Tag: now money

What it’s like launching a Fintech startup in the UAE

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Ian Dillon

It took us 4 years – but we launched our Fintech startup NOW Money in May this year, and the reception so far has made it all worth it.

We started NOW Money in the summer of 2015. Back then we didn’t yet know how little we knew about what we were trying to do and how to do it, but we did know exactly the problem we wanted to solve.

Bank accounts are often accessible only to those that earn over AED5,000 per month. In the GCC, there are 25 million low-income workers that earn less than this. This means no bank accounts, no online payments, no ability to send money home using cheap online providers that almost everyone from Europe is used to. Our goal was to provide the best account in the GCC, with these excluded workers our customers.

My co-founder, Katharine, and I had seen the success of the new mobile only ‘challenger banks’ that had started in the UK – the likes of Monzo, Startling and Revolut. Customers loved them and had a passion for them that had never been seen for banks and financial services companies before. We wanted to do the same thing first in the UAE and then across the GCC.

These days, ‘startup’ and ‘Fintech’ are the new big buzzwords. Billions are invested into Fintech startups annually; many people have entrepreneurial ambitions to start or work at a startup and a number of corporates have strategies to partner with or support entrepreneurs and startups. However in 2015 mindsets were completely different. Almost no one understood why we’d left well paid jobs and the corporate ladder. We were laughed out of meetings, often told that what we were trying to do was impossible. We couldn’t get legal support, couldn’t get a bank account ourselves and were lightyears away from being able to raise funding. We made life hard for ourselves by being focused on remaining independent, creating our own technology and providing the best customer service possible from day 1, and the delays were demoralising and at times we wondered if we’d ever get to launch.

However with persistence we broke down each of the barriers – and 4 years and a lot more grey hairs later we launched in May this year. We had to overcome so many challenges in those 4 years to launch, the most time consuming being banking (try getting an account, let alone a banking partnership as a Fintech startup in the UAE) and regulatory issues.

These barriers took so long to break down that we had got used to running the company in a cycle of break down a barrier, move to the next problem, raise funding to keep the lights on, repeat. So when we had finally received the last of the approvals required earlier this year and launched, it all felt quite surreal.

For the first time, and after years of planning, we had customers. This meant the problems we had to solve quickly changed from dealing with bankers, regulators and investors, to issues such as customers losing their cards, remittances being delayed, customers not having the right documentation to open an account, etc. We realised that even with the most comprehensive planning, you cannot prepare for and have no idea what will happen until you launch! We’ve learned to be very nimble and adaptable, aided by our incredible in-house team of tech developers that are all with us in Dubai and everyone in the company (and this means everyone!) is on the ground with customers at least once a fortnight. We believe it is this connection with our customers and ability to innovate quickly to optimise ourselves around their needs which sets us apart from the competition.

The satisfaction and validation of our mission that we’ve seen since launching has been immense. Numbers of customers continue to grow strongly – we’ll accept over 2,000 new customers in September alone – but the most pleasing thing has been the reception from customers. 

With an account like NOW Money, it would be easy for our customers to use the MasterCard we provide to take their salary out at an ATM and continue to spend this cash in the same way in which they did before, and at first they did. In our first month in May just 12% of our customers used the account for anything other than cash withdrawal. However since then the engagement has exploded as customers discover the range of services available to them in the app – services which save them significant amounts of time and money, which ultimately ends up in the hands of their families back home. And as word of mouth spreads amongst our customers, the change in behaviour has happened rapidly. Last month almost 60% of our customers made an in-app transaction or significant card spend in-store, and this ratio is continuing to trend strongly upwards. More importantly, the direct feedback we collect daily has been overwhelmingly positive, with customers used to being ignored often surprised that a company would go to such lengths to provide a great solution for them.

Also pleasing is to see the appreciation of their employers. Employers in the UAE often get a bad rap for the way they treat staff – but those we’ve worked with really do care and on a couple of occasions I have even been called directly to thank us for providing a service their employees like so much and that provides them with financial independence they’ve not experienced before. This has led to employers referring us to other corporates in their networks – the very best form of sales lead.

We’ve just closed a funding round, led by the UK’s leading Fintech Venture Capital investor. We are working hard on adding additional exchange and other partners to our network to give our customers more choices, preparing for upcoming launches to Saudi and Bahrain, and working on an offering for SMEs in the UAE. But one goal that will remain our number one priority – the same mission that got Katharine and I through the tough times for 4 years – is providing the best account in the GCC for our customers. We don’t believe that income, nationality or any other factor should stop anyone from having the best experience and loving their account, and so far the response we’ve seen from our customers is proving that it isn’t.

