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UAE state-backed digital bank Wio targets SME segment

Wio is in talks with businesses, including a regional e-commerce player, to distribute its services.

State-backed digital bank Wio announced on Tuesday it had launched in the United Arab Emirates and would focus initially on small and medium enterprises (SMEs) while eyeing an eventual public listing.

Wio, which calls itself a “platform bank”, has three main business lines: digital banking apps, embedded finance and banking-as-a-service, the provision of banking through third-party distributors.

Wio is 65 percent owned by Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund ADQ and Alpha Dhabi, 25 percent by Etisalat and 10 percent by First Abu Dhabi Bank. The UAE central bank in February gave it initial approval to begin operations.

“SMEs have a lot of pain points that have been under-catered to historically for many reasons. And we believe that starting by being close to them and understanding them is very important,” Wio chairman Salem Al Nuaimi told Reuters in an interview.

“Finding funding for them in different ways is something which we will have to do.”

Wio chief executive Jayesh Patel said the bank could provide its own funding to SMEs, which it would serve with its Wio Business division, and also help them find other financing options.

Setting up Wio Business was currently the core focus, said Al Nuaimi.

Patel said Wio was in talks with businesses, including a regional e-commerce player, to distribute its services.

It planned to expand its offerings to retail customers “in the next few quarters”. Wio would also look at potential acquisitions in the region as it sought to become the Middle East’s leading platform bank, the chairman said.

Al Nuaimi said Wio was well-funded thanks to its shareholders, so did not need an initial public offering of shares to raise funds, but nonetheless said one would likely happen at some point.

“I think here in the UAE there is a good market that has been and will continue to grow for listed companies. And so I think eventually we will get there,” Al Nuaimi said.

“There’s no timeline for an IPO,” he added. “The timeline is to get things done right.”