Iraq, a nation with a rich history, has faced significant challenges in the post-war era. However, amid the struggles, there is a notable transformation occurring in the realms of digital payments, the banking sector, and FinTech. Years of war and economic sanctions left Iraq's financial infrastructure in a state of disarray. Reconstruction efforts since then have sought to address these challenges and bring the nation's financial sector up to par with international standards. Key to this process is the modernization of its financial systems, with a particular emphasis on embracing digital technologies. In this article, we delve into the evolution of digital payments, the banking sector, and the rise of FinTech in Iraq, highlighting how technology is reshaping the financial landscape and promoting economic growth in the country.
The Emergence of Digital Payments
In a bid to leapfrog traditional banking systems, Iraq is witnessing a surge in digital payment methods. Increased access to smartphones has made it easier for Iraqis to engage in digital payment transactions. Mobile apps and digital wallets have become commonplace. Iraq also has a predominantly young population, and this demographic is more tech-savvy and inclined towards digital solutions for financial transactions. Moreover, The Iraqi government is actively promoting digital payments to reduce reliance on cash, improve transparency, and curb corruption. Some of the digital payments methods are briefly described below:
Mobile payment solutions are gaining traction, enabling users to make transactions using their mobile devices. This trend is further fueled by the widespread use of smartphones.
E-wallets are gaining popularity, offering a convenient way for Iraqis to store funds, make payments, and even access credit services, especially in urban areas.
The Modernization of Banking
Iraq's banking sector is undergoing a transformation, embracing modern technologies to offer more accessible and efficient services.
Some of the methods are described below:
Core Banking Systems
Banks are integrating robust core banking systems to enhance their operational efficiency, enabling real-time transactions and improved customer service. Banks are also expanding their branch networks to reach more citizens, including those in rural areas. The proliferation of ATMs also makes it easier for Iraqis to access their funds and conduct transactions conveniently.
Online Banking and Mobile Apps
The introduction of online banking platforms and mobile applications allows customers to perform various banking transactions without visiting a physical branch. Traditional banks are offering online banking services, allowing customers to check balances, pay bills, and transfer funds from the comfort of their homes.
The Rise of FinTech in Iraq
FinTech is gradually making its mark in Iraq, promising innovation and financial inclusion.
FinTech Startups and Innovations
Several FinTech startups have emerged, offering solutions in payment processing, lending, financial planning, and investment management. Startups are providing digital lending platforms that make credit more accessible to a wider segment of the population.
P2P lending platforms are providing an alternative to traditional lending, connecting borrowers with lenders for loans and investments. FinTech companies are introducing innovative payment solutions, including peer-to-peer transfers and contactless payments.
Financial Inclusion Initiatives
FinTech is helping in reaching the unbanked population, providing them with access to financial services that were previously inaccessible. New FinTech startups are contributing to financial inclusion by reaching unbanked or underbanked individuals in remote areas.
Digital Payments, Banking Sector & FinTech in Iraq: Latest Facts, Figures and Statistics
- GDP in Iraq is expected to reach US$282.67 Billion by the end of 2023.
- GDP Annual Growth Rate in Iraq is expected to reach 7% by the end of 2023.
- The GDP in Iraq was forecast to continuously increase between 2023 and 2028 by in total US$61.2 billion (+22.85%).
- The GDP in Iraq is estimated to amount to US$329.1 billion in 2028.
- With around 20% penetration rate in the 2022, half of banked individuals in Iraq joined in the past 3 years.
- The online banking penetration in Iraq is forecast to amount to 2.94% in 2023.
- The credit card penetration in Iraq is forecast to amount to 1.54% in 2023.
- The bank account penetration in Iraq is forecast to amount to 29.92% in 2023.
- The debit card penetration in Iraq is forecast to amount to 10.27% in 2023.
- The largest market will be Digital Investment with a AUM of €19.81m in 2023.
- The average AUM per user in the Digital Investment market in Iraq is projected to amount to €167.40 in 2023.
- The Digital Assets market in Iraq is expected to show a revenue growth of 54.2% in 2024.
- In the Digital Payments market, the number of users in Iraq is expected to amount to 24.52m users by 2027.
