Tag: gcc

GCC Government Schemes for Financial Inclusion Are Spurring Fintech’s Future

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Financial inclusion is crucial to reducing inequality and increasing economic growth. Consequently, GCC governments have been encouraging the private sector to take larger steps to improve access to financial systems.

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Missing 10 years of your child’s life; is it worth it?

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Nasir emigrated to Dubai from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a scenic area of northern Pakistan which is surrounded by snow tipped mountains and greenery. He made the decision to come to Dubai after his older brother told him that there are many opportunities for employment, and also many other Pakistanis.

After arriving in Dubai, he found a job as a gardener for a landscaping company which caters to one of the many gated communities in Dubai. This was in 2008, and since then he has been back to see his family four times. Nasir talks fondly about his three sons who are back in Pakistan, and is always amazed by much they grow in between his visits. His eldest son is now eighteen years old and is also looking to come to Dubai soon.

Nasir works nine hours a day, six days a week and moves from house-to-house using his bicycle. He lives in company-owned accommodation where he shares a room with one other gardener of similar background.  At the beginning and end of each day the company bus transports Nasir and the other gardeners to and from their accommodation in Al Quoz.

In general Nasir enjoys working in Dubai, especially in the winter. During the summer his hours are decreased and he longs for Friday – his day off. He spends his day off at the Mosque, followed by the cafeteria near his accommodation.

Almost all of his monthly salary is sent back to his family and he survives on as little as he can in Dubai. Like many migrants in the UAE, he does not have a bank account. Nasir’s dream is to start a modest car sales business and bring his whole family to Dubai. One day, he hopes to save enough money to move back and live comfortably in Pakistan – although with his current banking situation, or lack thereof, he has scepticism as to whether he will achieve this.

Written by Emaad Alvi.

8 misconceptions about the UAE and its residents

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I often get asked about my thoughts about the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Before I moved here, I probably would have described a land of sand, oil, mosques, wealth, and magic carpets amongst other things.

In all honesty, looking back, that wouldn’t have been a terrible guess, but now that I’ve lived here for a while, I think maybe it was a bit one dimensional!

One can’t be blamed for basing assumptions on what most people would consider to be the native Arabic speaking Emiratis; how they live and what jobs they do. But the Emiratis only make up 13 per cent of the population. The rest? 17 per cent Western expats and 70 per cent low-income migrant workers from countries such as Pakistan, India, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Are you shocked that not everyone drives a sports car? Well, it’s true. And there are a few common misconceptions about the UAE and the underprivileged 70 per cent of its population that I can help clear up for you.

  1. The streets are paved with gold
    More golden sand, than actual gold. The UAE is celebrating its 46th National Day in December 2017, so understandably, it’s very much still under construction. Yes, there is a lot of wealth, and the Burj Al Arab is partially plated with gold leaf, but there’s also 70 per cent of the population who earn under AED 5,000 a month (around $1,360) and cannot afford luxuries.

 

  1. You can live here comfortably on $1,360 a month
    Most of the low-income migrant workers in the UAE are here to send money back to their families, because they can earn more here than in their home countries. Typically, they send around 60-70 per cent of their wages home, meaning that they will only get a remaining 20-30 per cent to live on. So, monthly income suddenly drops from $1,360 to about $400. And given that Dubai is one of the most expensive cities in the world, this isn’t much to survive on, let alone afford a comfortable lifestyle.

 

  1. Most people in the UAE have a bank account
    This is a common misconception and far from the truth. Most banks in the UAE have a minimum salary requirement of AED 5,000, meaning that the low-income migrant workers can’t have a bank account and get paid via a prepaid card with limited functionality. They use this card to withdraw their salary in cash, excluding them from many in-store card purchases or online benefits such as cheap remittance options.

