The Central Bank of the UAE (CBUAE)is planning for phase two implementation for domestic CBDC payments after the Central Bank with the Bank for International Settlements Innovation Hub Hong Kong Centre, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, the Bank of Thailand, and the Digital Currency Institute of the People’s Bank of China, launched the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) platform of the mBridge project. Mbridge is a multi-central bank digital currency (CBDC) common platform for wholesale cross-border payments and settlement.

CBUAE is planning for Phase 2 implementation, which includes domestic CBDC payments and further enhancements of cross-border fund transfers.

The CBUAE anticipates the growing use of the mBridge platform for cross-border payments among the participating jurisdictions. Ongoing reviews and enhancements are also underway as the platform progresses towards a full production launch. This is the first multi-CBDC platform which has reached the MVP phase, ready for use by early adopters.

In January 2024, His Highness Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Vice President, Deputy Prime Minister, Chairman of the Presidential Court and Chairman of the Board of the CBUAE, initiated the first cross-border payment of ‘Digital Dirham’, the CBUAE’s CBDC, to China worth AED50 million through mBridge. It also marked the first real-value cross-border CBDC payment between a MENA country and a country outside the region on an MVP-ready platform.

To date, a number of UAE licensed financial institutions (LFIs) have been onboarded onto the mBridge platform, with collaborative efforts underway for to accelerate its adoption. Onboarded LFIs are now ready to initiate and process cross-border CBDC payments with their counterparts of the participating jurisdictions.

According to the Central Bank of UAE press release, the mBridge platform is a key initiative under the CBUAE’s Financial Infrastructure Transformation (FIT) programme which seeks to accelerate the digital transformation of the UAE’s financial services sector. The deployment, testing and launch of the mBridge MVP comes as part of the CBUAE’s Phase 1 implementation of its broader CBDC strategy, supported by the use of the Digital Dirham.

Presently, the CBUAE is planning for Phase 2 implementation, which includes domestic CBDC payments and further enhancements of cross-border fund transfers. Utilizing distributed ledger technology, the mBridge project aims to connect economies through a multi-CBDC platform to help support international trade and cooperation, whilst overcoming challenges of existing cross-border payment systems and offering efficient, low-cost, and instant cross-border payments settled in central bank money.

Khaled Mohamed Balama, Governor of the CBUAE, said, “The CBUAE’s participation in mBridge aligns with our strategic objectives of promoting innovation, efficiency, and financial inclusion in the financial services sector. By collaborating with our international partners, we aim to contribute to the development of a more robust, efficient, economical, interconnected and instant global payments infrastructure that benefits all participants, while maintaining the highest security standards.”

A few days prior to this announcement, the Central Bank of UAE approved the issuance of a regulation for licensing and overseeing stablecoins and a series of policies aimed at supporting the banking, insurance, and financial services sectors.

Ripple Blockchain cross border payments provider has partnered with Commercial International Bank (CIB) in Egypt to leverage XRP for faster, secure and cost effective transactions in the remittance sector.

This strategic alliance aims to revolutionize the way cross-border payments are conducted, leveraging Ripple’s cutting-edge technology and the digital currency XRP to enhance international remittance services. The collaboration, heralded by industry experts, signifies a major leap forward in financial innovation and efficiency.

This collaboration follows Ripple’s announcement to increase its activities in the United States, signaling a broader strategy to cement its position as a leader in blockchain technology and digital currency. The alliance with CIB, one of Egypt’s premier financial institutions, is particularly noteworthy as it positions the bank as the second major Egyptian bank, after the National Bank of Egypt (NBE), to embrace Ripple’s technology for cross-border transactions.

Prominentmember of the Ripple community on the X platform (formerly known as Twitter), Wrathofkahneman,  published the news that fintech heavyweight Ripple Labs has onboarded another major customer, sharing a link to the 2024 Fintech Report, Egypt.

The report states that Commercial International Bank (CIP) based and operating in Egypt is now collaborating with Ripple to integrate its blockchain technology in order to “enhance the efficiency of cross-border payments.” He wondered whether the bank will also integrate the XRP token itself as part of its collaboration with Ripple.

As per the recent report by law firm Shehata & Partners, CIB integrated Ripple’s technology to transform cross-border transactions.

Ripple Blockchain and crypto solutions provider has partnered with Onafriq, fintech payments entity, previously known as MFS Arica to offer digital asset enabled cross border payments in Africa, GCC ( Gulf Cooperation Council) countries as well as UK and Australia.