- Total AUM in the Digital Investment market in Iraq is projected to €19.81m in 2023.
- Financial access in Iraq has increased in the past few years, but is still at a lower number, with only 21% of adults owning a bank account.
- In Q1-23, the deposit-to-M2 ratio amounted to 49%, against 51% currency in circulation.
- Only 17% of adults in Iraq reported making or receiving a digital payment, approximately 25% points behind MENA average.
- Around 20 million adults in Iraq remain financially excluded, with women making up more than half of the unbanked population (52%).
- Private banks account for only 20% of the total banking sector assets, and the sector is highly fragmented with 65 governed private banks.
While the progress is promising, Iraq faces challenges such as the need for robust cybersecurity measures, improved financial literacy, and regulatory frameworks that support FinTech innovation.
Ensuring the security of digital transactions and protecting sensitive financial data remains a critical concern.
A clear and enabling regulatory framework is essential to encourage the growth of digital payments and FinTech while safeguarding the interests of consumers and financial stability.
Opportunities and Future Outlook
The challenges present for Iraq's digital expansion also offer opportunities for growth and development:
Iraq's potential in the FinTech sector has attracted interest from foreign investors looking to support and capitalize on its burgeoning digital economy. Given Iraq's efforts to stabilize the country, attract foreign investment, and diversify its economy, it is reasonable to expect an increase in foreign investment by the end of 2023. The energy sector, particularly oil and gas, will likely continue to be a major focus. The Iraqi government is also likely to promote investment in infrastructure, agriculture, manufacturing, and technology sectors to diversify the economy and reduce its reliance on oil. Moreover, Political stability and security are paramount for attracting foreign investors. Iraq has been working on improving security conditions to encourage investment. Government incentives, tax breaks, and special economic zones aimed at attracting foreign investment are likely to be expanded in 2023.
The growth of digital payments and FinTech is creating job opportunities for the country's young and educated workforce. Some of the major sector with growth in opportunities are as follows:
Demand for skilled software developers to design, code, test, and maintain software applications is likely to remain high. Specializations in mobile app development, web development, and cybersecurity may be particularly sought after
IT Project Managers
Experienced project managers capable of leading and overseeing IT projects will be in demand to ensure successful and timely implementations.
Digital Marketing Specialists
Professionals skilled in social media marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), content creation, and online advertising will be needed to promote businesses and drive online sales.
Individuals with expertise in managing online retail platforms, customer relations, logistics, and inventory for e-commerce businesses will have opportunities.
Proficient data analysts capable of interpreting data and providing valuable insights for decision-making will continue to be sought after.
As AI gains prominence, professionals with expertise in machine learning, AI algorithms, and AI application development may find growing opportunities.
With an increasing focus on digital security, professionals specializing in cybersecurity, including ethical hackers, cybersecurity analysts, and network security experts, will be in demand to protect digital assets.
Experts in designing, implementing, and maintaining network infrastructure will play a crucial role in ensuring seamless communication and connectivity.
In the post-war era, Iraq is making significant strides in embracing digital payments, modernizing its banking sector, and fostering a FinTech ecosystem. The transition towards digital financial services is not only improving convenience for citizens but also contributing to financial inclusion and economic development. As Iraq continues to navigate its path towards stability and growth, these technological advancements offer a ray of hope and a promising future for its financial landscape.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q1: How has the conflict affected Iraq's banking sector?
A: Years of conflict left Iraq's financial infrastructure in disarray, necessitating significant efforts in reconstruction and modernization.
Q2: What role does FinTech play in financial inclusion in Iraq?
A: FinTech is instrumental in reaching the unbanked population, providing them with access to financial services and fostering financial inclusion.
Q3: Are there any specific security measures in place for digital payments in Iraq?
A: Iraq is actively working on implementing security measures to ensure the safety of digital transactions and protect sensitive financial data.
Q4: What are the key challenges for FinTech adoption in Iraq?
A: Security concerns and a clear regulatory framework are the primary challenges facing FinTech adoption in Iraq.
Q5: How are digital payments contributing to the economy of Iraq?
A: Digital payments are contributing to the economy by enhancing financial accessibility, promoting cashless transactions, and stimulating economic growth.