How UAE's focus on FinTech will propel its rise as a global tech hub

FinTech solutions like peer-to-peer lending can help solve funding challenges for SMEs in the UAE while helping the country diversify

The Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) is spearheading the FinTech development in the emirate. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National

The year 2020 has been a momentous one of significant developments for the UAE, with Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, becoming one of the region's most influential figures.

From the recent normalisation of ties with Israel to the strong leadership demonstrated in the global fight against Covid-19 that won global recognition, the UAE is being transformed into a global force for good.

On the economic and technology front, the normalisation agreement opens the door to a new era of collaboration between an established technology hub, Israel and the Emirates as an ambitious contender.

In this context, the FinTech Abu Dhabi festival being held from November 24 to November 26 serves as an opportunity to showcase not only the excellence of the UAE’s entrepreneurial spirit but also the global outreach of its FinTech industry and digital ecosystem.

It represents an excellent occasion to witness a high-level discussion into the challenges and the opportunities faced by the FinTech ecosystem in the UAE and the wider GCC region.

During recent conversations with senior UAE entrepreneurs, business owners, bankers and politicians, I had a number of eye-opening discussions on the low-hanging fruit at the UAE’s fingertips that could help it become a thriving FinTech hub of digital innovation. With support from the Abu Dhabi Global Market, I believe FinTech – with solutions such as peer-to-peer lending, machine learning to personalise insurance solutions and the use of artificial intelligence for the wealth management business – stands as a serious contender with regards to unlocking the funding challenges faced by the country’s small and medium-sized enterprises.

In doing so, FinTech could catapult the country up the ranks of the global start-up league.

Fully conscious of the strategic importance of promoting financial solutions for SMEs as a driver of job creation and sustainable growth, the ADGM has led the way in consolidating the UAE’s position as a global trade and business hub that serves as a strategic link between the Middle East, Africa, South Asia and the rest of the world.

Among the ambitious initiatives to create a platform that connects entrepreneurs and also enables the exchange of ideas is the annual FinTech Abu Dhabi Innovation Challenge.Now in its fourth year, the 2020 event attracted about 200 applications from companies that proposed innovative solutions to address the pain points of the financial service sector and focus on initiatives to promote financing for SMEs.

So, what exactly are the factors that could help FinTech – and, in particular, peer-to-peer lending – transform the UAE’s SME and digital ecosystem and turn it into a global hub for start-ups?

Undoubtedly, the UAE has several interlocking strengths, namely its strategic location, its recent expansion of alliances with other technology hubs such as Israel, a favourable tax system and free trade zone, an entrepreneurial spirit, a good network of highly successful people around the world, its talent pool and an educated and multilingual population.

The UAE has the highest Human Development Index rating in the GCC.

The country is also in a unique position to capitalise on its competitive advantages to drive and enhance traditional and new economic sectors. Ambitious? Of course. Doable? Without question.

As the UAE looks into the future, FinTech represents an opportunity to diversify the sources of its economic growth.

The country has demonstrated a strong reform will for reforms and diversification is already under way.

In this context, the development of a FinTech ecosystem to support an open, efficient, effective and globally integrated business environment is a key part of the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030.

FinTech innovation, start-ups and a knowledge-based economy will play a central role in Sheikh Mohamed’s vision to transform the economy and rebalance it into a more technology-driven modern global superpower.

Through the ADGM and its FinTech initiative, the UAE is sending a strong signal to the world that “we are open”.

The high-profile event is testament to the evolving leadership of the UAE on the world stage and its growing appeal to global leaders, investors and innovators.

What is certain to the foreign observer peering into the UAE is its potential to be transformed from one of the largest oil producers in the world to a leading hub for technology and innovation.

Ambition, resolve and resources will transform UAE’s vision into reality.

Roxana Mohammadian-Molina is chief strategy officer at London-based FinTech company Blend Network.