UK and Saudi Arabia can leverage off each other in FinTech evolution

Saudi Arabia is UK’s primary trading partner in the Middle East and the UK is kingdom’s closest European ally

The Saudi British Joint Business Council and the Saudi/UK Tech Hub led a trade and investment FinTech mission to Riyadh. Photo: Fintech Saudi
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This month, the Saudi British Joint Business Council and the Saudi/UK Tech Hub led a trade and investment FinTech mission to Riyadh.

As part of the visit, the delegates engaged with some of the kingdom's leading FinTech players to discuss strengthening collaboration.

Our UK delegation was impressed by the modern, vibrant and progressive Saudi Arabia they came across. The FinTech mission was encouraged by the kingdom’s consistent message for technological evolution, its unique transformative economic and social reforms, and its keen desire to collaborate.

When I visited Saudi Arabia in October 2019, I had said that the kingdom could be on the brink of a FinTech revolution and projected that over the next decade, the country would embark on a journey of transformation that would catapult it to the forefront of the scene.

Clearly, I was wrong. It did not take Saudi Arabia a decade to kick-start its FinTech journey. The Arab world’s biggest economy is on the fast track to becoming not just regional, but a global FinTech hub.

Having recognised the importance of developing a diversified and effective financial sector to support Saudi Arabia’s economic development, public and private sectors have embarked on a journey to deliver the Financial Sector Development Programme (FSDP).

This year has been another milestone in the development of the Saudi FinTech industry: on May 24, the Saudi Council of Ministers approved the kingdom’s FinTech strategy as a new pillar in the Saudi Vision 2030.

In the UK, we are eager to support our Saudi friends and contribute to their FinTech success story, which in turn, will support entrepreneurship and diversification.

Saudi Arabia’s FinTech strategy aims to support the kingdom in becoming a leading force in the sector, with Riyadh becoming a global tech hub.

And this is where Saudi Arabia’s goals align with UK.

The UK is home to the largest and most forward-looking cluster of financial and professional services firms and a consumer base with one of the world’s highest FinTech adoption rates. Saudi Arabia has an emerging yet fast-growing and vibrant FinTech ecosystem and an ambition to become a leading strategic FinTech player located in between three continents.

The opportunities are clear: partnerships, customer opportunity and access to capital.

Furthermore, the diversity of the UK’s FinTech ecosystem means that a number of UK-born FinTech firms present close synergies with the values and the profile of the Saudi customer.

British investors have also been clear about their desire to support Saudi FinTech entrepreneurs by investing in high-value companies and supporting their growth.

One such example is Oryx Fund, which is a Mena focused investment fund from London-based investment firm Hambro Perks, with a mandate to invest in game-changing early-stage technology companies led by great entrepreneurs in sectors such as FinTech.

Amid an increasingly polarised global economic order, both the UK and Saudi Arabia find themselves at strategic junctions in their global economic, political and social trajectory, and are seeking strategic partners that can help them deliver their goals.

Saudi Arabia is UK’s primary trading partner in the Middle East and the UK is kingdom’s closest European ally.

The UK was among the first in the world to recognise Saudi Arabia, with a diplomatic delegation sent to the kingdom. In turn, Saudi Arabia’s embassy in London was its second official foreign affairs body abroad.

Since that day, the two nations have worked together tirelessly to safeguard global energy security, lead peace efforts in the Middle East and supported each other through challenging times.

However, as Saudi Arabia develops and focuses on enabling financial institutions to support private sector growth, we must build a partnership around finance, technology and regional growth.

This was also the message conveyed by UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak when he met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the G20 summit recently and highlighted the importance of working together.

Over the past few years, Saudi Arabia has been the birthplace of several FinTech success stories such as peer-to-peer (P2P) lending platform Lendo or buy-now-pay-later (BNPL) FinTech Tamara.

We want to ensure that the success story not only continues, but accelerates.

Roxana Mohammadian-Molina is chief strategy officer at London-based FinTech company Blend Network and board member of the Saudi British Joint Business Council

Updated: November 22, 2022, 4:30 AM
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