The Gulf economies are making steadfast moves towards reducing gender-linked disparities. Fintechs because of the nature of the space they are in can help speed the process. Image Credit: Seyyed Llata/Senior Designer

The governments of the GCC have taken various steps towards diversification, designing strategic plans to develop into innovation-led economies within a 15- to 30-year horizon. One aspect of these policies has been the promotion of tech-backed and data-driven industries, particularly in financial services sector – where gender parity is still lagging.

The Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) has showcased unmatched resilience to the economic slowdown during the pandemic. Its contribution to gender parity is bridging fintech with attractive prospects. While much remains to be done, a closer look at the regional gender parity ecosystem reveals a considerable growth potential.

The opportunity for fintech in the region is enormous. Pick any statistic – internet penetration, mobile adoption, customer adoption of online financial services – and all signs point towards fintech and how digitization is transforming the future of finance.

Gender parity is not only the right way, it also has the potential to untap significant economic value, adding up to $12 trillion to global growth, including $2.7 trillion to the MENA economy by 2025. We are seeing more banks and financial institutions jump on the digital bandwagon, launching digital-only banks, lifestyle banking apps, and more. According to eMarketer, 79 per cent of Saudi Arabia’s population used a smartphone last year.

In UAE, the corresponding figure was a whopping 91 per cent, an uptick of nearly 20 percentage points in a single year. The driving force behind these high adoption rates are consumers who, more than ever, are connected to the rest of the world. Leveraging Impact-Linked Finance (ILF) that link financial rewards to positive social outcomes towards targeted, innovative gender-focused enterprises can drive more response to the demands of the market.

Similarly, Gender Lens Investing (GLI) promises sustainable solutions to gender parity through end-to-end solutions. As such, inclusive fintechs can provide affordable, accessible and appropriate financial products and services to underserved segments, by way of:

  • Catalyzing gender-responsive sustainable finance: Investment incentives that GCC governments may use to address gender equity, including subsidies, grants, blended finance, and procurement incentives.
  • Encouraging finance mechanisms to use gender-disaggregated data: Gender policy in venture incubators and incentives to access those funds.
  • Measuring gender-responsive financing: Incorporation of gender in investors’ financial analysis and ESG criteria, with focus on metrics and monitoring impact, business case for gender-sensitive credit lines

And the UAE is well on its way. This year, the Cabinet approved the strategy of the UAE Gender Alliance Council 2022-2026, which includes four main pillars: economic participation, wellbeing, protection, and entrepreneurship. It aims to further reduce the gender gap across sectors, enhance the UAE’s ranking in global competitiveness reports on gender equality and achieve gender balance in decision-making positions. The UAE’s new labour law for private sector employees already went into effect starting February 2.

Launched in 2019, the DIFC FinTechHive has announced its fifth edition of the popular FinTech Hive AccelerateHer programme: a female-focused career mentorship accelerator that equips young aspiring executives with the necessary tools to broaden their knowledge in the industry and play a more active role in shaping the future of the financial landscape. To date, the scheme has successfully supported participants with one-to-one mentorship, workshops and networking opportunities.

The success of the region’s fintech sector has been the result of careful strategic planning on the part of GCC governments, many of which are offering financial, regulatory and other incentives.

Enabling access to financial assets and giving everyone an equal opportunity to build personal wealth is at the core.