Middle East
Fintech Middle East & Africa Thought Leadership

Why The Middle East is The Fintech Region to Watch

The next wave of fintech innovation will come from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and Gulf Corporation Council (GCC) regions, suggests fintech boss Bruno Martorano.

Martorano is the CEO of Monty Finance, which operates neobanking platform MyMonty and payment gateway MontyPay. Monty Finance originated in Lebanon and is headquartered in London.

In this article, he lays out why companies from this part of the world are well positioned to succeed in the global fintech market place.

Bruno Martorano
Bruno Martorano, CEO of Monty Finance

In a recent study, fintech accelerator SuperNovaeLabs looked into the main success factors for fintech companies. It found that the three biggest drivers for success by far were: targeting the underbanked, innovation and product quality.

These three completely dwarfed elements like regulatory environment, funding access or management expertise.

As someone who runs a fintech company that originated in the MENA region, I was unsurprised by this conclusion. I would even go one step further: innovation and product quality flow from targeting – and consequently serving – the under- or underbanked.

Take for example onboarding a new user at a neobank. This is a fairly straightforward and well outlined process for a European fintech which involves asking the client to transfer one cent from their traditional bank to their new account. This way an important part of the KYC process is effectively offloaded to the legacy industry.

Now try onboarding an agricultural worker in Jordan who has never in his life engaged with a bank and is paid fluctuating day rates in cash.

The infrastructure that our Western counterparts can tap into to make their lives easier simply doesn’t exist – the only way to live up to fintech’s promise of financial inclusion is to innovate and create it ourselves.

Regional challenges

It’s these kinds of challenges, which we, and other fintechs from the region, like Aydi – which is doing amazing things from Cairo – encounter on a daily basis. These challenges have forced us to innovate our entire product: from UX to KYC to customer service. By sharpening our teeth in the most challenging of conditions, we were able to create an offering that is both sophisticated, innovative and well developed that it allows us to break into other parts of the world.

One thing we found, for example, is that people who never dealt with financial institutions before tend to distrust extensive customer service automation. This forced us to develop a system that relies in equal parts on human intervention as it does on AI. When we took this system to Europe, the feedback there was that people were delighted to see a fintech service where it was finally possible to get an actual human person on the line.

To put it differently: our extensive experience in banking the underbanked, allows us, with relative ease, to serve the underserved in the West as well as other parts of the world. Our international outlook makes us global by design. The problems we solve are not limited to any one country or any one region.

Resilience

But there’s more to fintechs from MENA and the GCC than our experience: it’s our resilience. If you originate from a volatile region you learn how to quickly ‘off the ropes’. Our own home base of Lebanon was once the MENA region’s third most advanced fintech startup ecosystem, hosting 14 per cent of the region’s fintech startups – and then we saw a banking failure in 2019 followed by the port explosion in 2020 that literally knocked the industry off its feet.

To still be able succeed under such circumstances has prepared fintech startups from this region for anything that the world can throw at us.

Studies show that the number of fintech companies in MENA is expected to increase to 465 by 2022, but this growth might be hampered by a limited fintech infrastructure and STEM talent pool.

I propose to flip this premise around: those fintechs that are able to succeed despite the local challenges and lack of infrastructure and are still able to attract exceptional talent from the region’s top universities despite the brain drain are a force to be reckoned with globally.

Our chairman recently stated that it should be our ambition to become the largest digital bank in the world. Don’t be surprised when we succeed.

 

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