Tag: middle east

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

6 hacks for self-sufficient start-ups

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I guess, the first thing that needs clarifying is, what is a start-up? According to Investopedia: “A start-up is a young company that is just beginning to develop. In the early stages, start-up companies’ expenses tend to exceed their revenues as they work on developing, testing and marketing their idea.”

Now that we’ve answered that question, I’ll let you know how I got the inspiration for this blog. It involved an “incident” which saw the clashing of a MacBook Pro and a cup of coffee. Thankfully, the story has a happy ending, and the MacBook Pro lived to tell another tale. I can’t take the credit for it, however, it was thanks to a call with Desi, our top-notch IT dude, who came to the rescue. But it could have been an incredibly costly accident.

As a start-up, we understand what it’s like trying to do everything as cost-effectively as possible and this is what’s inspired us to share our top-tips for maximum output on minimum budget with you.

1. IT – water/coffee damage

During said MacBook Pro “incident”, our on-hand IT advisor took control of the situation across a phone line. His advice was invaluable and saved us at least $1,000 on a new laptop.

If you spill liquid on a laptop:

  • DON’T press the on/off button. This sparks an electronic current through the machine which will be conducted by the spilled water and will cause your machine to break.
  • DO tip out the water and close the laptop.
  • Leave the laptop alone until a professional comes to fix it.

2. Marketing – free images

Not all of us have the budget to purchase the perfect stock photography or hire our own graphic designer to create infographics, banners and collateral.

We have found that you can use these tools to get your imagery for free!

  • Flaticon – this website provides hundreds of thousands of icons which are perfect for using in PowerPoint presentations. You name it, they have an icon for it in any colour you want (using hex), and a range of sizes and file types, including every single country flag in the world. But, remember to credit the author!
  • Hubspot – if you’re not already signed up to the Hubspot blog then you must. Not only do they direct you to free stock photography, there’s a whole host of useful information including how to make an awesome infographic, write engaging content and tips for successful social media marketing.
  • Google – I know what you’re thinking “state the obvious”, but if you steal photos from your average Google search to use in your marketing collateral then you’re breaking the law. A tip would be to search for your keyword, click “Images” then “Tools”. Another row of options will appear, one being “Usage rights”, click on it and select “Labelled for reuse”. Voila. Stay legal peeps.

3. Project management

In a start-up every employee seems to have a job title, but the job description is “open to interpretation”, let’s say. So many jobs, so little time. Managing your time is crucial to product development and often scribbles jotted in your notepad just won’t be enough to organise your day.

Luckily, we’ve been introduced to a brilliant and free project management tool, Trello. Within the tool you can create to-do lists, which can be annotated by all team members, and deadlines can be added, files attached, team members assigned to certain tasks and much more.

There are other project management tools out there. Cloudwards wrote a helpful guide taking you through the best virtual team software tools, which will help you decide which is the best one for your team.

4. Secure password storage

Is it just us that think using an Excel spreadsheet to store your passwords should be left in the 90s? It’s unsafe, everyone forgets where the file is kept, and no one ever updates it. Enter LastPass.

We find this online password storage extension so useful. It’s a safe place to store passwords for all online accounts you have. Which means you no longer have to use the same password for everything because you’ll know you’ll forget it if you choose something different. The sharing centre means that you can share company passwords with colleagues safely and you can restrict access too.

5. Competitions

Enter lots of competitions. If you thought your business idea was so good it needed pursuing then others must too! Get recognised for what you do and there’ll be many perks along the way.

We’ve been fortunate enough to have won six awards so far and here are some of the things tangible and intangible that we’ve gained from them.

  • Pitching practice – useful for perfecting your pitch to use on potential investors or clients.
  • PR exposure – the more you attend competitions or industry events the more exposure you’ll get and interest you’ll generate.
  • Meeting investors – you never know when or where you’ll bump into your next investor, so make yourself available.
  • Meeting clients – as above, but substitute in clients.
  • Mentorship – from the judges, to last year’s winner, there’s a huge variety of experience at competitions, and everyone wants to share their journey so we don’t all make the same mistakes.
  • Money – it’s what everyone needs.
  • Travel – global finals of the competitions can be in exotic locations, meaning you can find opportunities in international markets or just extend your trip into a holiday!

6. Incubators/shared office space

So you’re thinking, surely it’s more cost effective to work from your front room if you’re doing things on a budget? Probably true, but how easy is it to motivate yourself from the same room you watch Game of Thrones in? Get yourself down to your nearest incubator.

NOW Money set up base in Astrolabs, Dubai, in mid 2016 and the benefits we’ve had from working there have been invaluable. Firstly, human interaction on a day to day basis is essential and stops us going crazy and the added bonus is you’re surrounded by motivated entrepreneurs. You have availability to mentors, marketing experts or lawyers etc, who come in and give free advice, which would otherwise be very costly. Astrolabs hosts a lot of business-themed meet-up events too, which are free to attend (and you sometimes get free pizza).


If you’re reading this and work for a start-up we’d love to know your hacks! Please comment below if you have any other tips.

NOW Money wins Financial Inclusion award in the UK

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NOW Money has won the financial inclusion category of Pitch360, a competition at the Innovate Finance Global Summit 2017.

The competition took place on 11th April 2017 at the Guildhall in London, UK, and saw 24 FinTech startups compete for one of the eight winning spots covering different areas of FinTech, including Artificial Intelligence, Global Financial Inclusion, Block Chain, Personal Finance, Cross Border Payments, P2P Funding, Cyber Security and RegTech.

Ian Dillon, Co-Founder of NOW, gave the six-minute pitch, where he explained how the company’s FinTech offering will bank the “unbanked” population of the UAE using mobile technology to solve the current problem in the Middle East. He also explained how the solution could be instrumental in increasing security and reducing money laundering.

Ian was selected as the winner of the Financial Inclusion category due to his clear and concise explanation of the situation, and by showing how NOW is using the latest technology to provide a solution for this large, 26 million-strong neglected population group, which helps not only those who are excluded but will indirectly benefit their families overseas, including through access to credit.

“It was a pleasure to introduce NOW to a whole new audience,” said Mr. Dillon.  “We’ve had lots of exposure across the GCC and there’s currently a huge buzz around the FinTech sector. To be able to demonstrate NOW to industry experts in London and globally was so exciting for us. It’s hard to explain the situation to those who don’t live in the Middle East and experience the problem first hand, so to sum it up in six-minutes was a challenge to say the least! But we’re thrilled with the overwhelming positive response; the support we receive from a network of partners, particularly Innovate Finance, is phenomenal and so important in helping us to be part of solving the financial inclusion problem globally.”