LFP242 – Fintech in Saudi Arabia and Collective Savings w/Naif AbuSaida CEO Hakbah

Saudi Arabia is a country that increasingly confounds stereotypes and expectations – an example being a YouTuber who has visited every country in the world choosing it for his honeymoon. At the same time it has undergone a phenomenal journey literally in a lifetime from a very low economic standard of living to super-high. As a result, like China, it shares the “relatively blank canvas from which to start Finteching” but equally has it’s own unique issues notably eg in a country with centuries of little wealth and suddenly (on average) excess savings culture and the likes of pension provision are very distinct – or perhaps lacking.

Naif has had a wide and varied career before starting Hakbah a collective savings platform Fintech. Interestingly talking about different social models worldwide P2P was focusing in this “modern” “Western” way on the individual as the “unit of social currency” [and in passing re zeitgeist then became institutionalised on one side (the lending side) and then most became banks). Collective savings were A Big Thing in say the UK for some time where regionally folks would pool savings for others to get mortgages in “Building” (sic) societies. They remain A Big Thing in a still at heart traditional Arabian/Islamic culture.

In this show we dive into some historical and geographical aspects of Saudi Arabia – the 5th largest by land mass in the world in passing. Thence the unique aspects of Fintech in Saudi – one of which is a very rapid pace of development and another a very government-sponsored approach – and finally collective savings in more depth.

Topics discussed include:

  • the geography of Saudi Arabia – unique features and aspects one might not expect
  • tourist aspects and anecdotal reports from visitors
  • 19thC British women travellers to Arabia and the long lasting (and unexpected) consequences of their journeys
  • management of national oil wealth by the government as key to the economic consequences
  • Naif’s career journey
  • the influence of encountering 3rd stage cancer on Naif’s journey and motivation to start Hakbah
  • the genesis of deciding upon collective savings especially in a country without a savings culture
  • the background to the history of Saudi Arabia and particularly the formation of the country and the central bank
  • the long background in money changing due to centuries of pilgrims to Mecca
  • the Dutch starting the first bank branch
  • the first loan in Riyals
  • the central role of the central bank in all finance to this day
  • the national remittance system and immediate payments system outside of the “western” rails of visa/mastercard
  • the advanced nature of ease of using compared to other countries (UK for example)
  • 2018 as the real start of Fintech in Saudi
  • the central banks sandbox and first cohorts
  • verticals that were established
  • moving beyond batches/cohorts in the sandbox to continuous application
  • the national strategy for Fintech and government departmental support
  • key Fintech verticals with the greatest penetration in 2023
  • around 130 Fintechs at present
  • target of 525 by 2030
  • the complex issue of a lack of savings culture
  • the saying ~”spend what is in your pocket and the assistance is from God”
  • “more than 70% of Saudis don’t have any emergency savings at all” (!)
  • the State provision of pensions meaning that saving in a pension scheme is not the main modus operendi – enjoy life and spend now year by year rather than saving up to enjoy in the future
  • short-term savings examples in the culture
  • long-term savings culture across the Arab world
  • collective savings being traditional and existing in more than 60 countries around the world
  • at the end of a cycle no one owes anyone anything (cf debt-based systems where due to the interest margin between save and lend there is always increased debt every cycle)
  • how does trust work in the variety of collective savings schemes around the world?
  • what is key to establishing trust?
  • Hakbah’s model, key design features and very low default rate over its history (less than 0.7% default)
  • repayment of debts being historically important in England if not now in the “modernised” culture
  • the outlook for Fintech in Saudi
  • Hakbah’s plans and future ideas

And much much more 🙂

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