Abu Dhabi leads fintech innovation with ADGM at the forefront

Abu Dhabi’s commitment to be recognized as a top fintech hub in the MENA region.

Abu Dhabi leads fintech innovation with ADGM at the forefront
[Source photo: Chetan Jha/Fast Company Middle East]

Creating a vibrant ecosystem for entrepreneurs in various industries, including fintech, is one of the main strategic pillars of the UAE’s vision to build a diversified economy, placing innovation and technology at the core of its economic and social development plans. Within this context, the transformation that the UAE economy is witnessing has opened opportunities for the establishment of various industries, especially in the financial services sector.

Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM), the international financial center (IFC) of the capital city of the United Arab Emirates, has leveraged its positioning as a young vibrant and technology-centric jurisdiction in order to build the foundations of a flourishing fintech hub for the MENA region, which also includes a thriving start-up ecosystem.

ADGM has achieved this by launching several initiatives and programs to bolster fintech innovation in the country and the wider MENA region. This is all part of a UAE-wide digital transformation agenda, which has placed Abu Dhabi as a destination of choice for financial firms, both big and small.


An example of this is the ADGM Financial Services Regulatory Authority (FSRA) RegLab, which provides fintech companies with a controlled environment to test cutting-edge technologies before they are released to the market and thereby subject to the standard regulatory requirements that would otherwise apply to traditional financial services firms from the outset. By identifying the key risks associated with each fintech business model and customizing the requirements accordingly, RegLab has been able to create a safe space that enables fintech innovation to be tested in a risk-appropriate and cost-effective environment.

Leveraging its position as the first of its kind in the region, the ADGM RegLab is determined to foster innovation in the UAE financial services market, for both new market entrants and established financial institutions.


Another initiative spearheaded by the ADGM is its Digital Lab, an online platform that pulls together the innovation community by enabling financial institutions to discover start-ups for potential commercial collaboration and venture capital firms to showcase their portfolio companies, along with a virtual environment that offers digital resources such as data, APIs, system images and reference architectures for startups to validate their products and services.

The Digital Lab serves as a marketplace and industry sandbox for incumbents and newcomers to collaborate and encourages the development of proofs-of-concept under the guidance and supervision of the FSRA.

By facilitating this unique environment, the ADGM Digital Lab allows the industry to work together to identify and address shared challenges while providing a neutral space to create new products and test prototypes rapidly.

Existing side by side, the ADGM RegLab and Digital Lab showcase how effective government-led initiatives can accelerate the local ecosystem and be drivers of a business-friendly environment.


Cognizant that fintech innovation isn’t solely being brought to the market by financially regulated firms, ADGM actively supports TechFins, technology companies that are providing essential services to financial firms, such as infrastructure and software but do not require financial supervision. These firms can obtain commercial licenses through ADGM’s Tech Startup Licence, benefitting from the space, structure, and support of the ecosystem to develop their business in the UAE.

ADGM offers the Tech Startup license to high-potential and scalable startups to grow and expand their businesses within an internationally recognized and progressive regulatory framework. The license is categorized into two stages – seed and emergent depending on the number of employees and the years since initial incorporation in the UAE. This distinction allows ADGM to better support its tech firms at critical growth moments, providing tailored resources and cultivating a close community spirit.


Hub71 is Abu Dhabi’s tech ecosystem platform, enabling local founders to build globally enduring companies, and foreign founders to expand to the Middle East. Open to high-potential startups in any sector, accepted firms have one-on-one support, a capital ecosystem, an international network of partners, and a vibrant community filled with highly skilled talent, governed by forward-thinking regulation.

In conclusion, Abu Dhabi’s commitment to becoming a vibrant ecosystem for entrepreneurs in various industries, including fintech, has built an ideal environment for many fintech companies.  Progressive and innovative policy thinking and comprehensive and forward-thinking regulatory frameworks have equipped ADGM and Abu Dhabi with the necessary environment to be champions of fintech innovation in the MENA region.


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