Digital Banking 101

Fintech in MENA, Now and Then

Aion Digital
4 min readNov 24, 2020

Written by Amelda Patili, Head of Marketing at Aion Digital

But first, why MENA?

Fintech in MENA, which barely existed a few years ago, is now a $2 billion market (1). We know very well that the financial sector is key to shift Gulf Economies away from reliance on oil and therefore government spending. However, FinTech in the MENA region makes up only about 1% of Global FinTech investment, the investment numbers alone don’t show the full picture. There are also several other demographic factors that make MENA a favorite for fintech development (2).


The number of startups offering financial services in the region doubled from 46 to 105 in just 3 years (2013–15) (3).


Since 2015, a total of US$237 million has been invested in MENA’s fintech startups through 181 deals, representing 7% of the total MENA startup funding between 2015 and 2019, according to MENA Fintech Venture Report 2019.


Gulf region regulators began implementing forward-thinking and agile policies related to FinTech beginning in 2017. Since then, we have seen a substantial amount of effort to design more diverse, competitive, and innovative economies (4).


In 2018, fintech became the most popular industry by number of deals across MENA with 97 investments, surpassing e-commerce, delivery & transport, and food & beverage. Within the MENA fintech industry, the payments and remittances vertical has received the most funding. In 2019, 45% of all deals went towards startups in the sector.

The rise of fintech across MENA has been mainly driven by the region’s young and tech-savvy population. 76% of United Arab Emirates (UAE) consumers said they trusted at least one tech company more than their bank with their money, and 83% of UAE residents said they were open to adopting fintech solutions by non-financial institutions (5)

The MENA region is home to 450 million people. Of that total, about half of the population is younger than 25 years old, also known as GenZs and young millennials. This means they are born into technology and are considered “natives” or “early adopters”. Here are some interesting figures on the demographic opportunities in MENA in comparison to Global numbers (6,7).

Understandably, most of the investment in the region is in the payments and remittances verticals. Here are some interesting figures for the remittances space (8).

And as a result, this makes sense…..

The UAE, in particular, is a driving force in remittances thanks to its expatriate (expat) population, which represents roughly 90% of the country’s total population. Even more interesting is seeing the remittance as part of the countries GDP.

In 2019, Bahrain, the UAE, and other GCC countries were among the most penetrated markets in the world. Here are the relevant areas where they ranked favorably for fintech opportunities (10).

Although Bahrain and the UAE have taken the largest strides in developing their FinTech ecosystems since 2017, these efforts are part of a bigger vision which were launched as early as a decade before FinTech became a buzzword. The eco-system and large opportunity has allowed more focus on collaboration than competition between FinTech startups operating in the financial services sector in the region (4).

In the next blogs, we will deep dive in each country to understand the massive steps that have been taken in advancing Fintech, and what this all means post Covid-19.




Aion Digital

Aion is a financial technology company specializing in digital banking platforms. It is headquartered in Bahrain with business presence across the GCC.