Manama: Women in the Gulf are not going to let men dominate the landscape opened up by “fintech”, or any other digital space that’s getting disrupted.
In Bahrain, these efforts to even up the playing field are being led by Yasmeen Al Sharaf and Fatema Ebrahim. They were named among the “Top 100 women in fintech in 2019” by Lattice 80, one of the world’s largest fintech hubs.
Al Sharaf heads Central Bank of Bahrain’s Fintech and Innovation Unit, while Ebrahim is on the board of Bahrain’s Economic Development Board and Women in Fintech Bahrain Forum.
According to the World Economic Forum, 46 per cent of employees in financial services are women — but less than 15 per cent are in executive positions. While it will not be easy to turn things around, a start has definitely been made.
“I believe in Kuwait and Saudi central banks, women are in leadership positions at the fintech units,” said Al Sharaf. “And that is what I would like to see more of — women being represented on the boards of companies.
“If we can make sure our ideas are heard we can affect real change. We need to be seen and be heard … not conform.
“My personal experience has been that people tend to feel threatened by women who are able to speak their mind. My outspokenness has got me in trouble as well, but that is the part of trying to effect a change.”
Meeting of minds
This is why Gulf states will need their share of platforms where women with the right skills can be heard loud and clear. One such is the Women in Fintech forum.
“It was the need of the hour because 60 per cent of working women in Bahrain are in banking,” said Ebrahim. “The region too has seen a rise of women in this sector, so similar forums have been established in other GCC countries as well.
“Our aim is to build the pipeline by firing up the imagination of young women of tomorrow and get them excited about fintech. We have workshops for school girls, we are also trying to build an internship program and have a fintech series and events. These events are hosted once a month where industry leaders share their insight into the sector and various aspects connected to it.
“We have a lot of people coming to Bahrain to speak on fintech, but when they go back they need something to show their peers. That’s my next step — to create that fintech channel. Being on the board of EDB, I want to help more start-ups and companies set up in Bahrain.”
Showing the way
Al Sharaf has spent nearly 15 years at the Central Bank of Bahrain. The regulatory entity was awarded as “The Most Innovative Fintech Regulator Of The Year” by Fintech Galaxy, a digital crowdfunding platform, during FinX 2019, an event held in Dubai in October.
The Bank was named for its initiatives in introducing and developing both the regulatory framework needed to support the ambition of fintech start-ups and existing financial institutions.
“I have to continue to invest more time and effort in my research and work harder to ensure Bahrain remains at the forefront of fintech in the region,” said Al Sharaf.
All banks in Bahrain became “open banking” compliant as of July last. (For the uninitiated, it means a banking service that provides third-party financial service providers open access to consumer banking, transaction, and other financial data from banks and non-banking entities through APIs (application programming interfaces).
“I believe open banking is just the start,” said Al Sharaf. “Data is going to be big and everything else will revolve around it. Our role in helping shape the sector would involve participating in global forums, discussions and joint policy work to collaborate and further develop ideas within the financial services sector.
“Finance and technology have been more male-dominated areas, but that is beginning to change. For young women looking to make a career in these sectors, my advice would be to first ensure that this is where their passions lie.
“It does not matter how many jobs or internships you have in this field unless you are passionate about it. You will not enjoy your work and it is unlikely that you would be very successful in the field.”