Saudi Central Bank signals its digital ambitions with a new crypto pro hire

    05 Sep 2022

    Saudi Arabia’s banking regulator appointed Mohsen Al Zahrani to lead its virtual assets and central bank digital currency (CBDC) program, reflecting the Gulf state’s potential crypto ambitions.

    So far, Saudi Arabia has taken a more cautious approach to virtual assets, with officials raising concerns about their speculative nature. Yet the emergence of the neighboring UAE as a global crypto hub has created some urgency in Riyadh to draft more formal rules for the asset class, Bloomberg sources said.

    Al Zahrani, a former managing director at consultancy Accenture, reports to Ziad Al Yousef, the Central Bank’s deputy governor for development and technology, the people said, asking not to be identified because the matter is private. In their words, they’re part of a team in Riyadh that’s engaging with some of the world’s biggest crypto firms on future regulations.

    As part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s plans to turn the capital city into a global hub, Saudi Arabia has been pushing firms to increase their presence in Riyadh. That’s posed a direct challenge to Dubai, the Gulf’s business hub.

    With a relatively affluent population, the Kingdom represents the largest economy in the region, making it a key market for any company operating in the Middle East. According to Saudi Gazette, Saudi citizens took 3rd place in the Arab world in terms of cryptocurrency owners, following Egypt and Morocco.

    Back in 2018, Riyadh banned banks from processing transactions involving cryptocurrencies, though workarounds exist to trade. Recently, local financial firms reiterated the restrictions in correspondence with customers, sources familiar with the matter said.

    As a result, some of the industry’s biggest players, such as Binance, have staffed up their Saudi teams, identifying the Kingdom as a large untapped market if the current restrictions will be reduced.

    At the same time, the Saudi government has been collaborating for several years with the UAE on a potential joint digital currency – Arabian CBDC.

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