This week’s edition Finovate Global is an interview with Abdulla Almoayed, founder and CEO of Tarabut Gateway. Founded in 2017 and headquartered in Dubai, Tarabut Gateway is the first and largest regulated open banking platform in the MENA region. The company enables secure and friction-free data flow and connectivity between banks and fintechs in its regional network, leveraging its universal APIs to bring the benefits of open banking to financial services consumers in Bahrain, the UAE, KSA, and elsewhere.
This year, Tarabut Gateway has secured major banking partnerships in Saudi Arabia, teaming up with Riyad Bank, Saudi British Bank, Alinma Bank, and Banque Saudi Fransi as the Kingdom begins to embrace open banking. In June, the company was selected as platform partner by the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) for its new Open Finance Lab. Last month, Tarabut Gateway announced a pair of C-suite appointments, introducing new Chief Product Officer Nino Ocampo and new Chief Commercial Officer Adnan Erriade.
We caught up with Abdulla Almoayed to learn more about Tarabut Gateway, its role in driving open banking and fintech innovation in MENA, and what we can look forward to from the company in the future.
How strong is the Open Banking trend in the MENA region?
Abdulla Almoayed: While the Gulf region might have been slower to adopt Open Banking than some Western countries, such as the U.S. and U.K., the fintech ecosystem in MENA is developing rapidly and has the potential to leapfrog other regions. Open Banking is a relatively new phenomenon globally, but there is great interest around it in our region and especially in the Gulf states.
Open Banking in MENA is highly driven by forward-looking regulators that are setting implementation plans in motion. This trend is also driven by increased consumer demand for personalized products and services – a pattern of consumption consumers have come to expect from the Netflix/Amazon experience, i.e. product recommendations based on consumers’ wants and needs.
Financial apps and products providing an enjoyable user experience are at the centre of this personal finance revolution. Improved financial literacy has caused customers to research and test more before deciding which financial product or service to use, while entrepreneurs and regulators have been motivated to spearhead change.
Using insights from data to create individually tailored products prioritizing an optimal, overall customer experience, Open Banking helps transform traditional one-size-fits all financial products into more intuitive financial products experiences. Through Open Banking, the consumer gets a new level of control, far in excess of today’s standard because traditional banks’ internal systems hoard valuable, personalized data about consumers. With Open Banking, consumers regain ownership over their personal financial information.
What are the forces that are driving open banking in the area?
Almoayed: The compelling combination of customer demand, progressive regulators, and entrepreneurial ambition is driving Open Banking. The resulting technology provides vastly increased transaction speed and the capability to manage personal finances like never before.
Internet connectivity across the MENA region has increased rapidly in recent years, covering potentially 93% of the population, or 580 million people, according to telecommunications association GSMA. Smartphone penetration is estimated to reach 80% in 2025, and over 90% in GCC countries.
MENA’s young and tech-savvy population is still underbanked, and a driving factor behind Open Banking’s growth are companies and regulators who are keen to facilitate this huge opportunity in a responsible manner.
Moreover, banks in the region understand the benefits that Open Banking brings to their institutions. Open Banking enables them to stay relevant and to compete in today’s banking sector by providing enhanced digital offerings and customer-centricity.
Tarabut Gateway acts as the matchmaker between service providers and customers, creating a competitive fintech ecosystem where users receive the best, personalized products, and services.
How has Tarabut Gateway become a major player in MENA-based open banking?
Almoayed: Tarabut Gateway was launched in 2017 and our mission is to provide the Open Banking infrastructure for the entire region; growing an Open Banking ecosystem to benefit consumers, start-ups and legacy financial institutions.
Having graduated as the first company from Bahrain’s Open Banking sandbox program, our pioneering product offering made Tarabut Gateway’s rapid expansion possible. Not only did we enter the UAE market and become the first licensed Open Banking service provider, but also we have established partnerships with major KSA banks to participate from the start in the Kingdom’s fast-moving fintech sector development.
The Middle East’s financial services industry is just beginning to implement many of the personalized services new technologies and regulation make possible. Tarabut Gateway is at the forefront to fill these gaps, offering Open Banking APIs to support banks, fintechs, and third-party service providers (TPPs) in creating new products and services. Fintech sector growth has been stunning in recent years, and is still on an exponential path. Currently, there are approximately 500 fintechs in the region.
