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UAE hits its digital stride in KYC and blockchain

The UAE was already a fintech pioneer but Covid turned it into a leader. Banks and government agencies are furiously rolling out blockchain-backed services that do everything from seamless KYC checks to detecting fraud in supply chain financing.

Shoppers walk in front of Etisalat Telecommunication in Dubai Mall
Source: Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters.

When Norbloc was founded in 2016, it took a few years to find its feet. Headquartered in Sweden, the data expert, specializing in know-your-customer (KYC) technology, set out to sell its digital wares across western Europe.

“In our early days, we worked with banks in Sweden, Norway, Belgium and Greece, and found that not an awful lot of financial digitization was going on,” says the firm’s chief executive and co-founder, Astyanax Kanakakis. “Banks were very sceptical about working with each other, even though they are symbiotic in many ways.”

So, the following year, it switched track and headed to the United Arab Emirates, opening an office in the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), the region’s main financial hub.

Astyanax Kanakakism, Norbloc CEO_400.jpg
Astyanax Kanakakis, Norbloc

At first, things moved slowly. The firm worked on a digital pilot scheme with a dozen or so local and regional banks – but again it developed slowly, bearing little fruit.

Then came its big break.