 

  1. It is more developed than emerging economies
    Considering that world’s tallest building and the only seven-star hotel in the world are in the UAE, you might expect the most high-tech payments systems too. Pakistan and India are leading the way here though, having launched instant mobile payments years ago. Easypaisa, a money transfer service accessed through a mobile phone, was launched in Pakistan in 2009 and PayTM is India’s version, which was launched in 2010 and has amassed over 230 million users. NOW Money is the first accounts and remittance service for low-income people in the UAE, but most of them have used similar services in their home countries.

 

  1. Migrant workers can’t afford smartphones
    The first question I get asked when speaking to people about NOW Money: “but can they afford smartphones?”Yes, 98 per cent of low-income migrant workers own a smartphone. It’s their only way of communicating with their families back home, and probably their most prized possession. A perfectly good smartphone is now available at Carrefour for AED 120.

 

  1. They can’t read English – can they even use a smartphone?
    The standard of literacy in emerging economies ranges between 50 and 60 per cent compared to 99 per cent in many Western countries (UNESCO 2015). Therefore, you could argue that migrant workers won’t be able to read their native language, let alone another one? Wrong! When carrying out market research at the end of 2016 I discovered the majority of users wanted the NOW Money app to be in English, as they’re using it every day.  As go-getters who have moved abroad, UAE migrants hold an education advantage on their relatives at home.

 

  1. Their families don’t have access to the internet
    Some won’t, some will. But, in reference to point four, mobile payments are sophisticated in some of the workers’ native countries, so the chances are beneficiaries will be able to receive money using a mobile device. NOW Money delivers remittance to mobile wallets, bank accounts and local pick-up, so there isn’t actually a need for their families to have access to the internet.

 

  1. It’s all about Dubai
    Dubai’s population only makes up 2.8 million of the 9.27 million people in the UAE. That means there’s still 6.48 million people living outside the metropolitan hub.  Although Dubai and Abu Dhabi are the best-known Emirate states, there’s actually five more: Sharjah, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaima, and Umm Al Quwain, all of which have low-income migrants working in their hotels, shops, taxis, and building new structures.

 

So, as you can see, NOW Money’s target audience are vast in quantity and in need of safer, cheaper and more efficient access to payments and money transfer services. The emergence of FinTech and RegTech in recent years has opened up a gateway to enable cost-efficient solutions to be created for this population, who are currently excluded from the current financial system.

To find out more about how NOW Money can help your employees on less than AED 5,000 please get in touch at info@nowmoney.me or tweet us @NOWMoneyME

NOW Money closes $1.46m bridge funding round

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NOW Money has closed its bridge funding round with a total of US$1.46m.

In addition to the recent US Venture Capital investment, mentioned in a previous press release, this funding round includes $700,000 from Dubai-based Venture Capital firm, Myrisoph Capital. Other contributions have come from private investors and MENA-based women’s investor network WAIN.

Myrisoph Capital focuses on investments into SMEs that want expert advice and mentorship to take their business to the next level. It invests specifically within the team’s core skill-set and expertise, and in territories they know well, ensuring they can provide the best support possible.

WAIN is the first investor network for women in the MENA region.  Its goal is to build an informed ecosystem of women investors who support women entrepreneurs in the Arab world.

Co-founder of NOW Money, Ian Dillon said, “we’ve been working with Myrisoph since the beginning of 2017, and what struck us about the company was their extensive knowledge and understanding of the Gulf region and their unparalleled expertise and connections within financial services here.

“We’re incredibly enthusiastic about this new partnership and believe the collective experience of the team at Myrisoph will add a lot of value to the business.

“The positive contributions we are seeing from Myrisoph, WAIN and the private investors – in addition to those from Accion and Newid Capital – are fantastic and are already adding real value to NOW Money’s business. We’re thrilled to be closing this round with so much support and belief in the company.”

Managing Partner of Myrisoph Capital, Hassan Alhassani said, “we’ve been looking at partnering with an impact player within the FinTech space in the GCC for a while now, and we believe NOW Money is that partner. We were impressed by the business model as well as the social implications in the region. We were also struck by the passion and capabilities of the founders Katharine and Ian, and we are proud to be a part of the NOW Money future.”