Onafriq utilizing Ripple payments, will open three new payment corridors between Africa and the rest of the world. In GCC Onafriq will be working with Blockchain enabled Pyyple fintech payments entity.

Antti Arponen, CEO at Pyypl, said: “The success of the GCC in drawing in people from all over the world to live and work here has made it a hub for remittance payments. So we are really pleased that our ever-increasing number of customers seeking to send money to Africa will greatly benefit from our new connection with Onafriq, which will allow them to send remittances quickly and cost-effectively to the continent. ”

The partnership is bringing faster, more efficient, and cost-effective international money transfers to Africa, and is set to accelerate financial inclusion across the continent.

“For a number of years, Ripple has supported crypto-enabled, cross-border payments to individuals and businesses, and we are particularly excited to expand the reach of our solution into Africa thanks to our Onfriq partnership,” said Aaron Sears, SVP, Global Customer Success at Ripple. “Connecting our partners PayAngel, Pyppl and Zazi Transfer with Onafriq over Ripple Payments will bring the benefits of faster and more cost-effective cross-border payments to individuals seeking to send money into Africa from around the globe.”

Onafriq has the largest mobile money movement footprint across Africa at a time when mobile money is a significant driver of financial inclusion and has revolutionized access to financial services across the continent. The fintech’s payment hub connects over 500 million mobile wallets across 40 African countries, and operates across more than 1300 payment corridors on the continent, underpinning regional payment interoperability and seamless cross-border payments.

The announcement is being made as Dare Okoudjou, Founder & CEO of Onafriq, is set to appear at Swell Global 2023, the seventh edition of Ripple’s annual customer conference, which this year takes place in Dubai.

Dare Okoudjou, Founder & CEO at Onafriq, said: “Our mission is to make borders matter less when it comes to payment within, to, and from Africa. We are advancing this mission through our partnership with Ripple, which is already enabling new types of connections with fintechs such as PayAngel, Pyppl and Zazi Transfer. These connections are set to enable fast, secure and low-cost remittances at scale between Africa and the rest of the world, and represent a bold first step for our crypto strategy to leverage blockchain technologies to amplify our impact on people and businesses on the continent.”

According to the recent Kucoin Survey report The Cryptoverse,Understanding Crypto Users in the UAE, which revealed insights into the UAE’s role as a crypto hub, it was found that 48 percent of UAE crypto users are concerned about lack of trust in crypto exchanges, with 63 percent of them prioritizing security.

In addition, only 72 percent preferred Bitcoin as a crypto investment, followed by Ethereum at 52 percent, and stablecoins at 42 percent.

32% of respondents cite a lack of crypto education and awareness as the region’s top challenge.

In terms of crypto investment, 13 percent of those surveyed had invested more than $10,000 , while 26 percent invested between $1,000 $0,000 while 51 percent invested below $1000.

A significant portion of respondents (35%) are drawn to crypto as a means to diversify investment portfolios, and 11% are primarily motivated by the desire to hedge against inflation. This signifies an awareness among UAE investors of the importance of crypto in risk management and growing wealth, which is a critical in a global financial environment where fiat currencies are often affected by inflationary pressures.

29% of the respondents find crypto to be a convenient way to hold their assets, especially when compared to traditional banks, as crypto is being recognized with many more uses beyond mere financial investment. 22% engage in crypto for daily payments and transactions, 12% for cross-border remittances, and 9% for buying NFTs and other digital assets. This underscored the practicality and efficiency that crypto offer as an alternative to traditional financial services.

As per Kucoin, the survey showcases a strong appetite among UAE crypto users for real-world applications beyond investment, with 40% expressing a preference for crypto in cross-border remittances and daily transactions, signifying crypto’s potential to revolutionize financial interactions in the region.

The report highlights user perceptions regarding the UAE’s advantages for crypto industry development, with 53% citing access to funding as the top advantage, closely followed by a robust financial infrastructure and global network, positioning the UAE as an attractive destination for crypto entrepreneurs and businesses seeking growth.

In addition the findings reveal that 62% of UAE crypto users are eager for the integration of AI and blockchain technologies, showcasing the UAE’s forward-looking approach to crypto innovation.

The 17th edition of the report series, offers essential insights into the UAE crypto market. This comprehensive report is based on feedback from crypto investors in the UAE, highlighting their pressing need for trust, security, crypto education, and their profound interest in crypto innovation. Moreover, the survey reaffirms the UAE’s growing recognition as a cryptocurrency hub.

