Central Bank of Bahrain Governor Rasheed Al Maraj yesterday called for developing a practical approach to finding the right balance between enabling innovation and protecting the financial system. Speaking during the third Middle East and Africa FinTech Forum, Al Maraj warned: “We cannot sit idle and not provide the leadership and innovative thinking that this industry needs to grow.” He was addressing officials from the Central Banks of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Oman, Jordan, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, in addition to senior representatives from the banking, finance, telecom and tech industries in the MENA region.
Held under the patronage of CBB, the forum focused on financial industry’s key issues such as financial inclusion across the Middle East and Africa, open banking, artificial intelligence, and the impact of fast-developing technology on banking and societies. Hosted by Bank ABC and Arab Financial Services (AFS), the Forum moderated by Aaron Heslehurst, host of BBC World News programme Talking Business, started with an address from Sophia, the world’s most famous robot, who spoke of the potential for FinTech and AI to contribute to the development of humanity.
Sael Al Waary, Chairman of Arab Financial Services (AFS) and Deputy Group CEO of Bank ABC, told Tribune, “FinTech can be summarised in four key areas which are innovation, integration, inclusion, and imagination.” “Moreover, there are several of these areas had seen significant developments like the way Central Bank of Bahrain, has introduced significant regulatory changes in the last year that mandate adoption of open banking by the Kingdom’s financial institutions.” “Traditional banks would continue to lose market share to challenger banks and mobile wallet products, pointing to the newcomers’ more innovative approach to customer experience as the main driving factor.”
“AI would take an ever more prominent role in how banks service their customers and also in how they operate internally. Today’s innovation is tomorrow’s tradition,” he added. Outside the main conference hall, an exhibition hosted a range of stalls that showcased innovative financial technology products, giving visitors the opportunity to see the latest in wearable payment tech, mobile applications, and other developments. The most exciting part of the exhibition was the public debut of ‘Fatema’, who is the region’s first ever emotionally intelligent ‘digital employee’.
Built by New Zealand-based Soul Machines for Bank ABC, ‘Fatema’ appears as an on-screen employee and uses cutting-edge digital neurology and artificial intelligence to emotionally engage with customers. She is capable of engaging in natural conversation with customers, measuring emotions and expressing emotions of her own in return. Visitors to the exhibition were able to speak with her and ask her questions on specific Bank ABC products and services. In future when she is more widely available online, however, she will be able to respond to a wider range of queries about Bank ABC and its services.