Few people batted an eyelid in May 2016 when Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM), which had been open for business for just over six months, announced a proposal for its "fintech regulatory framework," amongst a series of other announcements related to the freezone's foundation.
Nearly 18 months later, ADGM’s fintech ambitions are impossible to ignore. That initial regulatory framework gave birth to the centre’s RegLab incubator programme, one of the first fintech incubator programmes in the Arabian Gulf. After attracting 11 interested parties for its first round in 2016, more than double that number have applied for the incubator’s second round, with the selected firms due to be announced on Sunday.
Scarcely a day goes by nowadays without the announcement of a fresh fintech partnership between ADGM and a major financial services firm, from within the region and beyond, or an international government entity that is keen to partner with ADGM in the space. On Saturday it was the turn of Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank.
The centre’s fintech programme hits a new milestone this Sunday, with the opening of the two-day FinTech Abu Dhabi 2017 summit, attracting major names from across the region and beyond, including Saeed Amidi, chief executive of Silicon Valley venture capital fund Plug and Play, and Fadi Ghandour, the executive chairman of Dubai-based venture capital firm Wamda Capital.
The embrace of fintech by financial centres across the region – including Dubai, Bahrain and Qatar to name but a few – shows the importance of the technology for financial service firms and governments throughout the region.
Far from a passing fad, the embrace of fintech promises to help foster innovation culture throughout the Arabian Gulf, while enabling banks and governments to benefit from the efficiencies and cost-savings that such new technologies can bring.
While competition among regional centres to attract fintech entrepreneurs is intensifying, there is plenty of growth to be shared around; Accenture earlier this year estimated that the Middle East had attracted just one per cent of total global fintech investment since 2010, indicating opportunities for all.
ADGM’s early moves in the space however position it to receive a large portion of this investment, with its ambitions to be the fintech hub for the Middle East very realistic.