Qatar Fintech task force that included various players in the ecosystem. By the following year, it planned to establish a Qatar Central Bank (QCB) fintech unit, a regulatory operating model and a centralised know-your-customer (KYC) utility. Importantly, a Sharia-compliant fintech framework and regulations were developed.
By 2019, a fintech strategy was announced as well as an established investment promotion agency (IPA) and various other incentives to attract foreign direct investment (FDI). It also saw the launch of the Qatar Fintech Hub (QFTH), rolling out two waves of the first-ever specialised FinTech Incubator and Accelerator programs in Qatar. Through incubating and accelerating growth of both domestic fintech startups and international ones, the aim of QFTH would be to further foster the growth of the fintech ecosystem.
In terms of the ecosystem of fintech in Qatar, according to the From Qatar to the World: A report on the state of FinTech in Qatar by QFTH, the four areas in focus are payments, regtech, Islamic Finance and SMEs.
An example of a collaboration highlighted in the report is Ahlibank and Visa forming an alliance. The companies will jointly launch card-based payment products and create advanced technology solutions to bolster the payment experience for Ahlibank customers.
Other examples of collaboration include CWallet, whose headquarters are based in Qatar, and Microsoft Qatar partnering to digitally transform thousands of organisations by equipping businesses with the latest tools to ensure safe and secure digital payment.
Recently this summer, QNB has become the country’s first bank (and one of the first in the wider region too) to introduce its own open banking platform. Leveraging its API infrastructure, the bank will allow both its customers and partners to access its core banking systems.
Qatar has soft-launched its regulatory sandbox and is planning to have a full launch in the near future. In addition, there have been discussions about a potential digital currency in the future as well.
The country has an aspiration to host a cashless FIFA World Cup 2022 later this year. This has brought the country much global attention as it will be the first time the region is hosting a World Cup. In addition to having a newly launched smart city programme (TASMU), further push to digital adoption is clear.
Finally, looking more generally at Qatar’s tech and digital development, the summer also saw Qatar’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology and Meta (the parent company of Facebook) sign a cooperation agreement, whereby the companies will work together to help SMEs in Qatar with digital transformation. The aim is to further accelerate Qatar’s digital economy and growth. Estimations by Global Data suggest that Qatar’s information and communications technology (ICT) spending will reach $9billion by 2024, at a compounded annual growth rate of 9.2 per cent. The Qatari government’s $200billion investment program shows its commitment to investing in technology and also attracting FDI and international talent.
Qatar’s aspirations to be a regional fintech hub can be seen in its strategy and its implementation of it thus far. Exciting things are expected to materialise from it.