Heather Henyon, Founder & Director of WAIN, added, “we are proud to invest in this local FinTech start-up, which has a female co-founder, as we believe the potential for the $100 billion remittances Gulf market is massive. We love the dynamism of the team and are impressed by their track-record, commitment, and tenacity.  We look forward to NOW Money’s continued growth and scale across the region, especially with its strong international investor backing, a testament to the company’s strength.”

NOW Money is paving the way for the FinTech ecosystem in the GCC. Already an active participant of Abu Dhabi Global Market’s (ADGM) Regulatory Sandbox, they have recently been accepted as one of the first two entrants into the Central Bank of Bahrain’s (CBB) Regulatory Sandbox. The company hopes that these recent milestones, and their latest round of funding, will help lay the foundations for a successful FinTech ecosystem in the GCC and provide confidence for more early stage investments into FinTech companies in the region.

Bahrain Welcomes First Two Entrants into Regulatory Sandbox

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London based Tramonex and Dubai firm NOW Money set to expand to Bahrain as global fintech investment market hits $3.2 billion in Q1 2017

The Central Bank of Bahrain (CBB) has announced two entrants into its regulatory sandbox. Tramonex, a London-based forex cash management solution for businesses; and NOW Money, the Dubai-based account and remittance service for low-income workers in the GCC.

Launched in June, the Bahrain regulatory sandbox provides a virtual space for companies to test their financial technology based solutions, and is open to existing CBB licensees and other local and foreign firms. By offering firms an opportunity for expansion and innovation, the framework is expected to help boost fintech businesses around the globe and consolidate Bahrain’s position as a fintech and financial services hub.

For companies dealing in multiple currencies, Tramonex offers an efficient, quick and cheaper way of processing and transferring funds at your fingertips. The start-up focuses on facilitating conversion and settlement services to automate cross border transactions, and provides competitive services.

NOW Money is the first fintech company in the Gulf region to use mobile banking technology to provide accounts, financial inclusion and a range of low-cost remittance options to low-income workers. It aims to provide access to affordable financial services for everyone.

The Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB) assisted and advised Tramonex and NOW Money in registering for the regulatory sandbox.

Khalid Hamad, Executive Director of Banking Supervision at CBB, said: “We are pleased to welcome the first two entrants into the regulatory sandbox, in the early stages of the framework’s launch. This initiative highlights the CBB’s continuous efforts as the Kingdom’s single regulator to update and develop the fintech ecosystem and enable industry players to create innovative and forward-looking fintech products while maintaining the overall safety and soundness of the financial system.”

H.E. Khalid Al Rumaihi, Chief Executive of Bahrain EDB, said: “This announcement is a testament to Bahrain’s attractive investment proposition in the Gulf. Bahrain is a great testbed for innovative products in this space due to its size and easy market access to the GCC.

“The Kingdom is ready to be at the forefront of financial innovation and technology as global fintech investment reaches $3.2 billion. In addition to the development of the regulatory sandbox, we have a number of further initiatives we expect to be launched in the coming months including a venture capital fund-of-funds. We are seeing real signs of momentum in the sector and are excited by the potential it will bring.”

Earlier this year, the CBB issued the Regulatory Sandbox Framework directive, which includes the eligibility criteria, filing requirements and timeline for the process. This may be found on Bahrain Startup website (www.startup.bh) and CBB’s website on the following link: http://www.cbb.gov.bh/page-p-regulatory_sandbox_en.htm.

Why We Invested in NOW Money

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By Amee Parbhoo, Director of Investments for Accion Venture Lab

Despite the fact that they are wealthy and modern, cities like Dubai in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) actually face a big financial inclusion challenge. There are 8 million foreign-born migrant workers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) alone, making up some 88% of that country’s total population. These workers come primarily from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Philippines, and are mostly in low-paying jobs such as construction or domestic labor. Across the Gulf region, migrants have faced tough working conditions and have been historically ignored by financial institutions. They lack access to basic financial services, including bank accounts and fast, convenient remittance channels for sending money to their families back home.

