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Gulf regulators push for modernization

The Middle East’s financial centres are keen to collaborate on fintech, in an effort to catch up with US, UK and Asian markets. But with rich pickings on offer, there is also stiff competition to establish fintech dominance.


Chris Kiew-Smith, head of fintech strategy at Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM)

Last October, on the sidelines of its inaugural financial technology summit, Abu Dhabi did something that had never been done before. It brought together the principal financial authorities from around the Persian Gulf (Saudi Arabia, Oman, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Lebanon) and sat them at a table with a single topic on the agenda: the development and regulation of fintech.

“It was the first time that we got together at a chairman/CEO level to talk about fintech and only fintech,” says Chris Kiew-Smith, head of fintech strategy at Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM).

The meeting highlights the focus now placed on financial technology in the Gulf, as the region’s financial centres commit to entering a space they have been slow to engage with until now. It also speaks to a difficult balancing act: the Gulf’s hubs would like to collaborate and learn from each other, yet they are also jostling for the status of regional fintech champion.

In fintech, the Gulf has found itself several steps behind rival financial centres in the US, UK and Asia, where authorities have been nurturing startups for longer.

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