Wealthy and ambitious Qatar is undergoing rapid digital transformation, which will be instrumental in helping the state to diversify its economy, compete with other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. The Qatari economy contracted by 3.7% amidst the pandemic and a decline in global oil demand,1 but it is expected to have a strong comeback. The World Bank predicts growth rates of 3% in 2021 and 4.1% in 2022, due in part to business environment reforms, stabilized demand for natural gas and the 2022 FIFA World Cup.2 In early 2021, Qatar restored diplomatic relations with Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, another positive step towards further economic growth and regional integration.
Qatar’s burgeoning fintech sector will be an especially important driver of economic growth, and it will help the state in achieving development goals set out in its National Vision 2030. The central bank has been keen to partner with the private sector in implementing digital payments initiatives, and the government has launched numerous national strategies aimed at promoting digital transformation, innovation and financial inclusion. CEO of Doha Bank Raghavan Seetharaman estimates that venture capital investments in Qatari fintech startups rose 180% in the first half of 2021.3 By 2023, the state’s digital spending could skyrocket to USD $3.2 billion.4
This year, Qatari regulators are focused on anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing, artificial intelligence and financial inclusion. The central bank plans to launch a fintech regulatory sandbox sometime in 2021. A key challenge will be ensuring that migrant workers are financially and digitally included. Qatar has the world’s highest ratio of citizens to migrants, who make up 95% of the state’s workforce.5 Digitalization in the payments sector will be especially key in making remittances cheaper and faster. Regulators must also strengthen national cybersecurity, as digitalization and the pandemic have driven a global rise in the frequency and sophistication of cyberattacks. According to IBM’s 2021 Cost of a Data Breach Report, the Middle East had the world’s second-most expensive data breaches, at USD $6.93 million per incident.6
Financial Regulatory Authorities
The Qatar Central Bank is the country’s central bank.
The Qatar Financial Markets Authority (QFMA) regulates and supervises the financial markets.
Other Regulatory Authorities
The Ministry of Transport and Communications (MoTC) oversees compliance with the Qatari Personal Data Protection Law.
Policy, Laws and Regulations
Artificial Intelligence Committee, 07 March 2021
Qatar’s Cabinet approved a draft decision to establish the Artificial Intelligence Committee, to be housed under the Ministry of Transport and Communications (MoTC). The three-person committee will be tasked with implementing the country’s 2019 National Artificial Intelligence Strategy, which aims to secure Qatar’s status as a global AI hub. Key responsibilities will include support for startups working in AI and the development of plans and programs for boosting digital skills in the area of AI.7
Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorist Financing Assessment, February 2021
The Qatar Financial Markets Authority (QFMA), in partnership with the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment (CISI), has launched a national anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing (AML/CTF) digital assessment tool. Obliged entities can access the tool, available in both Arabic and English, on laptops and mobile phones. The tool assesses knowledge of AML/CFT requirements, and reports results to the QFMA in a move to bolster compliance.8
Personal Data Protection Law Regulatory Guidelines, November 2020
The Compliance and Data Protection Department (CDP) of the Ministry of Transport and Communications (MoTC) released guidelines on the Data Protection Law. The fourteen guidelines, many of which are influenced by the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), clarify requirements and introduce new ones. Data controllers must keep a Record of Processing Activities (ROPA); a Data Privacy Impact Assessments (DIPA) must be conducted before new processing activities are begun; and authorization from the CDP must be obtained before the processing of “special nature” personal data, including data pertaining to health, children, religion and criminal convictions. Obliged entities must institute a Personal Data Management System (PDMS) to help in data management and the reporting of violations; send data breach notifications to the CDP and relevant data subjects within 72 hours; obtain explicit consent for direct marketing communications; facilitate data subjects’ ability to exercise their rights; and in the case that processing is contracted to a third party, conduct due diligence on the third party processor. Privacy controls must be inform processing activities and business practices. Violations could incur fines up to QAR 5,000,000 (approximately USD $1,373,600).9
1. “Qatar economy emerges from COVID-19 in a position of strength.” PwC, 25 July 2021. https://www.pwc.com/m1/en/media-centre/2021/qatar-economy-emerges-from-covid19-in-position-of-strength.html.
2. “Qatar.” The World Bank, 21 April 2021. https://thedocs.worldbank.org/en/doc/6853dd5c93a231b05c90c7a1fd7ac5b4-0280012021/original/14-mpo-sm21-qatar-qat-kcm4.pdf.
3. John, Deepak. “Fintech to transform digital banking in Qatar.” The Peninsula, 25 August 2021. https://thepeninsulaqatar.com/article/25/08/2021/Fintech-to-transform-digital-banking-in-Qatar.
4. “Qatar poised to reap rewards of digital transformation.” The Peninsula, 10 September 2021. https://www.thepeninsulaqatar.com/article/10/09/2021/Qatar-poised-to-reap-rewards-of-digital-transformation.
5. Zayadin, Hiba. “Migrant Workers and the Qatar World Cup.” Human Rights Watch, 02 August 2021. https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/08/02/migrant-workers-and-qatar-world-cup.
6. “IBM Report: Cost of a Data Breach Hits Record High During Pandemic.” IBM, 28 July 2021. https://newsroom.ibm.com/2021-07-28-IBM-Report-Cost-of-a-Data-Breach-Hits-Record-High-During-Pandemic.
7. “Cabinet okays decision to set up Artificial Intelligence Committee.” Qatar Tribune, 04 March 2021. https://www.qatar-tribune.com/news-details/id/208649/cabinet-okays-decision-to-set-up-artificial-intelligence-committee.
8. Flinders, Karl. “Qatar regulator launches platform to monitor human understanding of financial crime.” Computer Weekly, 16 February 2021. https://www.computerweekly.com/news/252496385/Qatar-regulator-launches-platform-to-monitor-human-understanding-of-financial-crime.
9. Higham, Emma et al. “New regulatory guidelines on the Qatar Personal Data Protection Law.” Clyde & Co, 15 March 2021. https://www.clydeco.com/en/insights/2021/03/new-regulatory-guidelines-on-the-qatar-persona-1.
*DISCLAIMER: This information is OneSpan's interpretation of the compliance requirements as of the date of publication. Please note that not all interpretations or requirements of the applicable laws are well-settled and its application is fact- and context-specific. The information contained in this document should not be relied upon as legal advice or to determine how the law applies to your business or organization. We encourage you to seek guidance from your legal counsel with regard to law applying specifically to your business or organization and how to ensure compliance. This information is provided “as-is” and may be updated or changed without notice. OneSpan does not accept liability for the contents of these materials.
Last updated: November 2021