Seamless Saudi Arabia opened the doors for the second edition of its annual event, setting the stage for a day filled with insightful discussions and industry exploration.
Over 500 exhibitor stands and thousands of participants gathered at the Riyadh Front for Seamless to engage on topics including payments, fintech, retail, e-commerce, home delivery, and digital marketing within Saudi Arabia.
Fintech’s the word
Given Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 ambitions, the region’s fintech ecosystem may have a hugely important role in helping to diversify the economy, support the growth of the e-commerce sector and more.
Nezar Alhaidar, managing director for Fintech Saudi, explained: “The driving force of any development in Saudi Arabia in general is Saudi Vision 2030. This vision is the catalyst of growth and evolvement across multiple sectors and industries across Saudi Arabia. The financial sector is no exception to that.
“This growth can be seen in the financial development programme, which was one of the 13 programmes launched with Vision 2030. It focused on developing the financial sector and working together with the regulators and infrastructure providers to help grow the financial ecosystem”.
Alhaidar also explained the growth of the fintech sector in recent years: “When we started in Fintech Saudi in 2018, we identified only 10 fintechs operating in the market. By 2022, when we issued our annual report, we found that there were 147 operating fintechs under the umbrella of the Capital Markets Authority (CMA), the Central Bank of Saudi Arabia (SAMA), as well as non-regulated activity. For today, we have over 180 operating fintechs in Saudi Arabia.
“The ultimate aim is to achieve over 525 operating fintechs in Saudi Arabia; create over 18,000 jobs in the fintech domain; accumulate over 12billion Saudi Riyal of investment in fintech companies; as well as generate 13 billion Saudi Riyal in Saudi GDP.”
Challenges and concerns
Despite the obvious optimism surrounding the recent growth of the fintech ecosystem in Saudi Arabia, a number of talks also acknowledged a range of challenges that need to be overcome in order for the sector to reach its potential.
Arif Raza, the head of digital payments at Saudi Awwal Bank (SAB), a Riyadh-based Saudi joint stock company in which banking group HSBC owns a minority stake, explained the challenges for regulators. Raza commented: “Keeping the pace of regulation with the market innovation development is always a challenge.
“In this market, SAMA is doing a fantastic job, as well as Saudi Payments, who are working closely with stakeholders and in the market – banks, digital finance companies and fintechs – to bring regulation as close to enabling maximum innovation as possible. But it remains a challenge and it will remain so to keep the regulation up with the pace of innovation”.
David Cunningham, global head of strategy and partnerships for digital assets at Citi Bank, which boasts 2,649 branches in 19 countries, explained the biggest challenges the global bank faces: “Our biggest challenge is being regulated in 95 countries is quite a bit of work and operating in 150 is quite a business. We’ve got a tremendous team here and across the region who know the market on the ground. For us, the challenge is going fast enough to deliver the technology to their hands to collaborate.
“Everything is a journey. Payments take multi-years and multi-decades to really evolve. It’s about going on a journey with the locals”.
The talent problem
Omar Alageel, chief digital officer at Arab National Bank, explained that, for him, the biggest challenge revolves around talent. Alageel said: “I believe one of the biggest challenges that we face on the market is a talent shortage. Training and attracting talent is not easy at all.
“Say you are introducing a new product or service, it’s very difficult to find someone who already has experience in this area. We need to invest, educate and develop new talent. We also need to import talent from other markets”.
Abdulaziz Abanmi, chief operating officer at Saudi Payments, said: “We can list a very long list of challenges. However, the only challenge that personally concerns me is also around talent. Evolving, retaining and discovering new talent in the payment industry is extremely difficult.
“To be honest, the pace of development in the payment industry has well surpassed the pace of talent development. I hope I am wrong, but I think, that years down the road, we will be worrying about talent more than the regulatory space”.
The talent solutions
Abanmi also explained one way to ease talent shortages for the long term: “Last year, Saudi Payments launched its Payments Graduate Programme which targets graduates and students. We take them into very intensive payment training; which includes job and classroom training. Then they can help by taking part in Saudi Payments or joining the payment ecosystem”.
David Cunningham of Citi Bank also offered another perspective on talent solutions: “In terms of talent; you always want homegrown talent to emerge. I once met the commercial director of Saudi Pro League soccer here, who said that if they bring international stars here, the stadiums become full – meaning that the local kids get inspired and say I want to do this.
“Collaborating internationally creates an environment that allows talent to flourish naturally. We want to create an ecosystem that produces a lot of indigenous talent”.
Sealing the deal at Seamless
Saudi Awwal Bank (SAB) also signed off on a new partnership with Wise, the global international money transfers and management firm, at Seamless Saudi Arabia 2023. The two entities aim to provide SAB customers with faster, more secure, and more cost-effective solutions for sending and receiving money internationally.
Bandar Al-Gheshayan, chief of wealth and personal banking officer at SAB, said: “This partnership is part of our efforts to empower customers to carry out seamless and efficient international transfers, adhering to the highest standards of quality, speed, and security, we also look forward to continuing our contributions to the development of the financial sector in the Kingdom, keeping pace with digital transformation by offering the best modern digital banking solutions.
“We are dedicated to delivering exceptional digital services, utilizing state-of-the-art technologies that support the rapid evolution of the financial sector.”