Fashion, money, power and sustainability: Welcome to the new FII

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh on Tuesday. (SPA)
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Updated 27 October 2021

Fashion, money, power and sustainability: Welcome to the new FII

  • Business bigwigs debate and brainstorm how to solve big problems at global level

RIYADH: The Future Investment Initiative Forum returned to Riyadh on Tuesday, two years after the city last hosted the event, at which powerful and affluent people from around the world traditionally gather to look for big contract opportunities.

But this year, the fifth staging of the forum, is different. There was no talk about big contracts; instead, the powerful participants were discussing how can we give back to humanity and solve big problems at a global level. It is all about sustainability and investing in humanity.

The return of the FII after a postponement of a year caused by the pandemic, is a sign that the worst is behind us — at least in Saudi Arabia, which is going through a deep transformation.

Riyadh is no longer talking a language all of its own. It is now talking a global language that includes terms such as “saving the planet,” “sustainability,” “carbon emissions reduction” and “planning for a better world.”

The Saudis wanted to make sure that the launch of this year’s forum would send a strong message and they found no better way of achieving than by having renowned singer Gloria Gaynor appear and perform her famous song, “I Will Survive,” during the opening.

The world, and Saudi Arabia, has survived the pandemic, with all the hard decisions and tough measures this took, from the rapid development of vaccines to prohibiting Muslims from gathering in mosques to pray.

It is perhaps hard to imagine that big asset-management businesses such as BlackRock and Blackstone might exist for anything other than making big deals, but their respective bosses Larry Fink and Stephen Schwarzman are talking about subjects such as inequality and future generations at the forum.

Still, some things at the FII remain the same. The corridors are filled with people in fancy suits and dresses and the event is still a gathering place for the biggest deal-makers on the planet, who collectively manage trillions of dollars in assets.

Empowerment of women is another hot topic, and it was surprising to hear Schwarzman, Blackstone’s co-founder, talk candidly about how his company has had trouble recruiting women.

“Like many people in finance, we were having a lot of trouble hiring women,” he said during the opening panel discussion on Tuesday. “It was a male-dominated business and we made a decision to change that in 2015.

“We analyzed it and what we realized is that women weren’t applying to Blackstone. We tried to find out why and we found out that they were scared of us. I don’t think I’m very scary.”

Ana Botin, chairperson of Banco Santander, was the only woman on the eight-person panel, although there were female speakers at the opening of the forum.

As the first day of the event was ending, Saudi Aramco announced deals that will help it become more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

Indeed, the world has changed.

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Startup of the Week: Wafeer — helping Saudis spend wisely and save money

Updated 28 November 2021

Startup of the Week: Wafeer — helping Saudis spend wisely and save money

JEDDAH: Personal finance app Wafeer is the only service in Saudi Arabia that automatically tracks user’s spending patterns in a bid to help them stick to budgets.
The fintech company was founded by Salah Al-Bassam, Ahmad Ramadan and Abdulaziz Al-Jasser in 2019.
Each founder brings their own skills to the firm — Al-Bassam is an investment professional, Ramadan specialized in tech, while Al-Jasser is an engineer.
“We believe this was the formula that made Wafeer what it is right now, the broad and diverse experience that each founder brings to the table and of course our value add investors,” Al-Bassam told Arab News.
In March, Wafeer raised an undisclosed amount in a pre-seed funding round led by Nama Ventures, with participation from RAI group, WomenSpark, and several angel investors.
At the time, Nama Venture’s general partner Mohammed Alzubi said: “We first met the Wafeer team in August of 2020. The first thing that stood out for us was how complementary was the skillsets of the team, with real role clarity from the get go.”
Al-Bassam explains that its software automatically updates expenses that are paid through the app, rather than needing manual entry.
“Beyond tracking user’s expenses, Wafeer offers personalized advice using artificial intelligence helping users get notified before overspending and gives them recommendations that help cut spending or create wiggle room,” Al-Bassam said.
He added the Saudi Vision 2030 growth initiative highlights the importance of creating more awareness of spending, savings and investment through its Financial Sector Development Program.
Al-Bassam said: “It is one of the Vision's realization programs. This program has several goals, the most important of which are achieving financial diversity, stability, and promoting the culture of saving.
“Our goal at Wafeer is to play a role in achieving these objectives with the aim of answering this ongoing question that arises at the end of each month: What did I spend my salary on?”
Wafeer has 82,000 active users in its platform, who have notched up almost 1 million transactions.
The startup has partnered up with big companies in the region, such as online marketplace Noon and Saudi fast food app Hungerstation to provide special offers to customers.
Al-Bassam said: “We are proud of our partnerships, we have signed a number of strategic partnerships, most recently with Noon and Hungerstation to provide Wafeer users with exclusive discounts and offers that match their spending behavior.”
Wafeer currently only operates in the Kingdom, but has plans to extend its services to other Middle Eastern and North African countries.


