Future Foresight: How Disruptive Businesses Can Take Advantage Of The Middle East's Ongoing Digital Transformation

For disruptive business models to capitalize and make the most of high fintech adoption rates in the region, they should always aim to be fast, both by expanding quickly, and working with the latest technology.

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Countries in the MENA region have long been diversifying their economies by investing in new digital technologies, but the COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly drawn attention amongst both regulators and emerging businesses to the need for prioritizing the fintech sector. Now that the market is big enough to attract overseas investors, the need to move fast is still, as ever, key to real scale and growth.

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My company, HyperPay, is an award-winning and leading service provider in the MENA region, serving the largest merchants, governments, and banks since 2014. Year on year, HyperPay has helped merchants grow their sales by continuously offering new market centric payment solutions, and closing our latest funding round at US$36.7 million, we were delighted to recently welcome entities like Mastercard, Amwal, and AB Ventures as new investors. We already offer a wide array of products, but the proceeds from this round will help us accelerate our growth and design solutions to redefine the future of the MENA region as we imagine it: powered by seamless cashless payments, in no time, and with no extra effort.

We believe in our mission because just like building a strong online presence is no longer an option for businesses, helping to build the future of the digital economy is now an imperative for countries in the Middle East that wish to ensure their economic future. A study from the University of Cambridge set out to review regional fintech landscapes, as well as how MENA jurisdictions "have responded to the opportunities and challenges associated with fintech through regulatory efforts and processes." Their findings underscore that the COVID-19 pandemic led regulators to realize the value and potential of fintech, as they report perceiving fintech to support in market development (85%), promoting financial inclusion (77%), competition (69%), and the broader adoption of digital financial services (62%), meaning they're more favorable to fintech than the global average.

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Compared to any other part of the world, the Digital Economy Index (measuring digital maturity based on foundations, talent, innovation, adoption, and local production) between 2010 and 2020 relative to the GCC region grew the fastest, and a Fintech Saudi report found that over 70% of people in the 16-49 age demographic use at least one fintech solution. This reflects major investors' belief that the Middle East can be digital transformation's future and home. So, how can disruptive business models capitalize and make the most of this point in history?

For starters, they should always aim to be fast, both by expanding quickly, and working with the latest technology, as adoption rates in the region are sky-high: GCC countries are the second-highest region in the world for 5G penetration, only second to North America. A focused localization strategy will go a long way, characterized by product differences across countries, sectors, and sometimes even single merchants. Regional expansion helps boost authority, but it's only worth doing when done right: HyperPay is expanding to Egypt, Qatar, and Oman, with existing offices in KSA, UAE, Jordan, Lebanon, and Bahrain, but it's been a long time coming after launching in 2014. In addition to local patents and license regulations, legislation differs by country, and a thorough and systematic understanding of government rules is always essential. New businesses should focus on targeting one country, and scaling locally, or aim to expand quickly as not to miss out on opportunities.

Before the COVID-19 crisis, digital payments were made or received by 33% of adults in the region, and only 1.5% of retailers were online, but that's all changing now. We saw it firsthand at HyperPay, working 17-hour days to help businesses get online and ensure their survival. Anticipating the impact of the next few years will remain crucial, as we move into the next phase of the digital transformation happening before our eyes.

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