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SAUDI ARABIA - Finance

Ahmed A. Alhakbani

Founder & CEO, SiFi

Bio

H.E. Ahmed A Alhakbani is the Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of SiFi, launched in June 2021. Prior to his current role, he was the former Governor of the General Customs Authority from January 2017 to March 2021. He also serves on multiple governmental boards, publicly and privately held companies and non-profits. He holds a full-time MBA degree from INSEAD France and a Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Systems from King Saud University in Riyadh. He also completed Executive Education courses at the London School of Economics and Political Science and IMD Business School in Lausanne.

"The inception of SiFi occurred during the final months of my four-year term in a government role."
TBY talks to Ahmed A. Alhakbani, Founder & CEO of SiFi, about operational history, partnerships in the Saudi market, and future expansion.
Can you talk to us about SiFi’s operations?

The inception of SiFi occurred during the final months of my four-year term in a government role. My team and I were grappling with managing expenses and petty cash, and several friends in the Fintech and Banking sectors proposed the idea of an e-wallet to compete with existing Fintechs. As the space became rapidly competitive, we focused on harnessing this technology to resolve expenses problems for businesses and government organizations. With no local providers offering a solution, we drew inspiration from international benchmarks, resulting in SiFi’s creation. We’re currently in the final stages of obtaining an operating license from the Central Bank of Saudi Arabia (SAMA).

Since then, what partnerships have you made in the Saudi market?

Our primary banking partner is the Arab National Bank (ANB). We also have agreements with MasterCard and Network International for card processing. These three are our foundational partners, but we foresee collaborations with other financial institutions in the future. Our goal is to work with all banks in Saudi Arabia, making it easier for customers to engage with us. Additionally, we anticipate establishing international partnerships, which is one reason we’re aligned with Network International, as they operate in multiple countries.

What markets are you looking into?

Saudi Arabia has immense potential, making it a blue ocean for us. Once we reach a comfortable level of maturity, we plan to expand into other markets, primarily the GCC and other countries in the region. We believe our strong technical team and business understanding will enable our solution to transcend the Saudi market.

How are you instilling awareness about Sifi and telling other corporations that you have the solution for them?

While we cannot aggressively promote our product until obtaining the SAMA license, we have invited companies to join our waiting list, amassing a significant number of interested customers. After launch, our go-to-market strategy will encompass direct sales, online marketing, and partnerships with key players such as accounting software providers, merchants, and banks. With the extensive market in Saudi Arabia, we believe no single player can satisfy the demand alone.

Would you say that your product could expand in scope?

Our aspiration for SiFi is to become the CFOs best friend—a one-stop-shop for managing a company’s financial aspects. We recognize a significant gap in current offerings and aim to bridge that gap with SiFi. The market is vast enough to necessitate multiple players for realizing our vision. The National FinTech Strategy plays a crucial role in driving regulation and fostering a supportive environment for startups to scale up and achieve national objectives.

In your opinion, what trends do you expect to shape the Fintech industry?

Regulatory changes, driven predominantly by the National Fintech Strategy and a desire for regulators to enable startup scaling, have and will continue to significantly impact the industry. The issuance of regulations for e-wallets, crowd funding, open banking and the introduction of a regulatory sandbox have allowed new business models to thrive. The establishment of companies like SVC and the support of venture capital funds also encourages entrepreneurship. Additionally, technological advancements—such as AI, blockchain, and licensing of international cloud providers—will foster innovation and bolster the productivity and competitiveness of Saudi startups.

What are your plans for the year ahead?

Our primary focus is obtaining the necessary license from the Central Bank and onboarding our initial customers to test the product, ensuring a robust product-market fit before going public. We firmly believe that Vision 2030 has unlocked unparalleled potential in the Saudi market, making it an opportune time for entrepreneurs to thrive.

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