Alicia Kao, Managing Director of KuCoin, highlighted the significance of the report, stating, “Our survey has unveiled the pressing needs and aspirations of the UAE’s crypto community. Trust, security, and education are at the core of their concerns. This report not only illuminates their preferences but also solidifies the UAE’s position as a leader in the crypto revolution, with a dominant 72% preference for Bitcoin and a strong appetite for blockchain and AI integration. The UAE’s advantages, including access to funding, a robust financial infrastructure, and a global network, set the stage for the country’s crypto industry to flourish.”

USA based Fluent Finance, a blockchain enabled fintech infrastructure company responsible for developing the connections from core banking to public layers, bridging Web2 to Web3 utilizing the Fluent Protocol, has joined UAE’s Ministry of Economy NextGEN FDI program as Fluent plans to launch its operations in Abu Dhabi and expand its workforce in the UAE to 125 people in the next five years.

Fluent is working to issue deposit tokens which are stable-valued, regulatory-compliant digital assets interoperable with core banking systems. With Fluent, banks may issue fiat-equivalent tokens directly to public blockchains based on outstanding customer deposits and central bank-issued CBDCs.

Fluent will use its new UAE headquarters to deploy and scale its proprietary Fluent Economic Bridge, which can be used by importers and exporters to settle transactions via stablecoins or, increasingly, deposit tokens.

They are already piloting the platform in Kenya, and now hope to develop a digital trade corridor with the UAE.

Dr Thani Al Zeyoudi, Minister of State for Foreign Trade, said Fluent’s participation in the NextGen FDI initiative underlines the UAE’s status as a hub for global trade and a supportive ecosystem for new technologies such as blockchain: “The UAE has become a prominent advocate for the modernization of the multilateral trading system, as well as a supportive place for the development of the tools and applications that can deliver it. I am optimistic about the possibilities of the Fluent Economic Bridge, and the potential for digital currencies to improve the efficiency and accessibility of global supply chains. In the build-up to the World Trade Organisation’s 13th Ministerial Conference in Abu Dhabi in February next year, encouraging platforms such as those developed by Fluent will offer an important proof point for the UAE’s leadership on trade technology.”

Bradley Allgood, Fluent Finance’s Chief Executive Officer, said the UAE was the obvious place in which to launch Fluent Economic Bridge. “The UAE offers exactly the kind of supportive, enabling environment that Web3 companies such as Fluent require. The combination of thoughtful regulation, forward-looking vision and advanced technology ambitions means we have the right foundations on which to develop our product and grow our organization. Importantly, this is also an important trade crossroads, which provides a multitude of opportunities to deploy our platform. We genuinely believe that, with the right support, we can transform Fluent Economic Bridge into the next unicorn.”

UAE FAB bank, (First Abu Dhabi Bank), has announced the successful completion of its J.P Morgan’s Coin blockchain based cross border payments.

Coin systems support digital solutions on proprietary blockchain network to enable instant transfer and settlement of value on a permissioned distributed ledger.  The pilot phase, executed seamlessly and within satisfactory response times, have demonstrated the capabilities and potential of blockchain technology in enhancing cross-border payment solutions.

FAB’s achievement through collaboration with Onyx by J.P. Morgan, is a demonstration of the bank’s commitment to leveraging cutting-edge technologies to provide innovative solutions to its clients around payments space and particularly cross border payments domain.  Looking ahead, FAB’s Global Transaction Banking business plans to explore further opportunities using J.P. Morgan’s Coin Systems.

Bahrain’s ABC Bank was the first bank to actually go live with Coin System built on Onyx by J.P Morgan, after two years of piloting.

MENA based Bank ABC has won two distinguished awards at Global Finance’s much-coveted The Innovators Awards -2023. The Bank’s innovation and digitization Centre, ABC Labs, has been named as one of “the World’s Best Financial Innovation Labs.

ABC bank is implementing the GCC region’s first blockchain based cross border instant payment solutions as well as CBDC project with the Central Bank of Bahrain. In 2020 The Central Bank of Bahrain collaborated with J P Morgan and Bank ABC in a pilot scheme to introduce instantaneous cross border payment solution leveraging state of the art technology and digital currency. The pilot was successfully completed in 2022. 

Bank ABC along with J.P. Morgan will pilot the transferring of funds from and to the Kingdom of Bahrain in US-Dollars for payments from buyers to suppliers. This will lead to suppliers being paid faster and buyers originating payments in shorter time periods without the need for holding funds in advance. The Central Bank of Bahrain will act as a close partner in the pilot between Bank ABC and J.P. Morgan and going forward would look to extend the collaboration to Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs).

