Mark Beer and Dragan Petkovic (left), during the Finovate Middle East conference held at Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf News

Dubai: Artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain and capability enhancements remain the linchpins of financial technology — but voice technology is the future.

That’s the takeaway from the first day of the Finovate Middle East conference held in Dubai on Monday.

UAE Exchange CEO Promoth Manghat said he was particularly interested in the ability of blockchain to quickly set up bank accounts for those without them.

Manghat said money transfers currently operated on two speeds — fast messaging and traditional settling of accounts between firms.

“When it comes to settlement... it is still the old world,” he told delegates. “It takes at least 24 hours on a weekday and 72 hours on a weekend... Blockchain has the potential to maybe solve the problem.”

But Manghat said he felt the days of money transfer as a stand-alone product were numbered. “Money transfer will definitely evolve,” he said. “Don’t ask me how many years it will take. But it will evolve from a single stand-alone into an embedded experience.”

Earlier, fintech strategist and author Jim Marous said his advice to fintech SMEs would be to concentrate on voice technology.

After demonstrating on stage how the technology helped him keep track of his accounts and investments. Marous said, “I think the whole voice revolution is going to be more important than the blockchain revolution.”

While blockchain was still testing and merging, Marous felt voice would penetrate the backing and finance sector at all levels.

Marous, whose speech focused on what the banking sector can learn from top innovators in other sectors, praised Amazon’s relationship with its customers.

“Amazon knows more about me than my bank,” he said, pointing out that the online retail giant used customer data to make recommendations proactively, and could now afford to pay people to bank with it. Banks, he said, often failed to recognise and take advantage of their customers’ habits.

Chris Taylor, CEO of Abu Dhabi Finance, agreed. Speaking on a panel on driving innovation, he warned, “I don’t think banks are innovative at all. I think we’re a terrible industry for innovation.

“I think that’s because, two main reasons, historically the kind of people you hire into the organisation — most of whom were not hired in the last couple of years — innovation was not the main competency you look for. Secondly, there’s been a few regulatory issues, and that creates fear,” and an emphasis on compliance and minimising risk.

Taylor’s solution was to seek partnerships with innovators, and to empower younger people within the traditional organisation.

The impact of regulation on finance was the subject of a separate panel, conducted under the Chatham House Rule, which promises panellists anonymity.

A senior official with a UAE regulatory body said regulation was, by nature, reactive, and he felt regulators had improved their speed and effectiveness.

“Regulators have upped their game significantly, especially in these past few years after the fintech roll-out,” he said.

But many new fintech products did not fit traditional regulatory categories, requiring a rethink.

A senior banker with a global bank, specialising in regulation, said initial coin offerings (ICOs) were effective, but their had been several scams, and so regulations were required to separate the good apples from the bad. Their organisation was assembling global best practice for ICOs.