What role is FintechSaudi playing in Saudi Arabia's financial ecosystem?
Saudi Arabia's central bank launched FintechSaudi as an initiative to act as an ecosystem developer. We know that fintechs cannot operate on their own. They are dependent on regulations, banks, and investors. Fintechs need to fill gaps in the market and can do so if they are properly managed throughout all the stages. We started by building a map of stakeholders. The central bank partnered with the Capital Market Authority in 2019 to create a physical space that will help attend to fintech needs, create a space for organic growth, and improve access to finance. We will use the space to launch accelerator programs as needed, depending on the stages and needs of fintechs. We are talking to operators around the world to support our programs. Regulators have been opening up the testing environment, the sandbox, and the fintech lab to receive more applications for fintechs wanting to operate, either directly or as infrastructure providers. The first cohort mainly consists of wallets and payment providers. The second group focused more on lending platforms. We will soon start reviewing the third cohort, which has more than 100 applications.
Where would you say Saudi Arabia currently is in its journey to become a cashless society?
No one is aware of the impacts of a 100% cashless society from liquidity or stability standpoints. There is also the impact on trade as well. Every country needs to find its own balance and target. In Saudi Arabia, the government's target is 10%, as beyond that is not considered healthy for the economy. Aging societies like Japan have different healthcare needs and requirements compared to countries with a young population, such as Saudi Arabia. The dynamics and demographics are totally different. Globally, we share the same direction, but with different indexes. Some of the steps we are taking are the introduction of new instruments and payment industry regulations. In recent years, several payment providers and processors, POS, and e-money wallets, including back office wallets for management, have entered the Saudi market.
What balance do you hope to achieve through FintechSaudi's integration plan?
All central banks have committees and forums. When it comes to local regulations and economy, I think we need to develop our own direction. It is encouraging to do so because more international banks and institutions would feel more comfortable to understand the Saudi market and adapt their services accordingly. Culture and population are a just a few distinguishing factors. In Saudi Arabia, we have our own challenges in terms of behavior and adoption. Yet, we have one of the highest mobile penetration rate in the region. Saudi Arabia also ranks high in terms of international collaborations as well. For example, Saudi and Emirati companies collaborate together. We would love to see more companies owned by GCC citizens enter Saudi Arabia and expand their regional presence.
How are sandbox regulations contributing to connecting the dots in the market?
The Sandbox is a complete in-testing environment. The majority of fintechs that come to us are ready to hire, but they need better connectivity. That is why we have more than 55 partnerships across the ecosystem, either with universities, banks, or other providers. Once a fintech enters the sandbox, they are given a period of time to set up their business. Then, they are required to go to market with certain limits and caps. We work closely with them throughout the process. We have already identified seven areas that do not require regulation, but rely a lot on technology and development. It is our role to support fintechs because there are only a few other expensive alternatives in the market. Cybersecurity is another issue that all the financial providers are facing. It takes a lot of time and investment for a start-up to become capable of looking after its cybersecurity.✖