The Saudi cabinet has approved the establishment of two digital banks, one of which has confirmed that it will operate in compliance with Shariah law, which is welcomed news for the small but growing global Islamic challenger bank community. The approvals are in line with the Saudi government’s ambition to become a leading global financial center as part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.
To be known as the Saudi Digital Bank, the upcoming bank driven by a consortium of companies and investors led by Abdulrahman Saad Al-Rashed & Sons Company, will be established with a capital of SAR1.5 billion (US$399.44 million). Among the founding members of this bank is Al-Moamar Information Systems Company which contributed SAR25 million (US$6.66 million).
“The cabinet’s decision to approve the licensing of two digital banks comes within the framework of developing the system of the financial sector, and contributing to the support and development of the national company, by opening the way for new companies to provide financial services,” Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan said.
The other licensee is Saudi Digital Payments Company (STC pay), a payments company owned by Saudi Telecom Company (STC). STC pay will convert its license into a banking one and operate with a paid-up capital of SAR2.5 billion (US$665.74 million), pending further regulatory approvals. If and when STC pay meets all other regulatory requirements of the Saudi Central Bank (SAMA), STC will inject SAR802 million (US$213.57 million) to retain 85% of STC pay’s share capital, while Western Union, via a wholly-owned subsidiary, will invest SAR750 million (US$199.72 million) to own the remaining 15% share, to meet the SAR2.5 billion paid-up capital.
A timeline for the establishment of these digital banks, which is still subject to further approvals, has not been finalized; however, SAMA noted that it is working on completing the necessary technical and operational requirements. Currently, meem — the retail arm of Gulf International Bank — is the only entity in Saudi offering Shariah compliant banking services on a completely digital basis.