The ongoing coronavirus pandemic could see an acceleration in digital transformation across the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) region, according to leading industry figures.
Speaking during an Asia House webinar held in partnership with Dubai International Finance Centre (DIFC), Ali Hassan, Senior Representative, Europe and North America, DIFC, suggested that the current challenges could lead to more vigorous diversification efforts in the Gulf.
“In many ways, if you’re looking at diversification in the GCC, the current circumstances will increase and accelerate that trend,” he said. “There will be impact in the short term, but the long term trend looks set to continue.”
This optimism is in part based on the region’s demographics, with more than 40 per cent of the population being under 25 and tech-savvy, Hassan said. Economic diversity – with high and low income groups in MEASA – also presents opportunities.
“That spectrum provides significant opportunities for digital businesses, whether you’re looking at sophisticated wealth solutions or banking capabilities for the unbanked,” he said.
Daniel Mclaughlin, Director of International Affairs, Smart Pension, was similarly optimistic, highlighting the region’s – and Dubai’s in particular – openness to digital transformation.
“DIFC is a great place for innovative thinking,” he said, adding that the shifts being heralded by coronavirus could move the dial on digitisation in the region.
“It might accelerate decision making processes,” McLaughlin said. “The ‘new normal’ might drive people’s digital transformation programmes from a slide in a deck that they may never get around to, to thinking ‘we really need to do this’.
“In terms of innovation opportunities, I can see them increasing.”
The webinar, moderated by Asia House Chief Executive Michael Lawrence, also saw DIFC CEO, Arif Amiri, outline the strong fundamentals in the region, and the work of DIFC in supporting business across MEASA.
A big emphasis for DIFC is tech, he said, with a regional accelerator, the Fintech Hive, attracting more than 500 applications from as far afield as Hong Kong and the US.
“The future of finance for us means our community being able engage the tech and fintech players across all streams,” he said, adding that innovation will define the future of finance in MEASA.
“I foresee this trend continuing. Investment in technology and digital will continue to shape what we do in the region.”
The webinar was part of an ongoing series of digital events being convened to keep Asia House’s global network informed during the COVID-19 crisis, and held as part of the Asia House Middle East Programme.
VIEW the DIFC webinar presentation