This has been a big year for Tarabut Gateway. What accomplishments stand out to you the most this year?
Almoayed: The major milestones achieved in 2022 – the launch of the Open Finance Lab in partnership with Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), Open Banking license in the UAE, KSA bank partnerships, and newly appointed leadership roles – are all of great importance and reflect the different frontiers we are pushing as a company.
Open Finance Lab is an initiative led by DIFC. Tarabut Gateway was selected as the platform partner for the program. The Open Finance Lab is a 6-month program that will educate and engage banks, regulators, and the industry to showcase and shape the positive impact of Open Finance on the economy
To be acknowledged by the Dubai Financial Services Authority with the country’s first Open Banking license, including regulation as Account Information Service Provider and Payment Initiation Service Provider (AISP/PISP), is a symbol of our role as an ecosystem enabler.
Growing deeper roots in KSA’s market by being the fintech player with the largest, and most developed, network of partnerships validates our mission – to sit at the junction between regulators, banks, fintechs and TPPs.
Finally, the appointment of Nino Ocampo (CPO) and Adnan Erriade (CCO) further established Tarabut Gateway as international challenger, and points towards our role as a regional leader interacting with the global fintech revolution. We have attracted some of the most achieved Open Banking professionals, from leading organizations like HSBC, OpenWrks, and TrueLayer to join our team and contribute to our vision for Open Banking in the MENA.
What is something about fintech in the MENA region that many of those unfamiliar with the region would find surprising or interesting?
Almoayed: An organic driver of fintech growth across MENA is the large number of underserved customers. MENA’s population is double that of Europe – but the region has fewer banks than Germany alone! Reaching out to the underserved and underbanked is the greatest challenge, but one of today’s most rewarding business and investment opportunities.
Unsurprisingly, developed Western markets, especially the U.S. and U.K., had a considerable head start in all things Open Banking – i.e., number of startups, amount of funding and regulation.
However, most observers underestimate the i) velocity of MENA’s regulator-led fintech sector growth during the last years, ii) the region’s demographic advantages, entrepreneurial culture, and business-friendly environment, and iii) the “second mover advantage” of designing Open Banking frameworks utilizing experiences made in pioneering developed markets.
Taken together, we think some MENA jurisdictions could leapfrog Western Open Banking development, especially with a stalling regulatory environment in the European Union.
Working closely with regulators and banks, Tarabut Gateway provides the groundwork for a thriving fintech ecosystem. Nimble fintech companies fill the gap left by traditional banking and complement the existing system. KSA, UAE, Bahrain, and even Oman and Egypt are rolling out far-sighted regulatory regimes and providing incentives to develop and implement ‘enabling’ technologies such as banking APIs.
What are some of Tarabut Gateway’s top priorities over the balance of this year and into the next?
Almoayed: This year, the Saudi Central Bank (SAMA) plans to go live with its Open Banking framework – part of the Kingdom’s “Vision 2030.” With “Fintech Saudi,” a strong platform was created to support Saudi fintech entrepreneurs and the number of fintech start-ups in the KSA increased 37% to 81 during 2021.
We are at the forefront of Open Banking progression in KSA, and it is a priority for us to support the country’s economic policy as Open Banking infrastructure provider benefitting Saudi consumers, merchants, banks and fintechs.
Our recently announced participation in the Dubai International Financial Center’s Open Finance Lab is an important step towards our exploration of Open Finance solutions – the idea of integrating even more areas of traditional finance in an Open Data framework, for example pensions, mortgages, loans, insurance, and investments. Tarabut Gateway is determined to also be the pioneering API provider for Fintech innovation in the UAE (and elsewhere).
In our first market, Bahrain, phases one and two of the Central Bank of Bahrain’s Open Banking Framework have been successfully implemented, with the regulator’s focus now shifting to Open Finance solutions. Tarabut Gateway will strive to remain the most trusted provider for the incredible growth to be expected through continual financial services innovation.
We are excited to see many new use cases developed on our platform including AIS/PIS solutions like cross-border payments, digital wallets, know your client processes and personalized financial management products.