Global Finance’s Publisher & Editorial Director, Joseph Giarraputo notes, “Bank ABC continues to put digital innovation as a key strategic priority in providing world-class customer focused banking initiatives. It is playing a key role in the Gulf region’s first blockchain-based cross-border instant payment solution. Through ABC Labs, the Bank is collaborating with several central banks, including the Central Bank of Bahrain ‘CBB’, in studying and launching central bank digital currencies and is now scaling up its payment services for corporate clients.”

Bank ABC has also been presented with the ‘Top Innovations in Finance’ award, an accolade that underscores the Bank’s outstanding Digital Transformation Program which delivers an unparalleled, personalized banking experience to corporates and individuals.

The award was an acknowledgment of ABC bank’s commitment to emerging technologies such as AI, Blockchain and Data analytics.

Bank ABC’S Group CEO, Mr. Sael Al Waary said: “Innovation is at the heart of our strategy as we continue our digital transformation journey to build a more intuitive and sustainable bank of the future. We are honored and proud to accept this prestigious recognition for our world-class innovation lab, ABC Labs. This award acknowledges our commitment to staying ahead of the curve and embracing emerging technologies such as AI, Blockchain and Data Analytics. It is a testament to our commitment to delivering enhanced customer experiences and encourages us to continue to invest in our innovation and digital initiatives.”

Since inception, ABC Labs established the digital architecture and agile methodologies to enable the Bank’s strategic objectives. These steps enabled the launch of ‘ila Bank’ – a revolutionary digital mobile-only retail offering, and the development of an emotionally intelligent AI-powered digital assistant ‘Fatema’ among other achievements. Bank ABC’s digital transformation program has resulted in multiple ground-breaking digital deployments. Most recently, the Bank introduced a regional-first digital corporate onboarding service, reducing the account opening process to less than a day.  It is also digitising its Supply Chain Finance, Documentary Trade Finance and Cash management businesses.

On February 24th 2023 FAFT released its latest grey and black list. For those who are on the grey list it means that these jurisdictions are under increased monitoring and are actively working with the FATF to address strategic deficiencies in their regimes to counter money laundering, terrorist financing, and proliferation financing.

As per the recent announcement by FATF, “When the FATF places a jurisdiction under increased monitoring, it means the country has committed to resolve swiftly the identified strategic deficiencies within agreed timeframes and is subject to increased monitoring. This list is often externally referred to as the “grey list”.”

Of the Arab countries on the grey list, was Jordan. It was on the list because of risks in virtual assets. As per FATF one of the reasons for it being on the list was because it needed to address strategic deficiencies including “completing and disseminating the money laundering and terrorist financing risk assessments of legal persons and virtual assets.”

It was interesting to see the term virtual assets in relation to Jordan because Jordan has not been on the list in terms of countries with high crypto ownership or transactions. Other countries such as Egypt, Morocco, and Lebanon are much more active in crypto. yet FATF chose to include the risks of virtual assets as one of the reasons it was one the grey list. 

According to Triple A crypto ownership report, the percentage of Jordanians who own crypto is just 1.5 percent equivalent to 170,000 people as of January 2023 an increase from 1.25 percent in 2022.

Concurrently, the IMF after its technical report on Jordan’s Central Bank feasibility for the launch of retail CBDC after a three month mission, recently released its report. IMF gave Jordan’s existing payment market a positive review calling it well integrated.

Nonetheless, The IMF stated that an rCBDC would enhance financial inclusion by providing services to residents without smartphones and could also improve the domestic payment system by making its infrastructure available to PSPs and lowering the cost of cross-border transfers.

The IMF however warned to avoid disintermediation in the Jordanian financial system, as it could contribute to instability in times of stress. The IMF found that an rCBDC could increase cybersecurity risks as an attractive target. “Sound legal underpinnings for an rCBDC should also be created,” the report said. 

In its report the IMF noted, “RCBDC may offer some benefits, but it does not necessarily address pain points. On the other hand, a cross-border rCBDC could add value, particularly if the authorities coordinate with other countries in the region.”

Jordan’s Central Bank had announced in February 2022 that it was researching a CBDC. Cointelegraph article noted that a central bank proposal to introduce crypto trading met with resistance in the parliament.

Whatever the case, Jordan being on FATF grey list because of virtual assets risks is another reminder of the need to regulate crypto assets.