PYMNTS GCC Series: Big Tech Firms Set Up Shop in Qatar

In this fifth installment in a PYMNTS series on the state of FinTech in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, we take a look at Qatar, one of the wealthiest countries in the world. According to data from the World Bank, the country had a GDP per capita of $61,276 in 2021, higher than the U.K.’s $47,334 and somewhat lower than the U.S.’s $69,287.

See Part 1: PYMNTS GCC Series: High Smartphone Penetration, Govt Support Boosts UAE’s FinTech Growth

See Part 2: PYMNTS GCC Series: Bahrain Drives Open Banking Adoption in MENA

See Part 3: PYMNTS GCC Series: Partnerships, PayTech Innovation Move Kuwait Into Digital Era

See Part 4: PYMNTS GCC Series: Still in Its Infancy, Oman’s FinTech Hub Shows Huge Potential For Growth

When it comes to financial services, the Qatari banking sector is relatively small compared to those found in other GCC countries like Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, even though it houses the Middle East’s largest financial institution by total assets owned, Qatar National Bank (QNB).

In June this year, QNB became the country’s first bank to introduce its own open banking platform, leveraging an open API to allow both its customers and partners to access its core banking systems.

In another sign that Qatar’s open banking journey has begun in earnest, QNB’s open banking platform builds on earlier work with Doha-based multinational telecoms firm Ooredoo. That partnership allowed Ooredoo wallet holders to access banking facilities such as virtual IBAN, virtual MasterCard, payroll solution and remittances.

On the government side, several initiatives have been critical to accelerating the country’s journey to becoming an established player in the GCC FinTech ecosystem.

The Qatar Fintech Task Force, launched in 2017, is one of such initiatives and a public-private sector collaboration aimed at fostering innovation, while the Qatar Fintech Hub (QFTH) opened in 2019 to support FinTechs with incubator and accelerator programs.

On the regulatory front, Qatar has soft-launched its regulatory sandbox and is targeting a full launch soon. And as global interest in virtual currencies gains momentum, the country’s central bank has launched early-stage investigations into a potential central bank digital currency (CBDC).

Big Tech Eyes Qatar

As Qatar’s startup ecosystem has grown over the years, an increasing number of Middle Eastern and major international technology firms see the country as a key strategic market and location for partnerships and business collaborations.

For example, Doha-based CWallet, a multi-feature digital wallet for online and QR payments, as well as remittances and e-ticket storage, announced last month that it was migrating its entire tech stack to Microsoft Azure to leverage the scalability of its cloud architecture.

Read more: Microsoft Qatar Teams With CWallet Whose Tech Stack Will Move to Azure

Microsoft is also preparing to go live with a new Azure region in Qatar soon, while Google is set to launch its own cloud region in Qatar later this year, according to a report by The Peninsula.

Prior to that in June 2021, Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced that Qatar-based consulting partners, independent software vendors (ISVs) and data providers could transact in AWS Marketplace and AWS Data Exchange, giving local Qatari businesses access to millions of AWS’s global customers.

“For consulting partners, ISVs, and data providers, this unlocks a new route to market. It also enables access to the more than 310,000 monthly active users in AWS Marketplace and AWS Data Exchange,” AWS said in a statement.


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