Anghami to complete US merger ‘soon,’ CEO says

Updated 26 November 2021

Anghami to complete US merger ‘soon,’ CEO says

  • Maroun said the company’s priority is growth not profitability as it seeks to increase its market share from 6 percent

RIYADH: Lebanon’s Anghami, known as the Spotify of the Arab world, will not postpone its merger with the blank-check company Vistas Media in a potential $90 million deal, according to the firm’s CEO.

Eddie Maroun said the agreement had suffered a delay due to the procedures of the Securities and Exchange Commission in the US, but the deal will still go ahead.

The process is currently in its final stages, and the implementation will be announced very soon, he told Al-Arabiya on Thursday.

Maroun said the company’s priority is growth not profitability as it seeks to increase its market share from 6 percent.

He expects Anghami to achieve profitability within three years, he added.

Subscriptions represent 80 percent of the company’s revenue with the rest coming from advertising, Maround said.

Founded in 2012 in Lebanon, Anghami is the first legal music streaming platform in the Middle East and North Africa region.


Dubai real estate sector deals back to pre-pandemic level: Land department

Updated 26 November 2021

Dubai real estate sector deals back to pre-pandemic level: Land department

  • The number of deals in October was at the highest level since June 2019

RIYADH: Dubai’s real estate market has seen the highest value of deals since March 2019, according to data from the Dubai Land Department.

Figures show that in October, 5,352 transactions worth 13.12 billion UAE dirhams ($3.57 billion) were recorded.

The number of deals was at the highest level since June 2019.

The value of real estate sales transactions in the first 10 months of 2021 are more than the whole of 2020 and the highest since 2015, according to the data.

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Oman’s Bank Nizwa welcomes merger proposal from Sohar International

Updated 26 November 2021

Oman’s Bank Nizwa welcomes merger proposal from Sohar International

RIYADH: Oman-based Sohar International Bank and Bank Nizwa are considering a merger, according to Al-Arabiya.

Bank Nizwa’s board welcomed the proposal from Sohar International on Nov. 25 to study the idea of merging the two banks, it was reported.

Bank Nizwa recorded profit growth of 14 percent in the third quarter to 3 million Omani riyals ($7.7 million).

Profit growth of Bank Nizwa increased by 6 percent in the first nine months of 2021 to 9 million riyals.

Bank Nizwa is Oman’s first dedicated Islamic bank, launching in January 2013, with fully Shariah-compliant products and services.


Foxconn’s Jusda unit seeks pre-IPO financing

Updated 26 November 2021

Foxconn’s Jusda unit seeks pre-IPO financing

  • Foxconn’s supply chain management platform seeks $300 million to $400 million

RIYADH: Foxconn’s Jusda unit is considering raising funds from private investors ahead of a potential initial public offering early next year, sources told Bloomberg.

Foxconn’s supply chain management platform seeks to raise $300 million to $400 million in the so-called pre-IPO round, the sources said.

The company will use the proceeds to expand logistics services, they said.

Jusda is also in the early stages of evaluating a potential listing in Hong Kong in the second half of next year, the sources added.

No final decision has been taken because the considerations are preliminary and details such as the size of the funding can still be changed, they said.

Foxconn spokesman Jimmy Huang said Jusda has no plan for an IPO right now, and declined to comment on the fundraising.

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