SIMON GALPIN, THE MANAGING DIRECTOR, BAHRAIN EDB
It’s in no way novel to say that for a long time, the feeling has persisted that the Middle East has been a consumer of technology rather than a driver of it. For almost as long, commentators from the Middle East have countered that this is set to change - and that the Middle East is ready to take a leading role in defining the trajectory of technological progress.
As financial services and technology converge and FinTech emerges and expands as a force, I sense that claim is being heard more and more. But always the question hangs - ‘prove it’.
Proving it is always the difficult part. But I am convinced it is happening – in fact it will probably arrive before we recognise it. We are emerging into a new order where concentrations of technological leadership have diffused, and where speed of movement can trump established leadership positions.
Leadership now is about momentum as well as size and that is where the Gulf countries – nimble, assertive, focused, can begin to shape the trajectory of change. A recent report by start-up Genome found there would be no successor to Silicon Valley, but instead 30 different ecosystems growing to create a broader constellation.
Even without the breakout tech superstars that dominate the global economy, the Middle East has the ability to shape the way those companies and their successors, wherever they emerge, operate and thrive. Some of this comes down to creating new regulatory environments.
The Middle East has an advantage because it can make things happen fast. It can take areas where it excels, in our case financial services, and anticipate regulation – be the first to see where the trajectory of technology is taking us and act to make it a reality.
In Bahrain we have brought in a host of new laws, often based on established best practise in western markets, but also accommodative of a tech-enabled future. Our Central Bank has brought in far-sighted regulations oncryptocurrency exchanges, open banking and Robo-advisory.
This is real leadership – not just anticipating change but incentivising it. We have a regulatory sandbox and we are building a true ecosystem around Bahrain FinTech Bay with multi-nationals like Visa now coming on board. All of that was done in a time period unthinkable in many more established markets.
Bahrain is not alone – many Middle Eastern countries are seizing the initiative. This is not a competition, it is a collaboration. A family of complementary ecosystems with different strengths will be the real determinant of success – the common denominator being the speed with which each is moving, integrating, and learning from each other. That gives me the confidence to say that the Middle East has every prospect of being a leader and shaper of the technological changes to come.