Al Hekail: Saudi Arabia magnets local, foreign fintech entrepreneurs

Mar 12, 2024

Shaimaa Ibrahim


One of Saudi Arabia’s ambitions is to become a global fintech hub. For this aim, the Kingdom enhanced the regulatory framework and developed competencies of the fintech sector, in addition to increasing the number of fintech companies in the Kingdom. 

BwaTech is one of the fintech companies licensed by the Saudi Central Bank (SAMA) to provide financial services, enabling corporates that deal with more than one bank to implement several banking processes through one platform.

In this regard, Sharikat Mubasher held an interview with Hashem Al Hekail, Co-Founder and CEO of BwaTech, to learn more about the role of the fintech sector in fostering small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in alignment with the futuristic Vision 2030.

Al Hekail also showcased the products provided by BwaTech to enhance the entrepreneurship ecosystem in Saudi Arabia and highlighted the promising investment opportunities available in the Saudi fintech sector.


What are the services provided by BwaTech to foster the fintech sector in Saudi Arabia? and what are the products that BwaTech offers for SMEs?

Entities and corporates of different sizes usually have multiple banking relationships and we, at BwaTech, provide advanced tech products to enable them to conduct their transactions with different commercial banks safely and seamlessly online via one platform, instead of using the e-portal of each bank. We offer a full suite of products, notably:

Cash Management

This product enables corporates to consolidate their cash balances and transactions with different banks in one interface, in addition to processing various payments and transfers across all banks in a secure and efficient style.

Letters of Guarantees 

This product automates the full life cycle of the Letter of Guarantee (LG) and enables corporates and banks to exchange LG actions online. It offers quick delivery of LG from the issuing bank to the beneficiaries and allows beneficiaries to release or confiscate an LG issued in its favor online, in addition to identifying existing transactions and LGs between both parties. 

This product currently serves large corporates and entities that receive massive numbers of LGs, but it will serve SMEs that request issuing LGs once SAMA issues related legislation and standards.

It is worth noting that all services are provided via the Bwa Business platform either through the website and the applications or through the application programming interface (API) that links the corporate’s internal system to the platform. 


How does the Bwa Business platform enhance corporates’ financial digital transformation?

Earlier, customers had to visit the bank’s branch to finish their transactions, but later on, most banks enabled customers to complete their financial transactions through e-portals.

However, corporates having multiple banking relationships found it difficult to deal with several portals featuring different standards and requirements. Hence, BwaTech provided inclusive portals to tackle these challenges.

The inclusive portals are considered the second wave of the digital transformation following the emergence of digital portals for each separate bank.

In regards to the question, the unified portals are a kind of digital transformation for both banks and corporates as banks will focus mainly on attracting deposits and funding rather than investing in digital portals. Meanwhile, fintech companies will be responsible for developing digital portals and services that provide access to financial services. 


Can you please share more about the importance of integrating Saudi corporates with banks and how this enhances the business sector?

Each corporate has its own system to manage its resources. While implementing any financial transaction, the corporate finds it necessary to process the transaction through two procedures; its systems and banks, and both require a group of employees to prepare and approve the transaction. Additionally, errors may happen as the transactions are being recorded in the corporate’s systems separately from the bank.  

Through electronic integration, the transaction is recorded only once either in the corporate’s systems for payments or in the bank’s system for deposits. In both scenarios, systems electronically align with each other to record the transaction, saving too much effort and reducing errors. The electronic integration also enables the corporate to have all financial statements available immediately in its systems, raising the operational efficiency of its businesses.

On the other side, electronic integration is an expensive and complicated process that requires specific expertise and becomes more complicated when the company needs to integrate with several banks. Here appears BwaTech’s role in facilitating this process as the corporate only needs to connect with BwaTech to be integrated with all banks without any extra effort. 


How do you see the future of open banking in Saudi Arabia?

The Saudi banking sector is evolving and SAMA promotes open banking to explore potential opportunities to provide new products and services, increase competitiveness, and facilitate the entry of fintech companies

Open banking is the system of allowing access and control of customer banking and financial accounts through third-party applications. Looking at the services provided by the National Information Center (NIC) to individuals, it became easy for banks to have the customer’s permission online, thus, I believe these services will boom in the individual sector. 

In contrast, dealing remotely with corporates in general, except for one-person companies, is not as easy as individuals as corporates find some challenges in opening accounts and building banking relationships. Therefore, developing a centralized system is crucial to facilitate ascertaining the reliability and validity of required documents as well as the corporates’ representatives.

