During 2019, FinTech spurred the evolution of Islamic Finance industry. It helps to address a need for simplification and innovation in the sector which will support longer term acceptance and growth.

Dubai and Dubai International Financial Centre are driving the future of the Middle East, Africa and South Asia’s (MEASA) Islamic Finance sector. In 2019, the Centre saw a marked rise in the volume of Islamic assets being managed here, recording a 33 per cent growth year-on-year.

The MEASA continues to be an important player in an industry worth more than $2.1 trillion, fueled by the growing popularity of Islamic Banking. Sharia-compliant assets represent 14% of total banking assets in MEASA region and 25% of banking assets in the GCC, suggesting that Islamic banking continues to be systemically important in these countries. DIFC also partners with S&P every year to share an authoritative outlook on the sector – this forms part of our commitment to enhance knowledge within the industry.

Last year, DIFC welcomed Malaysia’s largest lender and the fifth largest Sharia-compliant bank in the world, Maybank Islamic Berhad, to the Centre. The move bridges two of the world’s biggest centres for Islamic finance, allowing it to service the GCC market and access one of the world’s leading exchanges for Sukuk, whilst aligning on financial infrastructure and standardisation in the sector. Furthermore, Dubai is one of the largest centres globally for Sukuk listings by value at $68.35 billion and Nasdaq Dubai at $49.06 billion.

Back to FinTech. It provides a great opportunity for the sector to streamline services and attract new segments, with the key being digital-savvy millennials. Younger customers are expected to play a crucial role in the growth of Islamic finance and expand its customer base in the future, with the younger segment expecting to contribute to as much as 75 per cent of total bank revenue by 2030.

This is an area that DIFC has been investing in heavily, with its constantly growing FinTech ecosystem contributing to the UAE’s position as the fourth largest Islamic FinTech hub in the world. For the 2019 FinTech Hive programme, there were many Islamic start up ideas amongst the 450 applications. Four Islamic Finance start-ups were selected to join the elite group of participants.

Their ideas were varied and innovative. Malaysia headquartered HelloGold, is developing the world's first Shariah-compliant gold mobile application. IslamiChain is an innovative start-up leveraging Blockchain Technology to enable philanthropy and compassionate giving. Hakbah is an Islamic FinTech start-up specialised in cooperative savings and Wethaq, a platform focused on the structuring and distribution of securities in Sukuk capital markets.

The Centre has become a nexus for 46 Islamic Finance institutions to engage with innovative start-ups. DIFC’s FinTech Hive accelerator also partners with specialist organisations which include the Dubai Islamic Economy Development Centre, Emirates Islamic Bank, Dubai Islamic Bank and Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank.  

DIFC and DFM (Dubai Financial Market) have brought together representatives of leading banks, financial institutions, as well as public and private companies in the first Dubai Sustainable Finance Working Group launched early this year. The group will focus on combining Dubai’s finance sector’s initiatives to create a sustainable financial hub in the region in line with the UAE Sustainable Development Goals 2030 and Dubai’s Strategic Plan 2021, encouraging the use of green financial instruments and responsible investing. The synergies between Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) goals highlight that Islamic Finance can be a prime driver for ethical financial solutions.

As the DIFC progresses in driving the future of finance, Islamic Finance and the principals that guide it will continue to play a significant role in supporting sustainable growth within the regional financial services sector.

Written by Arif Amiri

In his capacity as Chief Executive Officer of DIFC Authority, Arif Amiri oversees the strategic and operational functions of the Centre. Under his leadership, DIFC has grown substantially and set out an ambitious 2024 Strategy, which will see it further enhance its position as the leading financial hub for the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) region.