Experts discuss opportunities and challenges of Open Banking in Bahrain

The Digitization Committee at the Bahrain Association of Banks held a digital panel discussion titled “Catching the Open Banking wave: The opportunities and challenges in Bahrain”.

The event brought together experts from the banking, fintech and regulatory sectors, and provided a valuable opportunity for the exchange of ideas and perspectives on the current state and potential future of open banking in Bahrain. Dr. Wajeeha Awadh, Group Chief Digital Officer at Al Baraka Group, moderated the panel.

Dr. Yousif Almas, Head of Digitization Committee at the Association and Group Chief Innovation Officer at Bank ABC, delivered the keynote address noting that such discussions are important for fostering digital innovation in the financial services sector in Bahrain. Since Bahrain was the first country in the Middle East to issue open banking regulations, it’s good to look at our progress and chart the course ahead with industry leaders and key stakeholders.

During the session, Ms. Yasmeen Al-Sharaf, Head of the FinTech & Innovation Unit at the Central Bank of Bahrain, highlighted the lack of adequate promotion of open banking among banks as a concern, urging banks to prioritize open banking in their strategies and to promote the concept. In addition, she indicated that monetization could be achieved through rewards and loyalty programs or charging for premium, underlining the need to boost open banking to increase innovation opportunities for the financial services and fintech sectors.

Mr. Ali Ghuloom, Group Head of Technology at NBB, emphasized that open banking is an ecosystem responsibility and not only about banks. He noted that there are two types of banks, those who want to go the extra mile and those who only want to comply, suggesting that Machine Learning and AI can be applied to understand customer behavior and generate revenue through fintech partnerships.

As an open banking provider and a representative of the fintech perspective, Dalal Al Rayes, Founder & CEO at Spare, highlighted the lack of clear onboarding processes, lack of user awareness, and friction in user experience as the core challenges that open banking is facing currently, stressing that improvements are needed in the quality of data and interface should be more user-friendly.

“The forum has come up with recommendations, which included the necessity to focus on providing awareness programs on the benefits of services that utilize open banking capabilities, encouraging the outlook of open banking as an integrated ecosystem and not only perceiving banks responsible for its adoption, simplifying implementations and unlocking data that are critical for digitizing financial services.” Said Dr. Yousif Almas.

He also stated that such discussions are key to help support the kingdom’s digital transformation while bringing together leaders from different sectors to align on the national digital vision and capabilities needed through financial services to facilitate the journey of digitizing the economy, emphasizing that the association is coordinating with several entities on drawing a roadmap for the future of financial services.

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