This is the fifth consecutive year that Bahrain has retained its second place, following Malaysia in first position.
“As our region undergoes a dramatic economic transformation, the GCC presents exciting opportunities for international investors. Islamic Finance is a core pillar of our region’s offering. We also continue to see investments made in technology and these are making a tangible impact, unlocking innovation and entrepreneurship. We see huge potential in the connection between technology and Islamic finance; with technology being a disruptive force across so many industries, Bahrain is continually in a strong position to leverage the opportunities available,” said Khalid Hamad, Executive Director of Banking Supervision at the Central Bank of Bahrain.
Islamic finance assets grew seven per cent globally to $2.2 trillion in 2016 and are projected to reach $3.8 trillion by 2022, showing great momentum in the sector. With 24 Islamic banks holding assets valued at over $25.7 billion, the report also noted that Bahrain is making great strides through the promotion of Islamic finance education and literacy. Bahrain’s Islamic regulatory environment, where the Kingdom was placed first globally in overall regulations and in Shari'ah governance, was also praised. The Central Bank of Bahrain, recently, released a new Shari’ah governance module which is significantly impacting the Shari'ah compliance and governance standards among Islamic banks in Bahrain, to set clear benchmarks for the global Islamic banking market. The Shari'ah governance module sets higher standards of transparency, governance and competence, clarifying the roles and responsibilities of the management and the Board of Directors towards Shari'ah compliance.
Fundamental to the growth of all banks is the power of data. Supporting the development of its financial services industry, Bahrain has also just been announced as the regional leader in ICT Development for the fourth year running, enabling other sectors to take advantage of the state-of-the-art technology available in the Kingdom.
"With Bahrain’s very high level of internet usage, we are capitalising on the development of the ICT sector. Amazon Web Services (AWS) recently announced the launch of its first Region in the Middle East based in Bahrain. This is an indicator of the sentiment around investment in ICT here. We are in a unique position to foster the growth of disruptive technologies and promote innovation in traditional industries,” said John Kilmartin, Executive Director of ICT at the Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB).
The index measures ICT development based on skills, access and usage, relying on quantitative data sources from UNESCO and ITU. Bahrain is leading the MENA region in the ICT Development Index, ranking 33 out of a total of 188 countries worldwide, and far ahead of the other players in the region. Furthermore, Bahrain’s key strengths rest on an extremely high level of internet penetration, with 98 per cent of the population being active internet users; this compares to an average of only 77.6 per cent in European countries. It has amongst the highest levels of smartphone ownership, supporting a significant level of social media and online banking usage.
The Kingdom is supporting the disruptive power of technology and the growth of new industries by continuing with a policy of regulatory reform. This year saw the establishment of a regulatory sandbox, the introduction of Shari'ah-compliant and traditional crowdfunding regulations, and saw the launch of Bahrain Fintech Bay, the largest Fintech hub in the Middle East, creating the right framework for technology to disrupt traditional Islamic finance.