The Business Year

Walid Al Ballaa

SAUDI ARABIA - Finance

DirectFN

Managing Director, DirectFN

Bio

Walid Al Ballaa is a tech entrepreneur. He has been serving as the managing director of DirectFN—and its predecessor Mubasher—since 2001. The company is part of the Saudi-based National Technology Group, where Al-Ballaa is a board member as well. DirectFN has advanced as a leading financial content platform across emerging and frontier markets.

TBY talks to Walid Al Ballaa, Managing Director of DirectFN, on finance sector.

Could you tell us more about your primary expertise, and how you have advanced in recent years?

Our expertise focuses on two components; financial content, similar to Reuters or Bloomberg Terminal, and fintech. We are the pioneers in the financial content industry in Saudi Arabia, being the first to introduce subscription-based content to retail masses. In fintech, we work in a specialized domain, providing software technology. We provide brokerage management systems, asset management systems, custody management systems, and client relationship management (CRM) tailored to the investment management industry and anti-money-laundering systems. The latest innovation are robo-advisors, which help bring investment management into a retail framework.

How important is continuous innovation, and to what extent do you develop technologies in-house?

Continuous innovation is key to maintaining market leadership and growth, both vertically and horizontally. If companies like ours slow down innovation, we risk losing our standing or getting stuck in a stagnant position. Our company was based on a game-changing innovation. All we do comes from value-based innovation. In 2005, we expanded into market information. When Tadawul had an economic slowdown, investors started inquiring about debt analyzing, and we included that. Our screens became more mature, incorporating more analytics. Starting from a purely B2C model, we became a B2B platform. All banks and brokers started to use our platform, which is the case for the majority today. Next, we developed our brokerage management system for which we are overhauling our complete system, a process we call legacy modernization. User experience is the most important for us. Although we had a first-mover advantage with our screens, we needed to adjust to new realities. Our focus has expanded throughout all emerging and frontier markets, from Morocco to the Philippines. Our main offices are in Riyadh, Dubai, and Cairo, and our secondary offices are in Kuwait, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan.

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