This is where NOW Money, Accion Venture Lab’s newest portfolio company, comes in. NOW Money was founded in 2015 by Katharine Budd and Ian Dillon, who were inspired by the digital-only “challenger banks” that had begun to emerge across the US and Europe. While the UAE has over 50 banks in operation, none of them are able to reach the country’s massive and underserved low-income migrant population effectively. NOW Money provides a suite of products to its customers: current accounts for depositing and withdrawing wages; debit cards for use at ATMs and for merchant transactions; and a marketplace of online remittance platforms for cheaper and more convenient money transfer services. By reducing the cost of customer acquisition and reaching a relatively untapped market, NOW is able to offer these services (and eventually others) and cost-effectively serve customers that would otherwise be considered unprofitable by traditional banks.

NOW partners and integrates with large employers to pay workers’ salaries directly into NOW Money accounts. The value proposition is strong for both end customers and employers. For customers, NOW offers a suite of products otherwise unavailable in the market. In particular, during our due diligence we saw customers incredibly excited about the digital interface for access to remittances. In the UAE today, some 95% of remittances are cash-based transactions. The workers we spoke with remit 60% or more of their wages to family members in their home countries, and typically have to take time off work, wait in long lines at remittance houses, and pay high fees in order to make these regular transactions.

Accion Venture Lab and NOW Money staffers talk to migrant worker customers about their experiences using the service.

For employers, NOW provides a less expensive solution for payroll. In addition, the employers we spoke with were motivated to give their employees the benefits NOW offers for both moral and economic reasons. Some employers see a spike in absenteeism the day after pay is disbursed, as employees go to remittance houses. Lastly, many employers, especially in more skilled and technical professions, value NOW as a way to increase employee retention.

Venture Lab is excited to be supporting the NOW Money team as they grow and scale. We invested in the company — our first in the GCC and one of the first early-stage VC deals in the region — for a number of reasons:

  • Clear social impact: The migrant population in the GCC is historically underserved by basic financial services. The wages these workers earn are low ($200–300 per month, depending on occupation). Due to banking standards in the UAE, it is very difficult and costly for a customer to open an account if they earn less than $1,300 per month, thereby excluding a vast majority of the migrant worker population.
  • Large market with unmet need: The UAE is the third largest market in the world for remittances, trailing only the US and Saudi Arabia. Across the GCC (UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman), the total addressable market is some 25 million low-income migrant workers believed to be remitting about $50 billion annually. The remittance corridors used are some of the most active in the world, and NOW fills a crucial gap by providing customers ease of access and lower costs.
  • Innovative “neobank” model: Accion Venture Lab looks to support fintech companies that have innovative approaches to increasing access to and quality of financial services for underserved markets. We have been actively watching the digital-only neobank/challenger bank models around the world and are excited about NOW Money, our very first neobank investment. We’re thrilled to be part of NOW as it expands and aims to become the financial service platform of choice for migrant workers. As NOW truly owns the customer relationship, it will be able to provide incremental value to customers’ financial lives with each further partnership, beyond simply account access and low-cost remittance tools.
  • Opportunity to learn from new customers, market, and product: NOW Money would be a first for Venture Lab in a number of ways. Venture Lab has never invested in the Gulf region, and NOW Money could serve as a way to learn about this fast-growing region and its market dynamics. In addition, Venture Lab has investments reaching many kinds of underserved customers, but we have limited experience serving migrant workers, which is a huge market with demonstrated, specific, and relevant financial needs. NOW Money would help us better understand this vast and growing population of underserved customers.

As is the case for all of our seed investments, NOW Money is early in its journey, but as investors in the company and proponents of financial inclusion for underserved populations, we are excited about their progress so far and the company’s plans going forward.

Rob Stevens contributed to this article. 

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