R3 Blockchain is establishing itself more in the GCC and MENA region, with Bryan D’Souza announcing his move to Abu Dhabi as Business Development and Partnerships Manager in the Middle East.

As D’Souza noted on Linkedin, “I’m delighted to finally announce my move to Abu Dhabi with R3, where I will lead Business Development and Partnerships in the Middle East. After extensive travel between London and the GCC, the prospect of making Abu Dhabi my home is thrilling as I embark on this exciting new chapter.

He adds that he is excited to collaborate with GCC’s thriving financial services ecosystem. According to D’Souza, the GCC stands out as a forward-thinking hub of progress due to its dynamic blend of tradition and innovation, as well as a remarkable ability to execute on transformation.

He will be working to flourish digital economies and align with national visions of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Jordan, helping these countries to realize their financial sector developments including banking and capital markets transformation.

R3 will be working with Central banks, FMIs, commercial banks, FinTech, providing practical groundbreaking solutions for digital assets tokenization and regulated digital currencies, including CBDCs.

Last month Bryan D’Souza discussed his fruitful visit to Kuwait.

R3 has been a strong proponent in the Middle East and GCC region working with governments and enterprise on several projects, most prominently the CBDC projects in Saudi Arabia and UAE.

In addition the Qatar Financial Centre Authority and R3 signed an MOU to develop and grow Qatar’s fintech industry using technologies such as DLT (Distributed Ledger Technology) back in April 2023.

D’Souza stated after his visit to Kuwait, “I am thrilled to have experienced my first trip to Kuwait over the last couple of days as part of a mini GCC tour. I am grateful for the warm welcome from our great partners and potential clients. The hospitality of the Kuwaiti people left a lasting impression; warm, friendly, and eager to collaborate.”

He added, “Exciting opportunities ahead and looking forward to returning back to Kuwait soon!”

MENA based Flat6Labs, an early stageventure capital firm, has selected Jordanian blockchain startup Konn Technologies, a fintech company that offers blockchain-based solutions among the 24 tartups in its StartMashreq growth track program supported by the International Financial Corporation.

The program aims to help startups from Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq to scale their businesses.The selected startups operate in various sectors, such as fintech, healthtech, e-commerce and agritech. Five of them are co-founded by female entrepreneurs, working in edtech, energy tech and proptech. The startups collectively generate an annual recurring revenue of $20.8m and have raised a total of $38.5m. They also create around 700 direct jobs across the three countries.“We are delighted to partner with Flat6Labs to support these promising startups from the Mashreq region, especially those founded by women,” said Abeer Shalan, Senior Operations Officer at IFC. “Mashreq startups can demonstrate resilience and innovation in the face of challenging circumstances and prove their ability to create value for their stakeholders by venturing into new markets. By providing them with funding and resources, we hope to help them reach their full potential and contribute to the development of the regional startup ecosystem.”Ragia Amr, Programme Director of StartMashreq at Flat6Labs, said: “We are very excited to welcome the 24 startups to our Growth Track programme. We have been impressed by the quality and diversity of the applications we received and we are confident that they have what it takes to succeed in their markets. Through our programme, we will offer them tailored support and guidance to help them overcome their challenges and achieve their goals. We look forward to working with them over the next six months and beyond.” The StartMashreq Growth Track programme started in June 2023 and will run until December 2024. The programme will include workshops and mentorship by international experts, business networking events, investor mixers and participation in international events and roadshows. The 24 startups that joined the StartMashreq Growth Track programme  include fromLebanonCompost Baladi: A social enterprise that provides waste management solutions.Ecomz: An e-commerce platform that enables merchants to create online stores.KamKalima: An edtech platform that helps Arabic teachers and students.Moodfit: An online interior design service that connects clients with designers.Presentail: An online gift delivery service that connects expats with local shops.Purpl: A proptech platform that simplifies property management.Shelvz: A retail intelligence platform that helps brands optimize their shelf presence.IraqKESK: A fintech platform that provides digital banking services.Lezzoo: A super app that offers delivery, e-commerce and payment services.Midient/Padash: A cloud kitchen platform that enables food entrepreneurs to launch online brands.Orderii: An online marketplace that connects customers with local service providers.Toolmart: An e-commerce platform that sells tools and hardware products.Jordan Algebra Intelligence: A healthtech platform that provides AI-powered medical diagnosis.Arab Therapy: An online platform that connects users with licensed therapists.Dinarak: A fintech platform that offers mobile wallet and payment services.Hello World Kids: An edtech platform that teaches coding to children.InvoiceQ: A fintech platform that provides invoice financing solutions.Jordilight: An energy tech company that produces solar-powered street lights.Konn Technologies: A fintech company that offers blockchain-based solutions.Little Thinking Minds: An edtech company that creates digital learning products for children.Nestrom: An agritech company that provides farm management software.Palmear: An e-commerce platform that sells handmade products from local artisans.Repzo: A mobile CRM platform that helps sales teams manage their activities.Shop4Me: An e-commerce platform that delivers groceries and other products.

