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Understanding the Fintech Ecosystem in Saudi Arabia

Updated: Aug 27, 2021

For Episode 9 of AstroLabs’ Saudi Market Entry Series, we invited the Director of Fintech Saudi, Nejoud Al Mulaik, to talk to our audience about the fintech ecosystem in the Kingdom and about the role Fintech Saudi plays in helping and facilitating the establishment and growth of new and emerging fintech companies in the region.

Here’s the recap of the episode which was hosted by AstroLabs’ Business Development Lead, Alex Nicholls.

Introduction to Fintech Saudi

Fintech Saudi is an initiative launched in 2018 by the Saudi Central Bank (SAMA) in collaboration with the Capital Markets Authority (CMA) under the Financial Sector Development Program (FSDP) to support the development of the fintech industry in Saudi Arabia.

They support the development of fintech industry in KSA by:

· Supporting the development of the infrastructure required by the fintech industry

· Building capabilities and talent required by fintech companies

· Supporting fintech entrepreneurs at every stage of their development

To achieve these objectives, they have collaborated with various universities, government entities, banks, investors, and corporates.

How Fintech Saudi helps Fintechs in Saudi Arabia

Here are some of the areas where Fintech Saudi plays a crucial role in supporting the fintech companies in KSA.

  1. Clarification from regulators – They act as an agent working on providing regulatory understanding and support for the fintech businesses that wish to operate in the Kingdom.

  2. Programs to assist with finding and recruiting talent – They develop and manage accelerator programs as well as training programs to develop fintech literacy across various sectors.

  3. Programs to support fintechs at every stage of their development – They organize programs to help fintechs with their operational, technical, and other challenges.

  4. Introductions to partners (investors, banks etc.) – They connect and introduce fintechs to the right investors and banking partners.

  5. Promote fintech solutions in the marketplace – They create awareness and communicate usefulness of fintech solutions enabling wider adoption of fintech solutions in the country.

  6. Help resolve pain points – They act as a mentor helping fintechs navigate through their journey of setting up, market entry, and growth in the Saudi fintech landscape.

Timeline of major milestones of Fintech Saudi

This is the timeline of the major achievements of Fintech Saudi in 2020.

The publication of the Fintech Access Guide continues to help fintechs across the globe and within the country with valuable insights about the fintech ecosystem of Saudi Arabia. Fintech Saudi also launched Fintech Directory, which is a directory of information and contact details about every finance and fintech-related entity in the Kingdom.

Their Fintech Accelerator program run in November 2020 graduated 10 early-stage fintech startups. They are working on organizing more such programs in the near future.

Launch of Fintech Physical Hub

Fintech Saudi is in the process of developing a physical hub in King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD). The hub, which is expected to be opened soon, will function as a Fintech lab and a co-working space. It will also be used as a venue for events and innovation programs.

Fintech growth in Saudi Arabia

From 20 fintech companies operating in the Kingdom in 2019 to over 60 in 2020, Saudi Arabia’s fintech industry has seen accelerated growth of more than 3x in the past one year.

Fintechs are looking at expanding into Saudi Arabia and operating from the Kingdom because of its:

· Population of 32 million

· A young tech-savvy customer base

· High consumer purchasing power

· Changing culture

In addition, KSA offers opportunities to fintechs to be a pillar of other emerging industries such as agriculture, tourism, entertainment etc.

Options for entering the Saudi market

There are various ways for a fintech company to enter the Saudi Arabian market.

1. Establish a subsidiary of an existing company

2. Start a new fintech company – via MISA’s Entrepreneurship program

3. Sale of license technology to a Saudi-based startup

4. Appoint a Sales Agent

These are the regulators and government authorities related to fintech that any new entity would have to interact with when setting up their operations in the region.

Fintech Testing Environments in KSA

Saudi Central Bank (SAMA) and Capital Market Authority (CMA) have launched their own testing environments called SAMA Regulatory Sandbox and CMA Fintech Lab. The Regulatory sandbox focuses on developing solutions concerning regulations and the Fintech lab focuses on startups that build applications of those regulations.

What should you do before entering the Saudi market?

Here are the top tips and best practices to follow when starting or expanding your fintech company to the Kingdom.

· Visit Saudi Arabia

· Understand different stakeholders in the fintech ecosystem (Government entities, Banks, Investors, Fintechs)

· Understand regulatory framework and stay updated on the changes

· Read Vision 2030 and FSDP documentation

· Contribute to the local economy

· Understand your customer and localize content

Additional resources:

· Fintech Access Guide by Fintech Saudi

· Financial Sector Development Program

That brings us to the end of this special episode on Fintech in Saudi Arabia. If you want to know more about the fintech industry in the Kingdom or have any specific fintech-related questions, feel free to write to us at [email protected] and one of our expert advisors would get in touch with you.

Our next episode for the Saudi Market Entry Series will air on 27 April 2021 and it will discuss Top tips on relocating to Saudi Arabia featuring Intouch Relocations. You can register for the event here.

You can also find the recaps of all previous episodes of the series here.

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