As a strategic priority linked to the diversification of the Qatari economy, policymakers in Qatar have been pushing the fintech agenda for several years. In 2020, amidst the turmoil, tangible steps towards realising the potential for digital finance in Qatar have come to fruition. The focus of the initial phase is a coordinated effort to support the growth of digital payments services in Qatar. Although Qatar has yet to adopt specific digital payment services regulations, there is no shortage of institutional support and commercial activity.
The Qatar Central Bank (QCB) is soon planning to launch its regulatory sandbox allowing firms seeking to safely live-trial their services in the digital payment services space. Under the strict supervision of the QCB and the guidance of an expert panel, the QCB sandbox will be the centrepiece of intuitional efforts to promote innovation in digital payment services.
The Qatar Development Bank has also recently (since 1 June) begun accepting applications for its first cohort into its FinTech Hub Accelerator and Incubator programs. The QDBs FinTech Hub is a sophisticated support apparatus connecting fintech startups (and even more mature operations) with logistical, business and financial support as the navigate their way into the Qatari market. QDB has managed to establish links with similar setups around the world and provides participants with all the support they need to bring their ideas to market. Importantly, the QDB and QCB are working together so that promising technologies and services can graduate directly into the sandbox without having to proceed from incubation to acceleration and then seek entry into the sandbox environment. There is a proverbial ‘green lane’ fast tracking operations that deserve to be fast tracked.
On the regulatory front, although the QCB has yet to adopt any explicit regulations as in the UAE, the Qatar Financial Centre has introduced a fintech licencing category for firms seeking to enter the QFC platform and provide B2B fintech services. These services include: cybersecurity solutions, cloud computing services, enhanced application programming interfaces (APIs), real-time transaction platforms for internet-connected devices, online and digital budgeting and portfolio management tools and any other related activities.
Players seeking to provide digital payment services or solutions to consumers however will be unable to obtain a QFC license.
The most well-known and well-established payment gateway operator in Qatar is Qpay. Qpay has been doing ‘fintech’ before most people had even heard of the phrase. Alongside Qpay, several newer players have emerged in recent years. Three of the most promising startups in Qatar at the moment are Cwallet, Skipcash and Paywise.
CWallet is not only a mobile wallet but also a remittance solution provider. Its platform, now available in Google Play Store and the Apple AppStore, allows users to add funds to their mobile wallet and easily transfer, withdraw or utilise their funds for cash free transactions with an increasing network of businesses that have begun accepting CWallet payments.
Skipcash is a passthrough mobile wallet. This means that no cash or funds are actually stored on a user’s account. Users input their credit card details into the platform giving them enhanced functionality in terms of cashless payments, merchant rewards and budget, monitoring. On the merchant sides, business owners can target, serve and better retain customers by better engaging with their purchase habits. Skipcash has soft launched but will properly launch in the short term.
Paywise is perhaps the most exciting payment service provider in Qatar today. Should its plans materialise, Paywise will revolutionise the payment services space by providing the fintech infrastructure between banks and fintech service providers. Paywise seeks to do nothing short of providing the backbone upon which other fintech services can build. Rather than being customer facing, Paywise seeks to simplify the process of payment clearing between merchants and banks.
Beyond the above 3 startups, the environment in Qatar for payment services will surely grow as policymakers work towards clear regulations and consumers become ever more comfortable with digital payments.
Dr. Andrew Dahdal, Assistant Professor, College of Law, Qatar University. Section Head, Law and Policy (Economic Diversification), Centre for Law and Development. Lead Principal Researcher on NPRP Project: ‘FinTech and RegTech: Building a resilient, inclusive and competitive legal and regulatory framework for 21st century finance in Qatar’. This Article was made possible by the NPRP award NPRP 11S-1119-170016 from the Qatar National Research Fund (a member of the Qatar Foundation).