Fintech, or financial technology, has become an almost unnoticed part of our everyday lives. From early online banking, it has become an area in which there are new developments so rapidly that it is sometimes hard to keep up.
The award-winning Bahrain FinTech Bay is the Middle East’s leading fintech hub which, among numerous other publications, even produced its own manifesto in December 2018. It is also due to host MENA’s first ‘Fintech for Sustainability Hackathon’ starting this month. Running over four weeks and open to Bahrain university students, industry experts will provide educational sessions on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), fintech industry trends, and the opportunities for connecting the industry to sustainability in the context of Bahrain.
This month too, Bahrain will host the MEA Fintech Forum and in March the island will welcome the Fintech Congress and Exhibition.
The forum will look at issues such as: What will the banking sector look like in 10 years? How do we include all people, no matter how wealthy or poor, in the opportunities presented by fintech? What role can micro-entrepreneurs play? What will the technology of tomorrow look like? How far will artificial intelligence replace your job in banking? Why do we need banking and not banks?
In Bahrain, and across the region, one of the major players in the fintech market is AFS – Arab Financial Services (AFS), which services more than 75 clients across the financial sector in more than 21 countries. It is owned by 39 banks and financial institutions and regulated by the Central Bank of Bahrain.
Bwallet, introduced by the company last year, was the first mobile wallet facilitating peer-to-peer and cashless transactions. Today, it is the market leader across the Kingdom. EasyPay was another first from AFS - Bahrain’s first NFC payment service allowing payments with a tap of the mobile. Other innovations rolled out by AFS have been electronic KYC, Peer-to-Peer (P2P), Peer-to-Merchant (P2M), QR enabled payments, Tokenization, Remittance, WPS and Digital Banking solutions.
Such is the importance of this market sector that, in October 2018, Bahrain Institute of Banking and Finance signed an MoU with AFS to launch a graduate development programme under the “Payments Academy” to train and upskill financial services personnel and those who are engaged in technology solutions related to payments, while opening up new career prospects in this growing market segment.
And in January this year, the Bahrain branch of the global FinTech Consortium announced the launch of Georgetown University’s Professional Development Program in FinTech, an online interactive course specifically designed for professionals in the GCC.
Also, in January, it was announced that UK-based technology company Innervate has chosen Bahrain to open its first regional office servicing the financial sector as the Kingdom strives to transform into a digital economy.
Bahrain’s financial sector has a solid and trusted reputation and the government has recently passed several new world-leading regulations in support of open banking. This, coupled with the enthusiasm from both government and private sector to not only embrace fintech but to become the region’s leader in the sector, bodes well for the
market both in terms of positivity and job and revenue creation.
Bahrain has already seen an influx of fintech firms aiming to grab a slice of, what promises to be, a lucrative regional market and the increase in activity and investment shows no signs of stopping.