The efforts of the Ministry of Commerce and the Federation of Saudi Chambers to tackle such challenges are remarkable, however, more is needed in regard to the corporates’ representatives and their specialties. I urge the ministry to launch an initiative to fill this gap in collaboration with SAMA and the NIC.


Can you please share more details about BwaTech’s achievements in 2023 and its plans for 2024?

We primarily focused on building the systems infrastructure, developing some products, and obtaining necessary licenses, but in 2023 we started launching our services.

Our LG ecosystem yielded good results as it facilitated paperless communication between the bank and the beneficiary, which accordingly attracted most banks to join the LG ecosystem that BwaTech manages.

In 2024, BwaTech's plans include broadening clientele and launching some new products. 


What are the company’s future plans and investments in Saudi Arabia? and do you plan to expand businesses beyond the Kingdom?

We target expanding our products. For instance, the LG product is planned to cover the field of document accreditation locally and globally, in addition to other services related to accounting and payments.

We are currently working on launching a new product licensed by the Capital Market Authority (CMA), through our subsidiary, to distribute investment and real estate funds. We also plan to partner with other service providers to offer integrated services to our customers.

Expanding our footprint beyond the Kingdom is on the cards, but it is better now to focus on the Saudi market.


How do you evaluate the performance of the Saudi fintech sector in 2023 and what are the main challenges the sector faces?

The performance of the Saudi fintech sector is promising; it provides valuable products and services and strives for more. 

The Kingdom became a destination for local and foreign entrepreneurs as well as distinctive initiatives, backed by the endeavors of regulatory and supervisory entities to foster the sector. However, the sector faces a lot of challenges notably the high cost at the beginning with zero returns.  


In your opinion, what are the promising opportunities in the Saudi fintech sector?

There are several promising opportunities to develop innovative banking solutions through open banking, leveraging cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and blockchains. The cybersecurity and data protection fields also enjoy a lot of opportunities to develop new methods to detect fraud and prevent cyberattacks.


What do fintech startups in the Kingdom need to thrive? and how do entrepreneurs contribute to realizing Vision 2030’s objectives?

They need a set of elements: reliable cloud services, data security services, big data analytics, and AI, in addition to regulatory sandboxes and laws that stimulate their growth and attract investors.

Government entities and regulatory organizations are working together to provide a robust framework that stimulates innovation and bolsters the fintech sector.

Entrepreneurs can also contribute to realizing Vision 2030’s goals by providing groundbreaking ideas and solutions that enhance digital transformation, improve the user experience, and meet market needs. Similarly, startups participate in creating new jobs and developing human capabilities, in alignment with Vision 2030’s localization goal.


How do weigh the Kingdom’s efforts to bolster the fintech sector and boost digital transformation?

Fostering the fintech sector is one of the key goals of Vision 2030 and the concerned entities in the Kingdom spare no effort to achieve this goal and drive digital transformation. For instance, SAMA and CMA launched a sandbox to explore innovative technologies and provide the necessary support to nurture innovative entrepreneurs, in addition to introducing regulations that facilitate their businesses.

Nor can we forget the pivotal role of Fintech Saudi to provide entrepreneurs in this promising sector with the guidance, consultancies, and support they need.

Moreover, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology is a key player in enhancing the growth of fintech startups.


Translation: Noha Gad



Latest Experts Thoughts

What is meant by Micro-VCs?

By: Kholoud Hussein 


What are micro-VCs?  


Micro-VCs, or micro venture capital firms, are a type of venture capital firm that invests smaller sums of money into early-stage startups than traditional VCs. They typically invest between $25,000 and $500,000 per deal, and they have a shorter time horizon than traditional VCs (usually 3-5 years).


Micro-VCs have become increasingly popular in recent years, as they offer some advantages for both startups and investors. For startups, micro-VCs can provide the early-stage funding that they need to get off the ground. They can also offer valuable advice and mentorship, as many micro-VCs are staffed by experienced entrepreneurs and investors.


As for investors, micro-VCs offer the opportunity to get involved in early-stage startups with high growth potential. However, it is important to note that micro-VC investments are also riskier than traditional VC investments. This is because startups at this stage are more likely to fail.


The rise of Micro VCs is attributed to several key factors:


  1. The Lower Capital Threshold
  2. Fostering Innovation Through Risk Tolerance
  3. Agility and Responsiveness in a Dynamic Market
  4. Empowering Regional Development Through Localized Investment

The rise of Micro VCs also signifies a broader shift towards regional investment. With smaller funds, Micro VCs are more likely to invest locally, bolstering regional startup ecosystems and driving economic development. This localization of investments fosters community engagement, encourages local entrepreneurship, and facilitates the creation of specialized industry hubs across diverse geographical locations.


