The Middle East FinTech revolution
There is nothing short of a Fintech revolution taking place across the Middle East, catalysed by the ongoing pandemic. Deloitte found, that with billions worldwide confined to their homes, the financial technology, or Fintech, industry is benefiting from increased use of online, especially mobile, channels for viewing and managing finances. Research Mastercard conducted in the UAE shows that contactless payments in Q1 of this year were 100 per cent higher than during the same quarter in 2019.
But something even more radical is taking place: the recent release of the latest Bahrain FinTech Bay Bahrain FinTech Gender Balance report – the first of its kind in the GCC – is testament to changing attitudes across a region traditionally perceived to be more socially conservative than most. The report makes a number of recommendations that are truly groundbreaking for the Middle East, including national targets for female representation on boards and formalised flexible working policies to support working care providers.
The region and particularly Bahrain have already taken great strides towards gender equality, especially in the Fintech sector. Today, many of the Kingdom’s most important institutions tasked with driving national growth are led by women. The pioneering FinTech and Innovation Unit of Bahrain’s award-winning financial regulator, the Central Bank of Bahrain, is headed by a woman. Bahrain’s innovative government Fund of Funds, Al Waha, driving VC growth throughout the region, is headed by a woman. Across the region, one in three startups is founded by women.
A long road ahead
But there is still a long way to go before MENA can claim to meet the global standards of even more established FinTech ecosystems. Without proper representation of women at board, management and founder level, there can be no real FinTech revolution. And while the recommendations of the report may be radical, they are achievable. Today, there is already at least one woman sitting on the board of every single S&P 500 company. Major cultural and social paradigm shifts typically take time, but the pandemic has shown how quickly a major shift can occur given the right conditions. Just look to the surge in e-payments across the Middle East, a region known for its heavy reliance on cash. The pandemic might be one of the most significant global health crises in living memory, but it has served as a catalyst for digital transformation across a range of sectors. Time will tell if it proves to be a catalyst for social change too.