Male data scientist uses a laptop to analyse information on a futuristic virtual interface screen.

Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance and World Economic Forum host MENA Regional Fintech Roundtable

8 September 2021

The article at a glance

Two-day virtual event convenes central bankers, regulators, development organisations and leading FinTech firms to examine practical partnerships for digital finance growth

Two-day virtual event convenes central bankers, regulators, development organisations and leading FinTech firms to examine practical partnerships for digital finance growth.

Finance at the University of Cambridge Judge Business School and the World Economic Forum have announced the successful completion of a two-day roundtable event to consider the challenges facing the digital financial services (DFS) sector in the Middle East, North Africa region as well as identifying and initiating key partnerships to stimulate growth.

Run under the Chatham House Rule, the event brought together senior representatives from central banks, regulators, policymakers, FinTech firms, incumbent financial institutions and development organisations from across the Middle East and North Africa region. The roundtable was kicked off with a keynote address from His Excellency Dr Abdulrahman Al Hamidy, Chairman of the Arab Monetary Fund, who shared his views and insights on the potential within the region and the need for public and private sector collaboration via practical partnerships to facilitate fit-for-purpose digital financial infrastructure.

The first day considered the major challenges faced by the DFS sector in widening and improving access to finance for millions of consumers and micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) across the region, where financial inclusion remains a development imperative. Issues such as engagement between industry and regulators to facilitate regulatory innovation whilst protecting consumers and the need for broader digital and financial literacy among consumers were discussed. Attendees then considered the potential partnerships that would be able to scale solutions to those challenges.

Day two of the “back-to-back partnership sprint” brought together participants in a series of workshops to operationalize the partnerships identified the previous day. The discussions were structured so as to create practical and actionable plans by considering issues such as funding, impact, audiences, timelines and resources.

“Several of the working groups will continue to collaborate until we reconvene at a global roundtable event later this year, bringing together the ideas and progress from this and three other regional roundtables,” says Ben Weisman, Financial Innovation Lead, World Economic Forum. “Whilst creating practical and solid partnerships to tackle real challenges at a regional level, this programme of roundtable events will also enable us to share new thinking and approaches on a global platform.”

Two of the challenges that the participants will be working on over the coming months are:

  • Digital and financial literacy – how to deliver a content production and distribution model to create greater financial and digital literacy, with effectiveness assessed in terms of inclusion outcomes; with a particular focus on excluded MSMEs
  • Regional sandbox solution(s) to remedy the fragmented regulatory environment – including enhancing the value proposition from sandbox participation and establishing a regional network of sandboxes allowing providers to operate more easily across markets

“I believe we managed to set the scene to enable scale in the ecosystem,” says Dr Yassar Nasser, MENA-MED Regional Lead at the CCAF. “The discussions and outcomes surely help to move the needle towards partnerships and further growth of Digital Finance in the MENA region.”

“This impactful initiative builds on and strengthens the longstanding relationship between the World Economic Forum and the CCAF, which also includes numerous collaborative research studies focused on the development of the FinTech ecosystem,” says Hunter Sims, Director of Business & Operations at the CCAF. “This series of roundtables is a clear embodiment of how the Cambridge Alternative Finance Collaboration Network (CAFCN) can promote ecosystem development and knowledge exchange at a regional and global level.”

The CAFCN has been established, with the foundational support of UK Aid, as a knowledge network for the era of digital finance. It is a network of regionally embedded resources and capabilities engaged in the creation, exchange and transfer of knowledge needed by policy-makers, regulators and industry to navigate the digital transformation of the global financial system. The network catalyses in increased financial inclusion, stimulated economic growth and reduced poverty.