The Middle East is often praised for being a fertile ground for fintech businesses to grow and flourish for a wide spectrum of reasons, including the large population of unbanked, the several startup accelerators available in the region, and supportive governments.
The region has already seen a number of fintech success stories, particularly in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where incubators, enterprise development funds and programs, and innovation hubs are supporting the creation and growth of local entrepreneurs.
While Kuwait has a relatively small fintech ecosystem compared to the likes of the UAE, the country has seen its digital economy considerably rise in the past years, fueled by the banking sector which has begun developing digitally-focused solutions.
KNET, or the Shared Electronic Banking Services Company, is a company owned by 11 banks that provides varied banking and financial services and products including point-of-sale service, off-site ATMs, an electronic payment gateway, cheque book printing, and e-government services. In 2016, KNET processed over US$1.6 billion in online transactions, highlighting the potential of Kuwait’s digital commerce.
Earlier this year. Warba Bank launched the first e-signature and online account opening in Kuwait.
The e-signature product, called Express Finance, is the result of an agreement between Warba and Kuwait’s Public Authority for Civil Information. It lets users authorize the bank to view their information on the credit network Ci-net without having to report personally to the bank’s branch.
The Express Account solution allows clients to open an account online. Once the application is ready, customers only need to visit a branch to collect the card and sign the papers.
Kuwaiti fintech startups
International players have begun taking notice. The Zain Great Idea (ZGI) accelerator program was launched by Zain, the leading telco company in Kuwait, in partnership with Brilliant Lab, a startup accelerator service from Kuwait, and Mind The Bridge, a Silicon Valley-based organization specializing in entrepreneurship education for startups, enterprises and investors.
Zain recently kicked off the fourth installment of ZGI accelerator program, which aims to foster young tech entrepreneurs in Kuwait. Finalists of the program get to travel to San Francisco and London in November.
The program is targeted at areas that include fintech, apps, e-commerce and gaming.
Kuwait hosts several interesting startups tackling varied areas including payments, bitcoin, and invoicing.
Ajar Online, for instance, is looking to disrupt real-estate rental payments in the MENA region. The startup provides a cloud-based service that streamlines the rent payment and collection process via SMS and email, enabling landlords and real-estate agents can collect their rent on-time electronically and instantly, while allowing tenants to pay their rent from anywhere and at anytime using different payment methods including debit/credit cards, KNET or Sadad, a payment solution provider.
For landlords and property managers, Ajar Online also provides them with the ability to manage and update their properties and tenants, send out utility bills to tenants, automated rent notifications, a message center, and different reporting tools.
Ajar Online has three offices in Kuwait, the UAE and Saudi, but the services offered are now only available in Kuwait and the UAE. For Saudi, the platform has been under pilot stage and expects to launch all their services by the end of this year.
Other fintech startups include Tap Payments, which has been helping businesses to bill and collect payments with minimum setup time required, serving both entrepreneurs and large organizations in the Middle East.
One Global, a firm specialized in mobile platforms, provides a mobile payment solution called Og Money. Og Money, formerly Payit, offers a one-stop-shop for bill payments, top-up, charity, utilities, and and tuition. It also allows for domestic and international money transfers.
BitFils is platform that lets customers purchase bitcoin using their KNET card.
Featured image: Kuwait from above by Lindsay Silveira, via Flickr.