A Launchpad For Success: The UAE Is On A Mission To Establish Itself As A Global Hub For The Fintech Industry
According to H.E. Omar bin Sultan Al Olama, UAE Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, Digital Economy, and Remote Work Applications, the UAE provides the ideal stepping-off point for fintech entrepreneurs from around the world.
The United Arab Emirates is on a mission to establish itself as a global hub for the fintech industry. Realizing this ambition will empower high-growth, innovative startups with a supportive trading environment and innovation ecosystem that will support them in creating platforms on which they can achieve global scale, while making finance simpler and more accessible for hundreds of millions of people globally.
The creation of hubs has played a key role in the fintech success story elsewhere across the world. Cities like San Francisco, London, and Shenzhen have served as hotbeds for ambitious businesses that have revolutionized the financial system and established themselves as household names. One of the principal attractions of hubs is the network effects they provide, with incumbent and new organizations alike benefitting from a comprehensive ecosystem of talent, ideas, and investment.
There are three principal reasons why the Emirates is becoming an ever more attractive destination for the global fintech industry. Firstly, the country is a strong entry point to the substantial commercial opportunity that exists in the Middle East and Africa. Secondly, the Emirates already has a burgeoning fintech sector that new entrants can tap into. Additionally, the country has a strong entrepreneurial culture and established track record as a home to high growth scaleups.
An emerging ecosystem
Unlike more established markets such as the USA and Western Europe, a substantial proportion of the MENA region's population are either underbanked or unbanked, including 136 million people in the Middle East alone. This means that scaling fintech startups have substantial commercial opportunities on their doorstep, which simultaneously support financial inclusion for those who need it most. The populous of the MENA region is relatively young, and this demography means that there is a lot of scope for growth. The median age in Egypt –with a population of 102 million– is just 24. Even in Kuwait, which is among the region's more developed countries, 60% of people are below the age of 30. Young people across the MENA are typically digital natives, and want products that can offer them speed, reliability, and convenience– these are perfect conditions for fintech companies to thrive in.
Beyond the region, the Emirates offers global access to markets, including highly attractive trading links through the comprehensive economic partnership arrangements (CEPAs) it is building with a number of global centers. These offer preferential access to key markets, and they are a growing element of the Emirates' global business and trade expansion. The UAE provides the ideal steppingoff point from which fintech entrepreneurs can capitalize on this opportunity through its existing fintech ecosystem. As mentioned previously, fintech businesses benefit strongly from network effects, and the country is home to 50% of the fintech startups in the Middle East. Indeed, estimates say the market here is set to grow 20% each year for the next four years.
This is the result of a concerted effort on the part of our government. To help local businesses grow, while simultaneously attracting international entrepreneurs, we've established several special economic zones with business-friendly civil and commercial laws. Free zones have been at the heart of this, with initiatives like the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) –now recognized as one of the top 10 global financial hubs- providing benefits such as zero tax on business income and profits, 100% foreign ownership, and no restrictions on foreign exchange or capital repatriation. These contribute towards a safe and easy to navigate environment for those who are new to the region and the market. It's also something that our neighbors in other MENA countries can look to, as the broader region aims to build on the startup momentum that has grown in recent years.
A positive investment and regulatory environment
As any entrepreneur knows, funding is one of the most important ingredients in the success of any venture. According to Forbes, 22 of the 50 most funded startups in the MENA region in 2021 were based in the UAE. Of these, 13 were fintech businesses. Last year was also a record year for the region with US$1 billion in startup investments, which signals a continuing and seemingly insatiable investor appetite in the tech sector.
We are also aware that a key challenge for businesses establishing themselves in new markets is overcoming market processes, whether that's getting familiar with local legislation or getting the correct licenses to operate. As a 50-year-old nation state, the dated institutions and regulations that exist elsewhere and hold back businesses don't pose the same challenge here– we can be agile, and respond to what entrepreneurs need to make their business thrive. This has recently resulted in our appointment as Chair of the Agile Nations Network by the World Economic Forum.
We're able to move quickly, and a core tenet of this is agile regulation that fosters innovation and entrepreneurship, rather than slowing it down. An income-tax free environment with flexible residency and wholly 100% foreign ownership, together with stable governance and an unparalleled environment of security, safety, tolerance, excellence in education and healthcare, as well as a stunning lifestyle environment have already provided a compelling location choice for many leaders.
This enables us to be genuinely and enthusiastically supportive of entrepreneurship. Every day, we are seeing the ways in which our mindset breeds success– as more and more valuable fintech businesses are built out of the country, it drives more success for the wider region. It's what keeps us innovating and working hard, not only for the startups who have established their roots here, but also for those looking to use the Emirates as a base to expand globally.