The GCC region is currently experiencing a renassaince of fintech startups, encouraging and aiding towards the development of the region’s growing fintech ecosystem.
Abdullah Soomro is the CEO of My Book Qatar, one of the most popular ‘discover and save’ apps in Qatar, that is accepted at over 1,000 outlets in the country. Using its platform, My Book provides customer solutions to large organisations including financial services companies, banks, real estate companies, insurance companies, and telecom operators among others. It is now working on a proposition in the fintech space.
Before My Book, Abdullah was the CEO and co-founder of PerkUp which is a customer loyalty, marketing, and business management platform for small businesses. For over five years, he has worked with all categories of merchants including retailers, restaurants and cafes, salons and spas, gyms and health centers, and others. His experience with merchants has enabled him to understand the challenges merchants face and he is working towards introducing solutions that help these merchants grow their business.
We sat down with Abdullah to discuss the future of fintech within the GCC, and how his app My Book is helping the region’s fintech startups to reap the full benefits of this technology revolution:
Can you explain what the digital and fintech landscape across the GCC currently looks like?
The growth of the fintech ecosystem is one of the priority areas in GCC as the governments have realised that the growth of this ecosystem is beneficial for the region. The regulations are being upgraded at a fast pace to enable more fintech use cases to be introduced. At the same time, the funding in this space has significantly increased of late by both local and foreign investors. All this signals that we will continue to see the emergence of innovative fintech startups in the region.
How does this alter in Qatar?
Qatar considers fintech a key part of its strategy to build a knowledge-based economy. This led Qatar Central Bank (QCB) to launch the National Fintech Strategy which focuses on (i) creating an enabling environment of local development of fintech initiatives, and (ii) foster an ecosystem to attract international fintech companies to use Qatar as a launchpad for regional and global expansion.
The introduction of an integrated strategy has resulted in increased fintech activity from startups, regulators, banks, and other stakeholders. Qatar Fintech Hub has been established by Qatar Development Bank to help fintech startups grow through incubator and accelerator programmes. Several banks, telecom operators, and startups have introduced various fintech offerings. Qatar Central Bank has also launched bank-agnostic mobile payment system that banks and other entities can plug into to enable seamless payments.
How have you developed your subject matter expertise and helped to share it across in your base country?
My Book’s primary expertise revolves around merchants and enabling transactions at these merchants. Specifically, we get discount offers from merchants across various categories and enable the discovery of merchants and offers amongst our app members who are credit cardholders or customers of multiple large corporate organisations like Vodafone Qatar, Qatar Islamic Bank, and Mastercard among others. App members visit the merchants to redeem these offers.
Over time, we have come to understand these merchants and their needs better. We are helping fintech initiatives plug themselves into our merchant ecosystem as well as guide them in better structuring their offerings for merchants.
What are the future trends and predictions you see happening in your country?
There will be a further influx of several fintech initiatives from startups, banks, telecom operators, and others stakeholders mostly focusing on payments and remittances. We will see some mergers or acquisitions at some point in Qatar. Startups who would want to avoid this fate will have to expand regionally or globally.
Any advice or recommendations you would give to other future fintech companies and entrepreneurs based in the Middle East & Africa (MEA) region?
For any new fintech startup, it is important to spend time on market and customer research as every market has its own problems and challenges that need solutions. Secondly, carefully thought-out partnerships play an important role in the growth of fintech startups. Therefore, startups need to explore potential partnerships that can help them deliver their value proposition well.
Startups which are working on digital payments space will have to bundle the best possible customer value proposition with digital payments if they are to succeed.