Digital Disruption In Dubai

Report from Global Finance'sDigital Bank and Innovators Conference.

Bringing the Global Finance Digital Bank and Innovators Conference to Dubai for the first time was logical since the entire Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has both the building blocks and appetite to drive digital transformation. This was hammered home by ArabNet CEO and founder, Omar Christidis, whose keynote provided an in-depth view of MENA fintech activity.

The first conference session—moderated by Fintech Galaxy CEO Mirna Sleiman—focused on the challenges facing the region and the digital solutions banks are using to address them. One of the biggest hurdles is reaching the unbanked. Mohamed Farag, Chief Digital Officer and Global Head of Transaction Services, CIB spoke of reaching out to fintechs to reach the 45 million unbanked people in Egypt while Padmini Gupta, co-founder of Rise, talked about reaching the many migrant workers in the region who have their feet in two countries.

The second panel discussed different levels and types of equity and debt options for startups in the region. Eric Modave, COO, Arab Bank was the only banker on the panel and he highlighted the need to co-create with fintechs. With collaboration seen as key, all the panelists welcomed the advances of open banking but questioned if the region was prepared for it.

For the “Digital Debate on the Bank of the Future” panel Sridhar Iyer, Head of Mashreq Neo, and Payfort CEO Omar Soudodicentered onwhat the bank of the future and indeed the customer of the future might look like. The smart money, according to the results of live poll of conference attendees, will be on a marketplace style banking future.

After lunch attendees learned how banks are embracing technology and digital solutions to improve customer online journeys, but how a lack of regulation in areas such as cloud computing was hindering digital transformation.

During the MENA Innovation Culture panel, participants debated how innovation varied greatly and was very much tied to specific situations in a diverse landscape. There is no “one size fits all” approach.

For our final panel of the day—Technology and Innovation in Transaction Banking—Navin Gupta, Managing Director of South Asia and MENA at Ripple revealed that if he were to build a transaction bank from scratch he would build it in 90 days on the cloud and that he would list products on Amazon and redistribute them on Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple.

While fellow panellists questioned the suitability of blockchain for payments, conference attendees voted blockchain as the technology that will have the biggest impact on transaction banking in the next 5-10 years.

The way digital banking pans out in the MENA region over the next decade may vary enormously owing to differences in culture, demographics, government support and regulatory rigor but all speakers highlighted collaboration and putting customers first as their key messages.