Think BIG!

by BTM

Wed, 04 October 2023

Think BIG!

Bahraini entrepreneur, financial professional and startup veteran, Tariq Sanad, has a host of notable achievements to his name. In his current role as Chief Financial Officer at Tarabut, Mr. Sanad is honing his skills to further propel the company that is set to be a key player in the realm of Fintech.

He tells Farah Baig about his career, the role of open banking, and the MENA region’s standing in the world of Fintech.

“I grew up in Bahrain, and studied here too, a fact that I’m extremely proud of because people often ask me if I’ve done anything otherwise. I think it just shows what we’ve been able to do in Bahrain,” says Tarabut CFO, Tariq Sanad.

The trailblazing Bahraini has led a successful career in the region, and played a leading role in the development of well-recognised startups in the region. “A little-known fact about me is that I started my career at Gulf Air, straight out of university, although I only stayed there for a few months,” states Mr. Sanad.

In 2003, he moved to the UAE and joined the multinational consumer goods company Procter & Gamble where he took on various roles over the course of nine years. “I believe that really was my second school - working with a big Fortune 500 company and running businesses valued at above a billion USD,” he says.

Becoming An Entrepreneur
It was after his substantial start in the corporate world that he would discover his knack for entrepreneurship. “After my time at Procter & Gamble I invested, as an angel investor, in the company Lime & Tonic. This was how I got into the entrepreneurial spirit and met with the founders of Careem which led to me being one of the very first people at Careem,” he says. “It was a great journey where we really took an idea from infancy to a great success within the startup ecosystem in the region — something I’m very proud of.”

Prior to being appointed at Tarabut, he served as the CFO of Pure Harvest Smart Farms, a sustainable agribusiness which notably was one of the highest-funded startups in the MENA region with USD387 million in funding. “It was a very interesting experience trying to grow fruit and vegetables in our climate which is one of the harshest in the world,” he says.

“I think I’ve found my niche with companies that have raised significant amounts of money, reached their series A where their concept is proven, and tried to get them to scale up and really mature,” he adds.

He was then given the opportunity to join the Bahraini startup, Tarabut, and work very closely with its founder and CEO, Abdulla Almoayed, who had established the company in 2018.

“This was an offer I simply couldn’t refuse as it brings me back home,” he says enthusiastically. “I’ve been appointed as the CFO at Tarabut, but if you get into the entrepreneurial space, you have to be a jack of all trades and have a bit more of a pragmatic approach to solving problems because that’s really what entrepreneurship is all about,” he says.

Exploring Open Banking
He joins Tarabut following the company’s recent USD32 million Series A fundraise and will focus on further institutionalising the company and supporting its expansion in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. “Tarabut and Abdulla are both champions of open banking in the region. In fact, we were one of the first Fintech companies to recently receive an Open Banking Certification from the Saudi Central Bank - SAMA,” he says.

Open banking is pegged to effectively enable the Fintech ecosystem to thrive while allowing banks to cater to a larger number of customers. “This enables processes such as lending to be more streamlined as all of the information is aggregated to make decision making extremely fast and secure – the intent and concept behind open banking,” he adds.

To illustrate, he explains one of the solutions the company is providing to a partner in Bahrain. “We’re enabling them to provide loans within a couple of minutes as opposed to a whole two-week period of providing everything,” he explains.

“We’re essentially facilitating the connectivity and the ability of all of that information to be provided pretty much instantly, without paperwork but with the security provided through verification. I think a solution such as this which takes people through processes this quickly is one way of helping customers,” he adds.

As far as open banking’s capabilities go, he believes that they are, in essence, only at the tip of the iceberg. “I believe that there’s massive room for growth, but unlocking that is obviously going to include having to face challenges that you haven’t had to before. And I think that’s the beauty of it, right? Personally, I thrive on the idea of looking at a problem and trying to find a solution for it,” he says.

What About Security Concerns?
The open banking solution is highly regulated and there are incredible amounts of protocol and compliance requirements put into place. “It’s not an industry that is unregulated and governments are very intense in ensuring the protection of consumers, and we are enabling that as well,” he states.

Through open banking a consumer also has fewer points of contact, and therefore with fewer interactions, leakage of information is not as easy. “You’re interacting directly within a secure environment. Now, all companies are exposed to security concerns. I don’t think that anybody takes that away from you, but with all of the requirements of compliance that we have in place and the fact that we’re highly regulated, I would believe that people would find comfort in that,” he says.

Fintech in the MENA Region
“I definitely believe that the MENA region is a thriving area for the Fintech industry. We’re a region where banking is still not accessible to a considerable part of the population,” he says, adding that it presents an opportunity.

Governments in the region have been supporting the Fintech industry in order to enable the development of financial services and to empower the unbanked to be banked in ways that are convenient, fast and secure. “We also have Islamic Banking within the different types of banking products, which has been championed in this part of the world, and rightly so. Fintech has an opportunity to further develop the sector,” he says.

He explains that the MENA region is also home to a very young population with a high adoption rate compared to other parts of the world. “We are looking for services and growth. If you’re thinking of finding a place for you to come in and develop, this is the right place for it. And we see it in a very active Fintech community in Bahrain, Saudi and also the UAE. Therefore, all of this support is going to grow this ecosystem. And for fintech… this is the time,” he says.

On a More Personal Note
When it comes to feeling rewarded, Mr. Sanad believes it is twofold: the financial success of the company

and the impact. “And it’s not just about the impact on consumers, but on the people that have worked with me throughout the journey. Seeing the people that you interviewed or mentored, at the start of their career, being C-suite members of different startups, and venturing into different industries is part of a legacy that is very fulfilling,” he says with a smile.

As for the youth in university or entering the fintech ecosystem, he shares this advice: “Think big! One of the reasons that Abdulla has inspired me is that he thought big. Bahrain is a great place to kick off, but don’t let the borders be your restraint. Think of a big problem and try to solve it because that’s what the opportunity is – in having a greater impact. So, be excited about it, capture a big problem and solve it. That’s where success lays.”