If you are considering investing in a micro-VC, there are a few things you should keep in mind. First, you need to make sure that the micro-VC has a good track record of investing in successful startups. Second, you need to be comfortable with the level of risk involved in these investments. Finally, you need to make sure that the micro-VC's investment philosophy aligns with your own investment goals.


How Can Startups Find and Approach Micro VC Funds?


The journey of finding micro-VCs and closing a deal includes: 


  1. Research: Startups must identify potential micro-VC firms based on factors such as their size, sector, focus, and location. Once identified, startups should create a list of micro-VCs that align with their needs. 
  2. Outreach: Startups can reach out to potential firms through email, social media, or in-person meetings. Leveraging one’s network to find potential leads also helps. 
  3. Pitch: Present your startup to interested micro-VC firms, showcasing its value and potential for investment.
  4. Negotiation: If a micro-VC firm expresses interest, negotiate the investment terms, including funding amount, equity, and deal specifics.
  5. Close: Finalize the deal by signing the investment agreement and receiving the funds.

Yagoub: Kharja plans to secure $500,000 to expand footprint in Saudi Arabia

Exclusive – Sharikat Mubasher: The Saudi-based intuitive mobile application Kharja aspires to expand its footprint in Saudi Arabia to meet the burgeoning demands of the entertainment sector, in alignment with Vision 2030. To achieve this goal, Kharja plans to raise $500,000 to broaden its operations in the Kingdom.


Sharikat Mubasher interviewed Co-founder Khalid Yagoub to learn more about Kharja’s planned fundraising and discover the application’s advantages and offerings in the Kingdom.


What differentiates Kharja from other local and global social networking applications?

The Kharja application provides an exceptional and seamless experience for managing and simplifying hangout plans in the Kingdom. It allows users to use a shareable link with family members and friends to invite them to join the hangout.

It also suggests places that fit users’ styles based on their preferences, ensuring an excellent and more interactive experience.


What are the advantages of using Kharja in Saudi Arabia?

Kharja application plays a leading role in the Kingdom capitalizing on the increased focus on the entertainment sector within the ambitious Vision 2030. Unlike traditional social networking applications, Khaja specializes in managing and exploring entertainment activities, in addition to providing tailored suggestions and facilitating social gathering activities to enhance users’ experience. Our offerings underpin Kharja’s capabilities and leading role in Saudi Arabia as they strategically align with the national objectives. 


What are Kharja’s profit sources?

We earn profits from several sources, notably monthly and annual subscriptions for commercial businesses. These subscriptions enable businesses to manage their profiles on the application and benefit from the tailored promotional features.

Further, the application adopts a smart bidding system for targeted ads; it generates profits from active ads that reach the target audience at the right time.


What are the recent funding rounds that Kharka recently raised?

In April 2023, we raised $200,000 in a pre-seed round from Flat6Labs.


Do you plan to raise more funding rounds within the upcoming period?  

We plan to complete the pre-seed round to raise our capital. Also, we plan to secure investments of $500,000 to expand our operations, update the application, and broaden our user base by following advanced marketing strategies.

This funding will fuel Kharja’s strategic plans to grow rapidly in the Saudi market.


How does Kharja support tourism in the Kingdom?

Kharja provides tourists with an interactive platform to explore activities and discover different tourist hotspots in the Kingdom; it suggests cultural events, tourist attractions, and entertainment activities that match their interests, and provides recommendations based on users’ preferences to enhance their experience.

Moreover, Kharja contributes to promoting tourism in the Kingdom as it helps tourism agencies reach more customers through targeted ads.


Translation: Noha Gad



Can Saudi Arabia become a leading global fintech hub?

By: Kholoud Hussein 


Over the past few years, Saudi Arabia has managed to take the lead and take advanced steps to boost the fintech sector and develop it into a flourishing industry marked by rapid growth, diversifying services, and increasing contribution to its national economy. Yet, the kingdom is facing challenges to become a leading global fintech hub. 


Key players 


In April 2018, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA), in collaboration with the Saudi Capital Markets Authority (CMA), kickstarted the nation’s fintech growth journey with the launch of Fintech Saudi, an initiative aimed at cementing KSA’s position as the leading fintech hub in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. Fintech Saudi continuously strives to boost, support, and represent the fintech industry in KSA through initiatives such as its Accelerator program, Career Fair, Fintech Tour, and the Summer Sessions. Since the launch of Fintech Saudi, there has been a 20-fold increase in the number of fintechs operating in the kingdom. Over SAR 4 billion ($1 billion) has been invested into fintech companies in KSA, and over 100,000 people have engaged in fintech-related events, training courses, and internships organized by Fintech Saudi.


