The independent regulatory authority of Abu Dhabi’s newest financial free zone is seeking to promote the development of blockchain startups as part of a drive to create new efficiencies in the regional financial sector.

The Financial Services Regulatory Authority (FSRA), one of three divisions of the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM), has released a consultation paper in which it detailed its plans to create a sandbox environment for FinTech under which startups would be allowed to work under a flexible regulatory framework for up to two years.

The FSRA’s proposal would seek to limit startups accepted into the program to those that “promote significant growth, efficiency or competition in the financial sector”, though the paper goes on to cite examples of technologies that fit this description.

The paper reads:

“The advent of robo-advisers that offer lower costs, simplicity and real-time portfolio analytics and monitoring; or leveraging on the application of blockchain technology and distributed databases to facilitate price discovery, smart contracts, settlement of financial transactions, etc that may lead to safer [and] better products, and higher productivity and growth.”

Notably, the proposal follows growing enthusiasm for blockchain in the UAE. In Dubai, for example, more than 30 regional startups, government agencies and regional enterprise businesses have come together so far this year to begin working on proofs-of-concept with the technology.

Raza Rizvi, a UAE-based commercial IP lawyer with Simmons & Simmons, sees the development as perhaps more indicative of Abu Dhabi’s wider push to attract enterprise financial institutions, though he said the initiatives could prove synergistic.

“No doubt the two independent initiatives will bring out the best in each other and enable the UAE as a whole to lead the way in the FinTech sector and usage of blockchain technology in the Middle East,” he said.

Launched in late 2015, ADGM has been increasingly active in recent months, appointing a regulatory committee in January and signing an agreement with FinTech accelerator Flat6Labs earlier this week that will find the startup incubator working with the regulator on fostering innovation.

The efforts are seen as part of a long-term strategy to attract the financial services industry to the UAE capital with incentives including full foreign ownership and tax exemptions.

Image credit: Laborant / Shutterstock.com

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