The 4th MEA Fintech Forum, hosted by Bank ABC, MENA’s leading international bank and held under the patronage of the Central Bank of Bahrain, concludes on a defining note as financial services executives, fintech experts, thought leaders and an international audience of over 2000 delegates concur that the financial services are at a critical juncture and would emerge stronger and more agile than ever before from the COVID-19 crisis.
Themed ‘Banking Beyond Digital’, the Forum’s expertly curated agenda saw two days of stimulating discussions on nine pertinent subjects impacting the industry today, namely: 2021- Path to Recovery, Bank of the Future, Regulation in the Digital Age, Sustainability & Inclusion, Digital Payments, the Digital Ecosystem with a focus on China, Digitals Currencies, and the top of mind threat, Cybersecurity.
The Forum assembled on an interactive virtual platform, leading commentators including Dr. Gillian Tett, editor-at-large, Financial Times and BBC presenter Stephen Sackur, and Dr, Ziad Daoud of Bloomberg, with a diverse representation of industry leaders, pioneers, regulators and all those playing a pivotal role in shaping the future of the banking industry in the region.
In his welcome remarks Dr. Khaled Kawan, Group Chief Executive Officer of Bank ABC highlighted the impressive trajectory of the MEA Fintech Forum and the digital transformation agenda that the Forum has inspired. He expressed confidence that this virtual edition, held on the back of the pandemic, will help in driving collaboration and access to knowledge for the region to accelerate its digital transformation.
The inaugural keynote was delivered by Bank ABC’s Deputy Group CEO, Sael Al Waary, remarked, “The arrival of COVID-19 pandemic has turbo-charged the digitization of financial services across the world. We have witnessed half a decade of change in just a few months and as we move from response to recovery, banks and financial institutions must build on this, reassessing their priorities.” He noted that the path to recovery will be Digital with as AI and data science becoming more deeply embedded into our lives,” finally, he added, “the path beyond recovery will move from digital to invisible.”
A key highlight of this year’s Forum was the Regulator’s Round Table, which brought together the Central Bank of Bahrain’s Governor HE Rasheed Mohammed Al Maraj, Saudi Arabian Monitory Authority’s Governor HE Dr. Ahmed Abdulkarim Alkholifey and Secretary General of the Financial Stability Board, Dietrich Domanski in a stimulating discussion on the role of regulators in the digital age.
Reiterating Bahrain’s commitment to enabling fintech innovation, HE Rasheed Mohammed Al Maraj, the Governor of the Central Bank of Bahrain said: “I believe that the role of the regulator in this part of the world is to lead. While historically regulators were one step behind the industry in terms of innovation and technology, what the pandemic taught us is that as we move forward, we have to be prepared and think ahead.”
The Central Bank of Bahrain has started the digital transformation journey in the Kingdom 5 years ago, but we know that tremendous changes are coming our way as new technologies will disrupt the industry. As we continue to learn, we shouldn’t shy away from the challenge and we must be prepared to build the right skills and put the right ecosystem in place.” he added.
The Forum’s first day also included a captivating “CEO’s Round Table” discussion between Dr. Khaled Kawan of Bank ABC, Martin Tricaud of HSBC, and Atiq Rehman of Citi, who explored how they are responding to the demand for digital banking, the double threat of COVID-19 and negative interest rates and the rising investment in digital.
The CEO’s panel was followed by the Challenger Banks CEO’s panel on the second day with ila Bank’s Mohamed Al Maraj in discussion with Robert Bell, CEO of the Australian digital bank 86 400 and Deniz Güven, CEO of Mox, Standard Charterd’s neobank, a session moderated by Anthony Thomson, founder of Atom Bank, Metro and 86 400.
Over the two days world-leading experts delivered insightful keynotes including digital pioneer and AI scientist Dr. Inma Martinez discussing the increasingly important role of AI in banking, Dr. Edwin Van der Ouderaa, sharing Accenture’s insight on the future of banking, Jamal Fakhro, Managing Partner with KPMG, discussing his perspective on the MENA region and Hari Moorthy, Global Head of Transaction Banking, Goldman Sachs and Giulio Romanelli, Partner, McKinsey highlighting the evolution of international trade and transaction banking with digital innovation.
Author of The Hunt for Unicorns, former MD of China Investment Corporation (CIC) Winston Ma held a special session with a focus on China, Mahesh Bhalerao, Global Director, Partnerships at Google threw new light on the future of digital payments, Ciaran Martin, Founding CEO of the National Cyber Security Centre, UK and Professor, University of Oxford gave a fascinating account on cyber threats and the dark side of digital while Dr. Simon Hayward, Author, The Agile Leader explored how senior leaders can best navigate the new disruptive technologies and who will be the winners of the post-pandemic world.
As the digital revolution continues to gain momentum, technological innovation in banking is expected to accelerate. Biometrics, AI, digital currencies, automation and data analytics will all play an increasingly important role and will require more effective regulation and governance going forward.
Technological innovation across the sector is expected to change relationships with many delegates highlighting the need for a more flexible, collaborative, partnership approach that allows for an increasingly diverse range of stakeholders to contribute.
The need for financial institutions to embrace the operational benefits of digital transformation has been accelerated as a result of the pandemic and with contactless becoming the safest way to pay, and majority of delegates agreeing that cash is a relic of the past, the new normal is anticipated to drive the adoption of digital currencies and payments.
4th MEA Fintech Forum showcased how the sector plans to address the current economic challenges, navigate the dramatically changing banking landscape and establish radically different and innovative ways of capitalizing upon the long-term opportunities available.
As one of the region’s most progressive financial institutions, and a recognized leader with a passion for digital innovation, Bank ABC’s commitment to Bahrain’s vision of becoming a leading fintech hub is underlined by the MEA Fintech Forum.
Bank ABC Group including the digital, mobile-only bank, ila and digital payments provider, AFS, are engaged in the development of new fintech-led financial services and global ecosystems.