BingX, a cryptocurrency exchange, has introduced  Peer-to-Peer (P2P) trading services for multiple countries in the MENA region including UAE, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt, Kuwat, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. This means that trading includes fiat currencies such as  AED, DZD, EGP, JOD, KWD, QAR, SAR, MAD, TRY, and more. By opening up this feature, BingX aims to foster greater accessibility and convenience for users seeking to purchase cryptocurrencies with their local fiat currencies.

According to BingX press release, this strategic move empowers merchants and users in the MENA region and Turkey to engage in direct cryptocurrency transactions with zero transaction fees. Building on its successful P2P trading services available in over 40 countries and regions with support for 300+ payment methods, BingX now extends its user-friendly and cost-effective trading experience to the MENA and Turkey market.

BingX is seeking merchants in the Middle East and Turkey.

“We are delighted to introduce our P2P trading services with more accessibility for all users,” said Elvisco Carrington, PR and Communications Director of BingX. “As we continue to enhance our platform’s offerings, we are committed to providing our users with professional, secure, and cost-effective trading solutions. By expanding into the MENA and Turkey market and offering zero-fee P2P trading, we aim to create a dynamic trading environment that caters to the unique needs of local users and merchants.”

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.

The Jordanian government has commissioned the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UNESCWA) Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia to draft a national blockchain policy for Jordan.

As a result the UNESCWA is hiring a consultant from Jordan to work remotely on drafting a national Blockchain policy for Jordan. The application for the job will be closed on June 14th 2023.

As per UNESCWA, The project should be finalized within 4 months; UNESCWA explains that Arab countries need to develop their Blockchain national plans to meet the requirements that were brought forth by the digital age.

In addition UNESCWA stated, “The Ministry of Digital Economy and Entrepreneurship (MoDEE) in Jordan requested UN-ESCWA’s assistance to develop the national policy for blockchain. The provision of this advisory service is the subject of these terms of reference.”

The report will include reviewing best regional and international practices on Blockchain policies, strategies and frameworks (at least 4 international and 4 regional practices); analyzing the different existing policies and frameworks related to digital technologies in Jordan; holding interviews with the various stakeholders and summarize their remarks and observations; suggestion of the needed national policy in Jordan based on the gap analysis and national needs.

UAE based WadzPay Blockchain enabled Hajj Pilgrim Digital payments solution has been chosen as a finalist at Currency Research’s second annual Advancement in Digital Currency Awards, being presented at the Digital Currency Conference in Mexico City, on May 18th, 2023. WadzPay’s solution was chosen under the category for Best Innovation in Digital Currency. WadzPay is competing against top international blockchain fintech providers such as Stellar.

According to Parv Aggarwal, Vice President for CBDCs and Partnerships, “We are super excited to represent WadzPay and our novel cross border Hajj Pilgrimage token.”

Currency Research awards are presented to digital currency initiatives that advance the platform as a payment instrument. Currency Research chooses entities who are working on all types of digital currencies at all stages of developments.

The award categories include “Outstanding Advancement in Digital Currency” whose category finalist for this year include, Crunchfish,  eCurrency,  and FNA.

The second award category is “Best Innovation in Digital Currency” which recognizes outstanding innovations in the digital currency space, including new platforms, products, or apps that have the potential to transform the way we use and interact with digital currencies, including central bank digital currencies (CBDCs).

The category is open to innovations that have launched and have customers, and that offer users a unique and valuable way to access digital assets, crypto, DeFi, or other related financial      services, including CBDCs. Innovations that offer greater security, transparency, and scalability in the digital currency space, or that leverage emerging technologies such as AI, will be given special consideration. The judges will consider factors such as the level of innovation, the potential impact on the industry, and the ability of the innovation to scale and reach a wider audience.

WadzPay, Currency Network, and Stellar will be competing as finalists for this category.

Other award categories include Best Financial Inclusion Initiative in Digital Currency. This award recognizes initiatives that have been developed to promote financial inclusion in the digital currency space. This category is open to projects that have demonstrated success in providing access to digital currency and related financial services to traditionally underserved or unbanked populations. This includes initiatives that aim to reduce barriers to entry for low-income individuals, women, and other marginalized communities. 

Jordanian headquartered Fintech solution provider ProgressSoft will be competing against eCurrency, and IDEMIA.

The Best Sustainability Initiative in Digital Currency category will see competition between Andrei Lipkin, Ripple and Stellar

As for the final award category” Digital Currency Leader of the Year” which recognizes outstanding individual who has consistently contributed to the advancement of the digital currency sector, finalists includes Jonathan Dharmapalan, eCurrency, James Wallis from Ripple, and Shiva Bissessar from Pinaka Consulting Ltd.

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.