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GCC faces tech talent shortage while Meta cuts 10,000 jobs

Bahrain FinTech Bay is seen as staff chat in its office in Bahrain Bay, Manama, Bahrain Reuters/Hamad I Mohammed
Bahrain FinTech Bay is one of four fintech hubs in the GCC
  • Region seeks fintech talent
  • Saudia Arabia aims to host more than 500 fintechs by 2030
  • Facebook owner Meta is cutting thousands of jobs this year

Experts warn that the fintech sector in the GCC still has several obstacles to overcome, chief among them a shortage of talent.

Against this backdrop, Riyadh hosted the region’s largest fintech recruitment fair last week. The two-day Fintech Careers Fair involved more than 50 companies showcasing 600 job opportunities. Over 8,000 people attended.

It took place as a growing number of fintech hubs have emerged in the GCC, rising from just one in 2018 to four in 2022: the Abu Dhabi Global Market, Bahrain Fintech Bay, Fintech Saudi and the FinTech Hive at the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC).

The demand for fintech staff in the GCC comes as pressure intensifies on the global technology sector, with Facebook parent Meta Platforms set to cut 10,000 jobs this year.

Investment in DIFC’s fintech community exceeded $615 million last year and the total number of active firms in the sector grew 36 percent to 686.

Currently home to 60 percent of all GCC fintechs, Dubai and DIFC aims to establish itself as a global centre for innovation. In May it will host the Dubai FinTech Summit, expected to attract up to 5,000 industry workers.

At the same time, experts are warning that the GCC cannot afford to “rest on its laurels”.

Jorge Camarate, partner with Strategy& Middle East, and the leader of the firm’s financial services practice, said the region must build on the momentum by accelerating and easing access to venture capital and forming new strategies to resolve the growing digital talent shortage.

“The fintech sector has enormous potential for widespread socioeconomic impact beyond financial services and, as such, has the potential to increase economic diversification and sustainable economic growth,” he said. “However, there are several challenges to be overcome.”

He suggested that attracting internationals requires new incentives and recruiting campaigns while a “reconsideration of labour policies” may also make it easier and more attractive to work in the GCC.

Telr CEO Khalil Alami says “demand is far outweighing supply” for tech talent. Picture: supplied

Analysis by Strategy& said governments, fintech providers and other stakeholders must work with regional educational institutions to deepen the regional talent pool with requisite tech and support services skills. 

Khalil Alami, CEO and founder of payments gateway Telr, agreed. “Demand is far outweighing supply – and we all know what that means,” he said. “As the demand for fintech services has increased exponentially in 2023, so has the need for qualified professionals to ideate, innovate, develop, implement and maintain these services. 

“The historic lack of high-skilled talent and the current skills gaps – nay, a ‘skills chasm’ – within the global fintech industry is directly correlating to the higher costs within the sector.”

He added: “There’s no doubt about it. A global talent war is being waged to fill key roles at every level.

“There is a growing need for industry-specific training, internships, apprenticeships, as well as financial aid and scholarships to make fintech education more attractive and relevant.”

The right environment

Camarate said the region’s fintech success so far is partly a result of a favourable regulatory environment.

Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE have all designed national fintech strategies and set up government-sponsored accelerators and incubators. 

Regulatory sandboxes have allowed room for experimentation. The availability of government funding and widespread access to broadband, including high smartphone penetration, have also contributed, he said.

Dr Antoine Khadige, principal with Strategy& Middle East, added: “Strengthening fintech in our region requires more private sector involvement and greater efforts to fill gaps in the fintech ecosystem. 

“Scaling up is essential and difficult, given the fragmented regional market. There needs to be easier access to capital, including through increased VC funding.

“But perhaps equally as challenging globally and here in the Middle East is the increasingly problematic shortage of digitally literate and experienced talent.”

The Strategy& analysis said that while governments have played an instrumental role in enabling the growth of GCC fintech, the private sector has become increasingly involved as the market has developed.

“Both government and business must now do even more to ensure that GCC fintech grows stronger and more sustainable, and is globally competitive,” said Patricia Keating, scale lead with PwC Middle East. 

A number of projects to tackle the shortage have already been launched, including the UAE government’s One Million Arab Coders initiative.

This week the Saudi Financial Academy and AstroLabs came together to offer a training programme aimed at inspiring the next generation of fintech pioneers in Saudi Arabia.

According to Nezar Alhaidar, director of Fintech Saudi, the sector in the kingdom is “on the cusp of being propelled onto the global stage”.

Just as the UK and Singapore have positioned themselves in Europe and Asia respectively, Saudi Arabia is seeking to become the gateway for fintech activity in the Middle East by hosting more than 500 fintechs by 2030 and offering 18,000 related jobs. 

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