Editor's Choice Fintech Middle East & Africa

Spotlight MEA: Developing a Universal Open Banking API

The Gulf Cooperation Council, which consists of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait, have seen various transformations. Historically, Bahrain has been the financial centre in the region and one that helped embrace both digital transformation and fintech. Tarabut Gateway, the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA)’s largest open banking platform, has been one of many in the wider ecosystem leading this charge and innovation. The CEO of Tarabut Gateway, Abdulla Almoayed, offers his insight.

Abdulla Almoayed is the CEO of Tarabut Gateway by Richie Santosdiaz for The FinTech Times
The CEO of Tarabut Gateway, Abdulla Almoayed, speaks to The FinTech Times and offers his insights into the Middle East region IMAGE SOURCE PROVIDED

Abdulla Almoayed is a serial entrepreneur and the founder and CEO of Tarabut Gateway (TG) – the first and largest company licensed open banking platform in MENA.

Abdulla has been a key figure in driving digital transformation across Bahrain and the wider region. He worked closely with the Central Bank of Bahrain to pioneer the Kingdom’s open banking regulation. Now, through TG, he focuses on projects that will help reposition the region as the leading hub for innovative companies to come and test their technologies. He is a strong advocate for putting data ownership into the hands of the consumer and increasing access to financial services through emerging technologies.

Previously Abdulla spent 15 years investing in various sectors, before taking over parts of his family’s investment business. From this, he established his own holding company, Almoayed Technologies – a privately-owned, venture-minded investment vehicle focused on large-scale infrastructure projects aimed at accelerating MENA’s digital transformation. It invests in game- changing companies across Fintech, Healthcare, Education, Logistics, and Cybersecurity – one of which was TG.

Abdulla holds an MBA from the London Business School and a BABM with Honours from the University of Westminster, London.

For our global audience, can you explain what the digital and fintech landscape across the GCC currently looks like (focusing on digital and open banking)?

The GCC is often described as the perfect test bed for innovation, due to dynamic regulatory frameworks coupled with a young and tech-savvy population. In 2017, the region began to witness huge transformations across all sectors; driven by the assimilation of emerging technologies into our everyday lives. This has been true to all industries, but especially apparent within the financial services sector, thus resulting in the prioritisation of progressive fintech regulations within the GCC to diversify, innovate and increase competition within the region.

Furthermore, the changing expectations of a digital native population are posing an enormous pressure on the ecosystem to deliver, on account of the absence of available seamless banking experiences. Admittedly, COVID-19 emphasised the need for financial institutions to embrace digital transformation and to collaborate with fintechs to build on their existing digital propositions. The pandemic, therefore, has become a powerful catalyst for financial institutions of all sizes to realise the full potential of innovative breakthroughs such as Open Banking to provide slicker and personalised experiences to their customers

Equally important, regulators across the region are racing to adopt new directives in line with the changing needs of the digital era. While Bahrain has pioneered the Open Banking movement in MENA by being the first to pass Open Banking regulations, we’re also witnessing a number of neighboring countries taking big strides to follow suit.

How does this alter in Bahrain? 

The Kingdom of Bahrain has always been crowned as one of the Gulf’s leading financial centers for decades. At an early stage, the kingdom sought to diversify its economy to reduce the reliance on oil. Currently, the economy of Bahrain is the most diversified in the region, with particular strengths in financial services, technology sectors, and related industries. Despite increasing competition from emerging financial centers in the region, be it in the UAE or Saudi, Bahrain’s advanced regulatory framework and forward- thinking government have allowed the country the break the curse of the oil industry.

Although small in size, Bahrain has been aggressively competing with neighboring countries to be positioned as MENA’s leading fintech Hub. Its size, in fact, plays a huge role in making that possible. The speed of legislation and the available access to decision-makers in the country, make it really easy for innovative policies and regulations to be adopted as quickly as possible.

Within the Open Banking realm specifically, we’ve seen how the agility of the ecosystem was fundamental to the success of this phenomenon. Between 2018-209 alone, Open Banking regulations were passed, mandated, and implemented within every single retail bank in the country.

How have you developed your subject matter expertise and helped to share it across in your home country of Bahrain?

Having always been a tech enthusiast at heart, and an advocate for putting data in the hands of consumers, I’ve always been fascinated with how technology can not only reshape global economies but change how we live our lives, forever.

Prior to Tarabut Gateway, I’ve established a number of companies… some failed…and some succeeded like Almoayed technologies, a venture led investment vehicle with a sole focus on investing in emerging technology. If one was to reflect back, I believe that these experiences have prepared me to overcome all the challenges that came with establishing MENA’s first licensed Open Banking platform- when Open Banking was still a foreign concept in the region.

Tarabut Gateway was founded on the principle of facilitating the creation and distribution of personalised financial products and services – to pave the way towards the next generation of banking. A bold mission we’re determined to accomplish.

Thus, in order to drive change, we’ve been rolling out various Open Banking awareness campaigns in the region, including educational campaigns, a virtual resource hub, and a series of workshops dedicated to pushing the ecosystem to move forward.

What are future trends and predictions you see happening in the region? And specifically with your company?

Recently, the MENA region witnessed a substantial rise in online payments penetration to 76% as well as an increase in smart-phone penetration to an average of 133%. And, while these indicators might only allude to the untapped potential within MENA’s digital financial landscape, they also represent significant opportunities to the sector.

Although nascent in comparison to more mature markets like the UK and EU, the Open Banking sector in MENA has drastically evolved within the past 12 months due to the increasing importance being placed on the need for intuitive financial services.

The ‘urgent’ adoption of personalized banking experiences has been accelerating partnerships between large incumbents and fintechs that will ultimately be able to free the financial institutions from the shackles of legacy infrastructure. Partnerships that will enable banks to remain as banks, the custodians of savings and granters of credit, whilst enabling finTechs to innovate rapidly and adapt to the shifts within customer demands.

Over the past year, the region has witnessed several financial institutions waking yo the value of Open Banking and investing in a range of products and services. Therefore, as MENA’s financial services industry is starting to recognise the benefits that Open Banking can unfold and after proven success in Bahrain, we’ve recently expanded our operations into the UAE to support the ecosystem with this transformative shift. A milestone we’ve very excited about.

Any advice or recommendations you would give to other future fintech companies and entrepreneurs based in the Middle East & Africa (MEA) region? 

Every fintech company that has ever wanted to disrupt and drive real change, has had to challenge the status quo with a brave heart and a strong will. The entrepreneurial road is challenging and is often accompanied by major obstacles. It comes with a host of harsh challenges that you’ll only be able to overcome if you have a strong conviction. It is one of the vital keys to success in any endeavor.

Testing an unproven concept and diving into the unknown is scary, but also can be enthralling and rewarding. Jack Dixon once said: “If you focus on results, you will never get change. If you focus on change, you will get results.” Something we live by at Tarabut Gateway. Trust your idea enough to know that it can challenge the status quo.

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