According to a recent report by Arthur D. Little, the development and approval of the national fintech strategy in May 2022 marked the next stage of fintech development for KSA. The strategy was based on six pillars:


  1. Developing KSA as the fintech hub for the Middle East
  2. Creating a regulatory environment supportive of growth and innovation
  3. Funding for start-ups
  4. Training and skill enhancement
  5. Accelerating support infrastructure
  6. Driving local and international collaboration

KSA’s Vision 2030 plan for fintech has four key objectives, constituting clear milestones toward its aspirations of being a global fintech leader: 


  1. Establish at least 525 fintech companies (versus 200 in 2023)
  2. Open 18,000 fintech job opportunities (versus around 5,400 in 2023)
  3. Account for $13.3 billion in direct GDP (versus around $1 billion in 2023)
  4. Achieve $12.2 billion in direct venture capital (VC) contributions (versus $1.4 billion in 2023)

The number of fintech companies in KSA more than doubled in one year, from 89 in 2022 to ~200 in 2023. This impressive growth has been catalyzed by a range of measures to stimulate innovation, with three in particular standing out:


  1. Fintech Saudi: The establishment of Fintech Saudi was a catalyst for change, leading to such measures as the Fintech Accelerator program, the Fintech Saudi Innovation Hub, an online fintech directory, regulatory enhancements in collaboration with SAMA, and various flagship events (e.g., Fintech Tour and hackathon)
  2. Fintech Regulatory Sandbox: The SAMA-established sandbox allowed controlled live testing of fintech innovations, facilitating a smooth transition to the open market
  3. Start-up funding: Various financial-support mechanisms have been deployed in the Saudi fintech ecosystem, some of which are industry-agnostic. For example, the Saudi Venture Capital Company (SVC), supported by CMA and the Financial Sector Development Program (FSDP), launched a SAR 300 million fund focused on fintech start-ups and plans to invest SAR 6 billion more into start-ups and SMEs across other sectors.


So far, SVC has invested in 35 VC funds, which have facilitated over 900 deals and SAR 1.9 billion in investments. The Saudi National Technology Development Program (NTDP) has launched the Technology Development Financing initiative that supports start-ups with debt funding.


Key progress areas


The report pointed out that the three key areas illustrate the major progress already made in KSA fintech: digital payments, alternative financing, and financial product aggregation.


For digital payment, the kingdom embarked on a journey to transform society to be less dependent on cash transactions. A cornerstone was the FSDP, which played a pivotal role in introducing new players to the financial services landscape. According to the Saudi Vision 2030, there is a plan to escalate the proportion of non-cash transactions to 80% by 2030, a significant leap from its 18% baseline in 2016.


The fintech landscape has been enriched through collaborative synergies between Saudi Payments and fintech companies. Among the various developments, digital wallets, local transfers, QR code payments, and SADAD system bill payments stand out as the most prominent. According to data released by SAMA, digital wallet usage has seen an exponential rise from 315,000 in 2018 to 17 million by 2022, representing over half of KSA’s population. In 2018, bank transfers were the primary method for topping up these wallets, accounting for approximately 70% of all top-ups. However, by 2022 around 80% of top-ups were being made via debit or credit cards.


On the other hand, the alternative financing sector, particularly “buy now, pay later” (BNPL) and debt crowdfunding, has emerged as the second-largest fintech subsector in Saudi Arabia, trailing only behind Saudi Payments. This growth reflects a shift in consumer and business financing preferences, increasingly leaning toward more flexible and accessible options than traditional banking models.


Debt crowdfunding has become a vital avenue for financing, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) facing challenges in securing traditional bank loans. The platforms operating now in KSA offer a streamlined digital process for businesses to sell invoices and secure funding, alleviating cash flow issues and aiding growth.


As reported by SAMA, the investor base in the KSA crowdfunding market has seen significant growth, from 302 in 2019 to over 92,000 in 2022. These investors have collectively issued over 1,800 loans worth more than SAR 1.1 billion since 2019, with about SAR 770 million in loans disbursed in 2022 alone.




Saudi Arabia’s fintech landscape is still young and nascent. It does not have the deal flow we see in Egypt, the advantage of Bahrain’s long experience in financial markets, nor the pull of the UAE’s ecosystem, whose financial landscape is also further ahead in terms of crypto and blockchain regulations.


Talent is also a big issue. A report from Fintech Saudi shows that hiring qualified talent was the main obstacle for 40% of fintech startups, followed by regulations at 37%, then access to customers/customers testing at 28%.


In addition, there is a gap in Saudi Arabia, like most of the other countries in the region, between the education system and work requirements. Universities need to bridge this gap by preparing students for the labor market in different tech spaces. 


