Competitive Advantage: Exploring The Middle East's Potential To Become A Global Fintech Hub Investment in Middle Eastern fintech companies is expected to grow to around US$2 billion in venture capital by 2022, which will fund 465 fintech companies, an increase from $80 million that was raised by 30 fintech companies in 2017.

By Abdullah Faisal Alothman

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As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the fintech scene has boomed in the past few months, with the world adapting to a new digital and economic environment. According to new research by financial consultancy deVere Group, the COVID-19 crisis has driven a gigantic 72% increase in the use of fintech apps in Europe alone. Meanwhile, fintech companies in Asia and the Middle East have also seen strong increases in the use of their apps.This growth comes as no surprise, since people are now having to rely on digital technology to work, communicate, and entertain themselves during the pandemic.

For the Middle East, the demand for e-commerce has particularly contributed to the rise of fintech in this region, with store closures moving purchases online. Indeed, although the COVID-19 crisis has encouraged fintech innovation to rocket across the globe, the Middle East continues to be at the forefront when compared to other countries. With one of the youngest tech-savvy youth populations, strong international talent, and significant funding from venture capital, the Middle East has the competitive edge it needs to accelerate innovation and consolidate its position on the global fintech stage.

The Middle East and North African region has the largest youth population in the world with two out of every three people being under 24. This equates to approximately 300 million young people in the region. This huge youth population presents an opportunity for the Middle East to be innovative, and to reconstruct their economy, with the number of fintech startups in the Middle East expected to exceed 250 this year. The youth are also more likely to embrace tech/digital products, presenting significant potential demand for fintech companies looking to emerge in the region.

What's more, a young population translates into a digital native generation. According to GSMA Intelligence, a mobile industry trade body, the number of unique mobile subscribers is predicted to rise from 275 million in 2017 to 459 million by 2025. Smartphone connections are predicted to rise from 49% of all connections to 74% over the same period. This will be important for fintech companies to evolve in the Middle East.

Related: Rethinking Banking (With Fintech)

Meanwhile, investment in Middle Eastern fintech companies is expected to grow to around US$2 billion in venture capital by 2022, which will fund 465 fintech companies, an increase from $80 million that was raised by 30 fintech companies in 2017. The Milken Institute Centre for Financial Markets reported that the fintech sector in the Middle East is growing at a compounded annual growth rate of 30% due to the acceleration of fintech and the adoption of technology in the region. The average deal size is currently at $2.5 million, with the UAE accounting for 47% of all fintech deals in the region in 2019.

Countries across the Middle East such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia are also receiving substantial support from their governments when it comes to developing the fintech sector. The largest fintech hub in the Middle East, Dubai established the Dubai International Financial Centre that launched a $100 million fund in 2017 to support fintech startups. In Saudi Arabia, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Association launched Fintech Saudi to develop fintechs in the kingdom as well as supporting fintech companies to join the sandbox, an experimental environment for fintech services.

A number of countries in the Middle East are particularly keen to attract international talent as a way of instigating fintech innovation domestically. For example, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have both established a visa system expansion scheme to make it easier for foreign nationals to reside in their countries. In addition, Abu Dhabi launched Tomorrow 2021 in 2018, a three year vision which focuses on attracting and retaining international talent. The outcome of these initiatives have resulted in many Middle Eastern countries to have populations made up of mostly foreign nationals. In fact, last year, there were 35 million international migrants in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, transforming the region into an international talent hub.

The coronavirus pandemic has undeniably played a role in the rise of fintech across the world. The Middle East, however, still has an advantage in becoming a global fintech hub due to its large youth population, considerable venture capital funding, government support and international talent. With the MENA fintech market set to reach $2.5 billion by 2022, the Middle East is developing a fintech industry at a staggering rate.

Related: Take The Lead: The Race Is On For The First Fintech Unicorn To Emerge Out Of The Middle East And Africa Region

Abdullah Faisal Alothman

Founder and Co-Chairman, Geidea Financial Tech and AO Holdings

An entrepreneur from Saudi Arabia, Abdullah Faisal Alothman is the founder and Co-Chairman of Geidea Financial Tech and AO Holdings, as well as the co-founder of United Lemar Company Ltd.

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