DFS dialogues are exclusive strategic conversations that take place in private invite-only gatherings in the run-up to the Dubai FinTech Summit and these gatherings are focused on exploring diverse perspectives on industry challenges and brainstorming ideas to develop actionable insights that will shape the overall direction for the main event.
Mohammed Alblooshi, CEO of DIFC Innovation Hub, opened the event, speaking to the invitees and thinking of the summit in 2023; he said: “Last year, we did a good job. But we’ve not even scratched the surface. We have to do so much more collectively, and that’s why we wanted to facilitate this gathering today, which brings participants from the banking community, the fintech community, the regulators, as well, as the tech industry to tell us what you think could happen, what should be discussed, what are some of the trends that you’re seeing, and what you would you like to see as well as a participant?
“This is for the community, the fintech community of Dubai, everyone who is involved in shaping the future of finance for the city of Dubai.”
We sat down with Alblooshi after the event to delve deeper into the expansion plans of the fintech innovation centre and gain insights into the broader vision for the future.
There aren’t very many events around the world that take the time to open up a dialogue with the local ecosystem. How did you and why did you feel that this was really needed?
I think we’ve been working on, what should be the key themes, what should be the agenda for this year, but I think one thing was, guys we need to listen to the industry before we actually decide on something. Of course, this means everyone that’s involved in shaping the industry the fintech companies, the banks, regulators, and platform players, how can we get them all together and, of course, as many as we can, so we get actually to listen to them before we share the agenda and put it out there?
So the idea was, okay, let’s have a discussion. Let’s have a meeting where we get to hear from them because I’ve been very clear. This is an initiative for the city of Dubai, which has to be shaped by everyone in the ecosystem, including the banks.
You’ve also had quite a bit of international input into the agenda; is that how it was designed?
Yes, what we want to do is to shape the global dialogue out of Dubai. I really want to focus on; we want to make sure that this global influence in terms of speakers in terms of companies as exhibitors in terms of overall attendees, and also the topics that we’ll discuss have to be because Dubai is the hub for the globe for the entire region, offering all the top hubs globally how do we shape global conversation?
Do you feel from today’s conversations there is a broadening of what you define as fintech?
I think so. I always have thought that it’s very difficult to define fintech. Because I think if you look at other industries, Talabat was there with us in the discussion, which is a delivery company moving to a platform, is also now becoming fintechs and providing managed services.
The telco provides financial services that makes it very clear that fintech has to be very broad, and we need to look at it from a very broad perspective. I used to have a lot of discussions, with people asking me if this was fintech or not. I can’t say whether an HR platform that helps financial institutions is a fintech or not; you don’t know because a lot of HR platforms these days have insurance that gets plugged in. So how do you define that? But I definitely agree. I think it is very broad. It’s financial services. There’s nothing that does not touch financial services
I guess that this also presents a little bit more of a challenge because then, as a person or an organisation who wants to foster fintech how many different initiatives do you need to keep the ecosystem moving forward?
I think that’s what’s interesting. I mean, especially for someone who wants to grow the sector. We look at the sector; as government entities and as regulators, we must continue to look at what’s happening because it will grow. Embedded finance technically means any corporation with a vast database can provide other services, and these platforms can be used to provide other services. So I think from our perspective, the industry is changing so fast.
So we have to be innovative, adaptable, and keep up, not just in terms of how much new technology is but also the tech itself being used. I mean, now, with AI coming in, how is AI going to impact how AI gets used and embedded in the next five years, and how do we regulate it? I think there’s no excuse because the space is moving fast. We must see what’s happening, what’s entering, and how we get into it. From a regulatory perspective, from a growth perspective, or a requirements perspective?
Tell me about the expansion plans of the fintech innovation centre.
The expansion was announced some time ago, and the building should be completed soon. And then the vision becomes quite substantial. I think the complete size of the innovation hub would be more than 350,000 square feet. The announced mission was back in 2021 to be the largest hub in the region, which I think we would be with the completion of the new building. I think we have more data on startups today, which I think is much more than we last spoke, when the new numbers are announced.
It’s going to be even more than that. So I think we’re growing in the centre. There are a lot more initiatives happening. We are focused on venture building. We’re focused on AI and building an AI and web three campus through a specific initiative to focus on building this ecosystem. We’re also focusing on sustainability, and we’re looking at what elements can unlock the future.
AI is particularly interesting given that the whole world is now talking about AI, and you’re putting your marker down to have a centre of excellence here?
Hopefully, I’m going beyond a centre of excellence. We’re aiming to build an entire ecosystem. We’ve announced a dedicated facility of 100 square feet that will have more than 500 companies. So whatever we did with the innovation hub, We want to do something similar for AI. We wanted to do that because there’s so much demand both from the consumer and the producer sides.
Many startups are coming to produce, and then there are existing traditional institutions that want to consume, so how do we give a distinction that just caters to them? Or offer a hub that caters to them? I think it’s early, but ambitions are huge. We want to look at accelerators with 500-plus startups out of nothing; we’ve been asked to create 3000 jobs and also a complete infrastructure around AI
You set up fintech with the innovation hub, so you already have your framework. How do you apply it to a slightly different sector?
When we looked at the initiative, we said, Okay, we want to do this and have the credentials. Well, we’ve done it; we’ve got the right partners for fintech. And now we’re gonna do it for AI. We have the blue box, but we need to ensure it’s much broader. It touches everyone. I think that is an ambitious plan.
What are you most excited about for the Dubai FinTech Summit?
I think I’m excited about the entire plan. How does it pan out? I think we want to make sure it’s better and it’s bigger than last year. Because the numbers are bigger. I think there’s a lot of high expectations after last year’s event. So to make sure we live up to that and give the impact it was set up to deliver.