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UAE fintech: expectations game

The United Arabian Emirates is no doubt a global wonder. Global hub, expats’ oasis, rich people’s tax haven. Flocks of professionals are moving mostly to Dubai for temporary residence, work or to install their core business there. This tiny country looks a lot like modern Babylon, giving shelter to hundreds of nationalities, all co-existing on this small patch of dry land.

Naturally, you expect a LOT when coming here. All the modern buildings, all the modern ways of business, all the modern way of life.

The UAE thrives as a tax hub, hosting multiple IT companies from all over the world. Most of them would produce products and services for the globe. The same goes for fintech., Stripe, Adyen — all have their hubs in Dubai. Surprisingly, but not really, the local market does not win that much from it.

Fintech companies and crypto companies of all sorts loooove Dubai. Why this love does not convert to the local fintech boom, that is the question I am searching for the answer to.

When asking expats about their local experiences with payments, money transfers, e-commerce, and banks, you mostly hear that everything is pretty standard. Bank cards are everywhere, contactless payments are everywhere. You have the local superapp (Careem) and a few specialized ones.

One thing that local expats mention is that the banks are not as modern as they could be. That it is a struggle to share a bill, drop money to your friend’s number or card, or simply pay a landlord.

It is true that the UAE banking is lagging behind the neobanking trend that we oversee everywhere. Local largest banks are, for the lack of a better word, quite basic. Their user scenarios are unnecessarily unfriendly and awkward.

Checkbook and writing checks surfaced in UAE as a thing, even though I thought it is the USA’s legacy quirk. Money transfers between banks are still a tough task, the one you need to conquer once to learn how it works.

Hosting world’s best fintech companies is not the same as benefiting from them in daily life. It seems logical that UAE is focused on bringing the world to UAE rather than on the local scene perfection. But the expat community is growing and becoming more demanding. Following the demand, plenty of local fintechs started to appear.

YAP and Pyypl for the neobanking experience. Ziina, to cover the empty space for quick money transfers between local banks. Baraka, to cover the empty space for the investment game, buying-selling stocks, and whatnot. And many more.

Fintech is one of the industries that still hire a lot in Dubai. With the recent firings that happened all across the globe in IT, fintech vacancies kept flowing in UAE.

It means that UAE will be the next big thing for the fintech people.

As Dubai continues to attract talent, human capital and not just tax-haven-hungry business travelers, the fintech scene will develop. There is no other way, as the human capital comes from the most interesting backgrounds, those who have seen better, tried better and developed fintech themselves.

However, we need to wait and see.



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Anna Kuzmina

Anna Kuzmina



Member since

21 Jan 2019



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This post is from a series of posts in the group:

Asia Financial Services

Covering all aspects of financial services in Asia from banking in China to algo trading in Japan.

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