What have been the developments in fintech in the Sultanate of Oman and what impact have these had on the country’s wider digital ecosystem?
As highlighted in my previous The Fintech Times Fintech: Middle East and Africa 2021 Report, Oman, as with its neighbouring Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, is undergoing economic development and diversification. Known as the Oman Vision 2040, Oman aims to be diversified and have a sustainable economy based on technology, knowledge and innovation; operating within integrated frameworks; ensuring competitiveness; embracing industrial revolutions and achieving fiscal sustainability.
Compared to the rest of its neighbours in the GCC, Oman appears to be a late comer in regards to its fintech ecosystem’s development. Nevertheless, with the push from the top via Vision 2040, wider digital transformation and economic development is taking place in sectors like fintech. The pandemic has also solidified the importance of digital.
Out of the country’s population of over five million people, in terms of mobile connections 110.7 per cent of its population have mobile connections. Also, over 95 per cent of the population are internet users – according to Hootsuite.
Similar to most of the MEA, the majority of the Omani population is young, with those under the age of 29 representing 63 per cent of the population. Similar to its other GCC counterparts, Oman has a significant expatriate or expat population – which is estimated to be at least 1.7 million people.
According to a study in 2020, in terms of those in Oman who used fintech, 35 per cent were using P2P money transfers. In second place was account aggregation at 30 per cent, with robo-advisor in third place at 15 per cent. The remaining four tied in fourth place with connected auto-insurance, connected health, crowdfunding and connected home insurance each commanding a 10 per cent share.
Similar to its GCC neighbours, Oman is also taking a legislative-led approach to building its fintech ecosystem, including developing the open banking space. Recently, the Central Bank of Oman (CBO) confirmed that open banking is currently being worked on to help modernise the country’s banking industry. The Open Banking API Strategy forms part of the wider fintech framework and roadmap for Oman. This comprises of various initiatives to mature the ecosystem such as: regulation in fintech, a regulatory sandbox, release of a cloud computing framework for the financial and banking sector, initiatives to boost electronic know-your-customers (eKYC), virtual asses and fintech education.
As reported in the previous edition of my report, Bank Muscat, the largest financial institution in the country, announced a new $100million fintech investment programme in 2019 with the blessing of the CBO. Also, in December 2020, the CBO launched its Financial Regulatory Sandbox with an overwhelmingly positive response.
In November last year, Oman and Saudi Arabia signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) and launched the Saudi-Omani Digital Skills Initiative; this will include training programmes in fields such as fintech, data and artificial intelligence (AI).
A report from KPMG found Omani banks are also planning to invest heavily in technology to modernise; this is where fintechs can play a role with those banks as partners. Some of the country’s banks include the likes of Bank Muscat, Bank Dhofar, National Bank of Oman, Bank Sohar – to name a few.
Similar to its neighbours, as part of its national strategy Oman is also trying to boost entrepreneurship, in particular with its local population. This is why more accelerators, incubators and wider training programmes will be essential for the Sultanate.
For example, last year, an Omani telecommunications company, Omantel, announced the launch of the Omantel Innovation Lab, to harness the company’s expertise, partnerships, and outreach for cultivating the tech-based startup ecosystem in Oman. Also, Omantel has the Omantel Accelerator, which is a six-month programme for technology startups run in partnership with the Oman Technology Fund (OTF) and Brinc. The five focus areas will be 5G, internet of things (IoT), cybersecurity, customer experience and big data.
As mentioned in the report, the OTF puts Oman firmly on the map of knowledge leaders in the Middle East. The OTF will effectively work on attracting these types of promising projects to launch its operations in Oman to enhance the knowledge-based economy, and to develop the ICT sector in general. Some of their initiatives – including the examples mentioned earlier – include OTF Techween, a three-month pre-seed fund programme, and OTF Wadi Accelerator, a programme allowing for improved probabilities of a start up’s success, both by making investments into a company and by receiving support through experienced entrepreneurs that act as mentor.
In summary, Oman presents an opportunity for fintech to grow and help it in its journey for economic development and diversification.