Further, the kingdom’s startup ecosystem is still young, and attracting talent requires hefty salaries that most startups cannot afford. It still lags behind Dubai as a hub for global companies and talent, while processes tend to be more laborious and time-consuming. Riyadh and Jeddah both lack the quality of life that has proven to be so crucial for attracting talent and that is visible in the makeup of the fintech sector in the country. According to recent data, 80% of the fintech startups operating in Saudi Arabia are headquartered in the kingdom and are founded primarily by Saudi entrepreneurs.


However, the Saudi government has made its intentions very clear – it wants a diversified economy where entrepreneurs, startups, and innovators should be able to flourish. If it continues to progress in its current trajectory, Saudi Arabia certainly has the potential and capacity to become the best market for fintech for many reasons, including the spending capabilities of the population, the advancement of the financial sector, and the progression of the regulator.


Pre-seed funding Vs. Seed funding: What is the Difference?

By: Kholoud Hussein 


Timing, amount of money raised, valuation, and product or development stage are the four defining factors that determine the stage of funding you are in. 

During pre-seed rounds, your company won’t have a trail of financial records to showcase company success. Instead, you’ll need to show investors that you have planned out your company’s journey toward success with detailed steps and an MPV.


Companies are ready for seed funding after gaining traction and proving market needs. Additionally, you have a well-developed business strategy and a fully developed product with early customer adoption. Founders use funding through seed rounds to scale businesses and begin production.


Pre-Seed Funding


The earliest stage of funding a new company comes so early in the process that it is not generally included in the funding rounds. Known as "pre-seed" funding, this stage typically refers to when a company's founders get their operations off the ground. The most common "pre-seed" funders are the founders, close friends, supporters, and family.


Depending upon the nature of the company and the initial costs of developing the business idea, this funding stage can happen very quickly or take a long time. It's also likely that investors at this stage are not investing in exchange for equity in the company.


Seed Funding


Seed funding is the first official equity funding stage. It typically represents the first official money a business venture or enterprise raises. Some companies never extend beyond seed funding into Series A rounds or beyond.


Seed funding helps a company finance its first steps, including market research and product development. With seed funding, a company has assistance in determining what its final products will be and who its target demographic is. Seed funding is generally used to employ a founding team to complete these tasks.



What is series A, B, and C funding?

By: Kholoud Hussein 


Series A, B, and C are funding rounds that generally follow "seed funding" and "angel investing," providing outside investors the opportunity to invest cash in a growing company in exchange for equity or partial ownership.


Series A, B, and C funding rounds are each separate fund-raising occurrences. The terms come from the series of stock being issued by the capital-seeking company.


How Does This Series Work? 


Before delving deeper into how a round of funding works, it's necessary to identify the different participants. First, the individuals are hoping to gain funding for a new business. Businesses tend to advance through funding rounds; it's common for a company to begin with a seed round and continue with A, B, and C funding rounds.

On the other side are potential investors. While investors wish for businesses to succeed because they support entrepreneurship and believe in the aims and causes of those businesses, they also hope to gain something back from their investment.


Thus, nearly all investments made during one or another stage of developmental funding is arranged such that the investor or investing company retains partial ownership of the company they are funding. If the company grows and earns a profit, the investor will be rewarded commensurate with the investment made.


What Is Series A Funding?


The term gets its name from the preferred stock sold to investors at this stage. In this round, it's important to have a plan for developing a business model that will generate long-term profit.  Typically, Series A rounds raise between $2 million and $15 million, but this number varies due to many circumstances.


In Series A funding, investors are not just looking for great ideas. Rather, they are looking for companies with great ideas and a strong strategy for turning that idea into a successful, money-making business. For this reason, it's common for firms going through Series A funding rounds to be valued at up to $50 million. 


What Is Series B Funding?


Series B rounds are about taking businesses to the next level, past the development stage. Investors help startups get there by expanding market reach. Companies that have gone through seed and Series A funding rounds have already developed substantial user bases and have proven to investors that they are prepared for success on a larger scale. Series B funding is used to grow the company so that it can meet these levels of demand.


What Is Series C Funding?


Businesses that raise Series C funding are already quite successful. These companies look for additional funding to help them develop new products, expand into new markets, or even acquire other companies. In Series C rounds, investors inject capital into successful businesses to receive more than double that amount back. Series C funding focuses on scaling the company, and growing as quickly and successfully as possible.


Most commonly, a company will end its external equity funding with Series C. For the most part, companies gaining up to hundreds of millions of dollars in funding through Series C rounds are prepared to continue developing globally.