Sync., the UK-based fintech, sees Qatar as an "incredible" base to expand into the Middle East as the 2022 FIFA World Cup will springboard the country into the global spotlight.

The world’s first digital smart open banking app and selected to be part of the first-ever Qatar fintech accelerator programme, is in the process of opening its office in fintech circle of the Qatar Financial Center and expected to start operations by the first half of 2021.

It has had discussions with many major local banks in Qatar and is looking at finalising its partners in the coming weeks as it aims to onboard at least 75,000 retail customers by the end of its first year of operations.

"With its demographics of locals, expats and residents, (Qatar) offers a near identical mix to other Middle Eastern states for us to launch our product,” sync. chief executive Ricky Lee told Gulf Times in an exclusive interview.

"As a financial institution, the QFC is a great launch pad for us in Qatar. The licence acts as a stamp of credibility for us to apply for further licences across the Gulf and other Middle Eastern countries," he said.

Primarily, the fintech would be looking at retail users as it has accounts that offer all sorts of banking services including concierge to adapt from millennial to locals, expats, travellers and high net worth, he said.

Subsequently, the QFC fintech circle-based entity would expand the offering to corporates and small and medium enterprises, or SMEs, so as to benefit from its advanced technology and cross border multi-currency solution.

Elaborating on its 2022 plans for Qatar; Lee said, The FIFA World Cup is a major event in Qatar and that will springboard Qatar into the global spotlight."

Many of the teams competing are based in Europe, where sync. has operations across 31 countries, helping it market the World Cup to all the fans by offering the customers an "incredible experience" to travel and spend in Qatar without the high FX fees and international commission that the banks and other financial companies tend to charge, according to Lee.

The fintech provides a simple and secure way to manage finances by giving customers complete control of their financial life in one app. The app allows one to open a pound or euro current account; link all of the financial accounts – such as bank accounts, credit cards, loans and mortgages, and transfer money worldwide at competitive rates.

Asked whether sync. is open to cobranding with the local partners; he said it is critical that when a customer sees sync., they recognise it as one brand.

"There will always be elements of localisation that we will do, such as joint campaigns with local companies. Even though sync. was born in UK/EU, our objective is to make sure to adapt and blend the brand in the country it expands; this will be done with the right partnerships, marketing campaigns," he said.

The UK entity has been selected for the Qatar Fintech Accelerator, a 12-week programme designed to support mature fintechs with a proven product that are looking to expand globally. It focuses on facilitating collaboration between startups and key partners and brands in Qatar.

"The accelerator is helping immeasurably in multiple areas, not least understanding Qatari business culture and regulations, introductions to local banks and partners and assistance in actually setting up our Qatari company and the support for future recruitment with fintech experience," Lee said.

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