Voice of the Industry

Open Banking in the GCC: picking up pace

Wednesday 14 December 2022 10:09 CET | Editor: Vlad Macovei | Voice of the industry

Serena Sebastiani from PwC Middle East shares insights into the Open Banking state of affairs in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region.


Serena Sebastiani from PwC Middle East shares insights into the Open Banking state of affairs in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region.


Building an ‘Open Data’ economy is one of the pillars of most of the GCC countries’ National strategies, to promote innovation and diversification from oil-based economies.

Countries in the Middle East are proactively engaging in initiatives to accelerate their positioning as global financial hubs, with a focus on enabling sustainable and innovative digital banking and fintech ecosystems, wider financial inclusion and cutting-edge technologies such as big data, AI, and cybersecurity.

As an enabler of most of the above-mentioned objectives, Open Banking is picking up the pace to unlock new business opportunities for banks (data holders) and to open new flourishing markets for fintech.


Bahrain pioneered the initiative in 2019, despite challenges, with a government-led and prescriptive approach. The key regulation, (combining aspects of the European PSD2, the UK’s OBIE, the Australian Open Banking rules), and technical standards (based on ISO 20022) are now in place and have created a strong foundation for the market to trigger new competition, encourage innovation, and increase financial inclusion.

Thanks to the early promotion of the Open Banking initiative in the Region, Bahrain has been able to support and export homegrown success stories such as Tarabut Gateway, a platform that emerged from the sandbox and is gaining market share also in UAE and Saudi Arabia. 

Despite the relatively small size of the country compared to neighbouring countries, and notwithstanding the initial scepticism on adoption, Bahrain has established itself ahead of Middle East peers in enabling fintech experimentation, alongside the UAE and Saudi Arabia. 

Saudia Arabia

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has launched Open Banking in January 2021, with a Regulator-led initiative driven by the Saudi Central Bank (SAMA). In line with the objectives of the National Fintech Strategy, the imperatives of the Saudi Open Banking framework are to unlock innovation opportunities for incumbents and fintech, to promote financial inclusion and to drive the digitisation of the financial sector.

The comprehensive framework includes an Open Banking mandated regime, rules for TPP (third party providers), technical, and securities standards that market participants are implementing ahead of its full realisation by the end of 2022.

Complementary initiatives have also been launched: Fintech Saudi (2018), that acts as a catalyst for entrepreneurs to develop and promote their solutions and access funding; Regulatory Sandboxes with rounding cohorts; and the Open Data Platform (2021), to offer economic, financial, and monetary statistics and indicators for Saudi Arabia that can be acquired through API interfaces.

With this progressive approach, Saudi Arabia has allowed early-stage fintech ventures to grow and expand, as demonstrated by Lean Technologies (the first payment aggregator to attract the interest and investments of giants such as Sequoia Capital).

United Arab Emirates

In UAE, Open Banking has been more of a market-led initiative, supported by the Central Bank UAE and Emirates’ Regulators with fintech-related initiatives, innovation hubs, and funding. The Dubai Financial Services Authority (DFSA) has developed a licensing framework for TPPs (AIS and PIS) and has announced, in April 2022, its first Open Banking licence (granted to Tarabut Gateway). Meanwhile, the penetration of digital services across the UAE has developed at a significant pace with government utilities and service payments all now available through apps or online, fintech solutions that consumers are now used to access, and innovation driven mostly by customers’ demand and experience.

Going beyond the regulation and the pure compliance exercise has allowed UAE to nurture dynamic fintech companies, also supported by the Open Finance Lab launched in April 2022 by DIFC (Dubai International Financial Center).

In parallel, the Central Bank UAE is drafting a high-level Open Banking framework to set ground rules and level the playing field among players.


In Oman, the Central Bank of Oman is driving an initial Open Banking initiative, not yet live. The country’s roadmap plans several ecosystem accelerators including a regulatory sandbox, a cloud computing framework, and an e-KYC initiative. The key drivers are improving the country’s financial services sector and increasing financial inclusion.


In Kuwait, Open Banking is yet to be defined but an initiative has recently been undertaken. The country’s core objectives remain similar to the rest of the GCC with the promotion of financial inclusion through leveraging technology to address consumer and business needs at its heart, coupled with the need to expand the product offering to SMEs and to promote competition and diversification within the financial sector.

Open Banking will be led by the ‘Open Banking Working Group’, with participants from the main banks and the Central Bank.

The bigger picture in Middle East

Widely in the Middle East, Open Banking is gaining positions on Governments’ agendas, for example, Egypt is focusing on improving its national payments system, paving the way for the growth of an Open Banking ecosystem. Morocco has introduced an updated payments regulation and is working on an Open Banking framework. The Central Bank of Jordan is studying its approach to Open Finance.

The vibrant GCC Open Banking ecosystem suggests the path towards a digitally enabled financial sector, with an emphasised customer experience. However, success doesn’t come without challenges: local timeframes need to account for agile approaches and time to market to keep the pace of global developments not only towards Open Finance but beyond.

Key consultations and coordinated efforts made by market participants allow for incremental engagement and, ultimately, adoption.

Opportunities are available to leverage global best practices and newly developed standards, although these have to be coupled with a deep understanding of the local financial sector and customers’ needs.

This article has been published first in the Open Banking Report 2022. Click here to download the report.

About Serena Sebastiani

Director at PwC Middle East, Management Consultant with 12+ years of experience in EU and the GCC focused on Fintech, Open Finance, and the future of money. Business mentor and speaker at industry events. I advise Regulators and the private sector to support the FS transformation agenda of the Region.


About PwC

At PwC, our purpose is to build trust in society and solve important problems. We’re present in 155 countries with over 327,000 people committed to delivering quality in assurance, advisory, and tax services. In the Middle East for 40 years, with 22 offices across 12 countries and 7,000 people.

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Keywords: Open Banking, Open Finance, Open Data Economy, regulation
Categories: Banking & Fintech
Companies: PwC
Countries: Middle East
This article is part of category

Banking & Fintech


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