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Qatar Financial Centre Creates Favorable Conditions for Fintechs

The ongoing global digital transformation has radically changed the way business is conducted, and magnifies the significance of embedding technology into mainstream business practices as a way to achieve sustainable economic development.

In Qatar, the advent of new business conditions, mainly driven by the Covid-19 pandemic, has profoundly increased proactive technology adoption across the entire business spectrum. Both the public and private sectors are seeking tech-based solutions to meet rising demand from their constituents and to capitalize on emerging opportunities spanning many areas, including financial technology (fintech) solutions.

Nearly every major bank in Qatar now offers an internet and mobile banking solution, as customers have increasingly shifted to digital channels—especially in the last 14 months, which have seen a surge in the number of transactions performed through digital touchpoints. Consumers are opting for mobile payments, credit card apps, online loan applications and mobile money transfers, reducing physical interactions between banks and customers.

The country continues to revamp its fintech ecosystem to enable the development of local and international fintech firms and provides a competitive framework for the growth of this dynamic sector. The Qatari fintech ecosystem recently got a major boost from the government when the Qatar Central Bank put fintech on its strategic agenda by establishing a fintech section, developing a regulatory sandbox and addressing various fintech regulations, all aimed at enabling fintechs to easily test and develop new technology products.

The Qatar Fintech Hub was also launched and kick-started a specialized fintech incubator and accelerator program, and continues to strike agreements with leading global partners to exchange expertise and best practices.

The Qatar Financial Centre (QFC), the designated sector developer and supporter of the fintech landscape in Qatar, recently approved the Fintech Service Provider definition under the Permitted Activity of Professional Services code and has designated fintech a strategic priority. The QFC plays an increasingly important role as the country’s primary platform for nurturing fintechs and helping them to gain a competitive advantage in the ecosystem.

As the biggest licensing platform and fintech enabler for local and international firms in Qatar, the QFC helps qualified fintech prospects access the market, offering several tangible benefits. The QFC waives the application fee of $5,000 and the first-year annual registration fee of $5,000 for qualified fintech companies, and the QFC Fintech Circle provides a shared workspace and registration address, rent-free for the first 12 months, for qualified firms.

QFC also allows firms registered on the platform to have up to 100% foreign ownership with 100% repatriation of profits, and trading in any currency, as well as access to Qatar’s extensive double-taxation agreements with over 80 countries. Qatar’s fintech ecosystem has already generated extraordinary results, and local fintech firms continue to emerge, expanding the innovative solutions available in the market.

One such success story is SkipCash, a homegrown mobile payment startup licensed by the QFC. It offers a convenient experience throughout the payment journeys of both consumers and merchants by enabling consumers to make digital payments using proprietary QR codes, reducing the need for cash, physical cards and point-of-sale (POS) devices. SkipCash also allows consumers to securely link their accounts, monitor their spending via visual spending reports, organize their payment receipts, enable virtual accounts for kids and family members, and access merchants’ vouchers and coupons.

Dibsy is another rising fintech firm licensed by the QFC. Dibsy’s goal is to change the face of payments and banking by making payment processing simple. The firm makes it easier for a range of customers to conduct payments and make efficient transactions wherever they are. Dibsy continues to thrive within the QFC’s fintech ecosystem and makes very effective use of the Fintech Circle and the various benefits offered to innovative firms.

CWallet Services—Qatar’s first mobile application to facilitate banking via blockchain technology—is another thriving fintech firm registered on the QFC platform. It enables access to financial services such as payroll, payments, and remittances, targeting the low-income, high-volume market comprising Qatar’s migrant and domestic workers, micro-entrepreneurs, and small and medium-size businesses (SMEs).

Available in nine different languages to accommodate Qatar’s cultural mix and diversity, CWallet has effectively overcome the communication challenges often faced by customers across the Asian continent.

Qatar has made considerable progress toward developing a sustainable and globally competitive financial technology ecosystem. Qatar’s banks have embraced emerging digital technologies to improve their efficiency and lower operating costs. The pandemic has accelerated a new set of lucrative opportunities for local and international startups, scale-ups and established fintech companies to seize and plan their long-term growth.