Best digital banks and neobanks in the UAE
24 February 2023
Digital banking in the UAE explained
Digital banking allows you to open and access accounts via a computer or a mobile application and often has the following features:
- Process automation
- Web-based services
- Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that help two applications work together
- Cryptocurrency and gold purchase
- Stock market investment
Digital banks provide an alternative to traditional banking methods which require customers to conduct most activities in person or over the phone. These banks have a variety of benefits, but of course, come with some drawbacks as well.
A few traditional banks in the UAE have launched digital banking services for their users or developed separate online branches with a digital-only platform. More recently, non-banks have also begun to offer digital-only banking services in the UAE. Some of these entities offering digital banking services are fully licensed, while others don’t have a banking license and depend on collaboration with traditional banks.
What is a neobank?
The terms “neobank” and “digital bank” are often used interchangeably to refer to entities that offer digital banking services; however, there is a distinction between the two. In general, a digital bank is the online arm or branch of a traditional bank, whereas a neobank exists independently of a traditional bank.
Best digital arms of traditional banks in the UAE
Mashreq Neo is a digital banking service launched in 2017 by Mashreq Bank. They have over 400 ATMs across the UAE and allow their customers to send money to 40 countries.
Mashreq Neo offers current and savings accounts, as well as investment, foreign currency, and gold accounts. Their popular accounts are Neo Basic, Neo Smart, Neo Salary, Neo Savings, and Neo NXT. To open an account, you must have a valid Emirates ID and be 18 years or older; however, they also offer a Non-Resident Indian Account. Once you have an account, you have access to other services like loans, fixed deposits, investments, trading accounts, and more.
Mashreq NEOBiz is their solution for entrepreneurs and small business owners and offers specialized business accounts, foreign exchange/money transfer, and other valuable add-ons.
Liv. by Emirates NBD
Liv. was also launched in 2017 by Emirates NBD Bank and was designed for the digital generation (Millennials and Gen-Z) in the UAE. Their customers can send money to over 40 countries.
They offer two credit cards, a Platinum Credit Card and World Credit Card, with rewards programs and benefits from popular brands. They also have a USD account and a Goal Account to help you save. With a Liv. account, you can request and send money to friends and family via SMS or social media, or complete a bank transfer. There is also a Liv. Young debit card that’s available to kids and has its own application to help them learn to independently save money and track their spending.
Liv. is focused on helping young people reach their goals with rewards and benefits, and doesn’t offer other banking services yet. However, they plan to offer personal loans in the near future.
E20. by Emirates NBD
E20. is a digital business bank launched in 2019 by Emirates NBD Bank. It’s designed for entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), including LLCs, Sole Proprietorships, and more.
To open an account, you must be a UAE resident and provide your passport, Emirates ID, trade license number, and a copy of your written signature. They offer 3 packages with different fees and services that require an average monthly balance of AED 10,000, AED 50,000, or AED 75,000. An E20. bank account is accessible to the Department of Economic Development (DED) which regulates all mainland areas in the UAE. They currently don’t offer interest on the account balance, only do local transfers, and only allow accounts opened in AED. E20. is working to offer international payments and onboard in UAE free trade zones soon. They also have expense management, instant invoicing, cash deposit, and cheque deposit services.
ADIB SmartBanking was launched in 2019 by Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank (ADIB). Customers can open a Mudarabah-based savings account (a type of Islamic financing).
Their services are aimed at Millenials, for personal and non-commercial uses. To open an account, you must be a UAE resident and more than 18 years old. With a SmartBanking account, you can transfer money locally and internationally, track transactions, manage credit card payments, send payments via SMS, and more. Customers can also undergo pre-approval and apply for customized personal financing via the mobile application.
Every SmartBanking account is also linked with Money Smart, a digital community for personal finance. This is a space dedicated to sharing information and advice among peers and experts.
ADIB Amwali is a digital banking platform for kids launched by ADIB in 2021.
An ADIB Amwali account and debit card are available for children from 8 to 18 years of age, given that their parent has an existing ADIB bank account. Its services are limited to receiving allowances, sending money to friends and family, setting savings goals, and making purchases. The application also has financial planning features and informational videos.
Best neobanks in the UAE
Wio was licensed by the UAE Central Bank in 2022 and is owned in part by the First Abu Dhabi Bank (FAB). They are headquartered in Abu Dhabi.
Wio offers both personal and business accounts (for SMEs and freelancers), as well as embedded finance for e-commerce businesses and banking-as-a-service solutions (BaaS solutions). Their products include a current account, saving spaces, debit cards, virtual debit cards, and online transfers in both AED and USD.
YAP was launched in 2021 as the first independent digital banking platform in the UAE and is partnered with RAKBank.
Their services are available to UAE residents. YAP is a digital payment services platform that you can link your debit or credit card to and offers services such as instant bank transfers (local and international) and spending analytics. They are not licensed on their own but provide products from RAKBank. All of their users can get an IBAN issued from RAKBank and a virtual card. Some of their product offers include equity trading, loans, and more.
YAP is available in the UAE, Pakistan, and Ghana and works with multiple established and new banks in these regions.
Zand was licensed by the UAE Central Bank to become a fully independent commercial bank in 2022. They are headquartered in Dubai but have no physical branches. Zand caters to retail and corporate clients and is modeled after the most successful European digital banks.
All you need to open a Zand account is an Emirates ID. Their services include accounts, cards, loans, money transfers, and financial management tools. Zand Corporate has account opening and lending solutions for UAE businesses, currently on an invite-only basis. They also have personal banking services coming soon.
Best neobanks in other GCC countries
Here are some of the top digital banks and neobanks in other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.
- STC Pay in Saudi Arabia
- Fintech licensed by the Saudi Central Bank (SAMA)
- International money transfers in partnership with Western Union
- ila in Bahrain
- Licensed by the Central Bank of Bahrain
- meem in Saudi Arabia
- Retail banking arm of Gulf International Bank (GIB)
- Saudi Digital Bank (SDB)
- Licensed by SAMA, not on the market yet
- Licensed by SAMA, not on the market yet
To sum up
Other banks in the UAE, such as the Commercial Bank of Dubai (CBD), Dubai Islamic Bank (DIB), and Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB), also offer digital account opening services to their current customers. These are, respectively, the CBD Digital Current Account, DIB Smarter Banking, and ADCB Hayyak. The Anglo-Gulf Trade Bank (AGTB) is another up-and-coming neobank that is licensed and regulated by the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM). AGTB is a digital trade bank with the goal of addressing the financial issues of high-growth businesses in the UAE and GCC. Discover the best way to set up a business in the UAE, from trade licenses and setup costs to the most popular licensing zones.
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