We’re changing the way financial services operates in the UAE, and operate in a very transparent and openly collaborative manner. If you’d like to learn more or reach out with any opportunities, please reach out to me on LinkedIn, Twitter or comment on this post.

The poverty premium: It costs more, to be poor.

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Put simply, the poverty premium is the principle that people on low or zero incomes pay more on the essential costs of living than wealthier people.

Despite working in a business entirely centred around financial inclusion (providing access to the digital economy for those usually unable to afford it) I have only recently begun to investigate the true reach of the poverty premium’s grasp: across almost all areas of our economy.

At a basic level, the poverty premium is predominantly dictated by economies of scale. Purchasing in bulk or from hypermarkets usually affords the buyer some kind of discount.

Why would you buy the rice from the convenience store? Perhaps it saves a trip in the car. If you fall into the middle or upper financial segments, this is likely. But for people on a lower income, around 70% of the UAE population, buying a small amount is all they can afford at one time. But they get less rice, dirham for dirham, than those who can afford to buy in bigger quantities or hypermarkets they can reach in their cars.

According to University of Bristol, the lowest income UK families pay nearly AED 4,000 more per year than their middle income counterparts for basic amenities. Costs are driven up by having to pay to access money (same in the Gulf), increased insurance costs due to living in dangerous areas, and paying for utilities in inefficient ways such as pre-paid meters, kiosks and gas bottles (again, same in the Gulf).

Working in the remittance industry, I am acutely aware of the costs people without access to the digital economy face compared with those who are banked. People from smaller countries such as those in Africa pay up to 30% of their transfers when paying cash at the counter. Those who can send them online would pay less than 5%.

Finance, access to credit, insurance – this is just the obvious stuff. The poverty premium extends way past finance or even groceries.

The UAE’s recent ban on Skype has, as a nation of expats, affected most of us. Free calling home made living away from loved ones that little bit easier. Many have already found VPNs are a way to circumvent this ban. VPNs are not only illegal in the UAE, they are prohibitively expensive (around $100) for those who have a monthly disposable income of around $200 (AED750), and often too complicated for people with an elementary grasp of technology to implement anyway. Middle and higher income people may choose to pay this one-off VPN cost, but those on the lowest incomes must instead pre-pay for what phone credit they can afford and then spend that credit on premium international calls. Much like inheritance tax, the poverty premium is not afraid to tax the same funds repeatedly.

Have you noticed that in the last decade, the cost of “luxury” lifestyle goods – think televisions, Playstations – has depreciated, whilst the cost of life’s basics – food, healthcare, transport – has exploded to ruinous levels? The poverty premium doesn’t apply only to people living in absolute poverty like Somalia. This new type of poverty continues to hit those living in precarity in America, the UK and even here in the UAE.

So how are we addressing the poverty premium? Despite the attempts of universities and charities, it receives little attention from policy makers. Better to look at something you can influence far quicker. Technology. Technology is the ultimate equalizer.

Skype ban excluded, technology is bringing the power of choice to anyone in possession of a smartphone. The UAE has a 98% smartphone penetration level. If you are still in any doubt of lower-income people’s capacity to operate a smartphone (we still hear this a lot), please look at this recent image of the NOW Money team delivering dates during Ramadan.

Looks staged, doesn’t it? It isn’t. These people are ready and waiting with half our economy’s purchasing power. The “new” ideas aren’t really new – after all, they are just selling things, renting things, delivering things. But the way they can be paid for and consumed – online, rather than expensively at the closest shop, brings a whole new dimension to accessibility and pricing.

The reason for financial inclusion isn’t just providing people with a safe place to keep money (albeit, that’s a good one). We have bigger plans for NOW Money and its ability to bridge the gap to other platforms: ecommerce, apps, even drones. These are just at the start of the journey to financial freedom for society’s most challenged. And for the creators of these platforms, your market just got a lot bigger.

 

 

A long way from home…

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Meet Dennis. He works as a concierge but his purpose to his family is far more important.

After moving to Dubai in 2016, Dennis is in the final year of his contract and is counting the days until his return to his native Uganda. His positivity is infectious, and it is a rare occasion to see him without a smile, but I quickly learn that he often feels low whilst working in this towering building. His joyful demeaner dampens as he explains his mother’s illness and the medical expenses that have accumulated. Despite being the youngest of his three brothers, he bears the sole responsibility of providing for his mother back home because they face their own financial troubles.

I asked him what he misses the most about home and his reply was simple, “freedom.” He explains the laidback lifestyle he used to enjoy where he had no formal working hours, or even a job title for that matter, but was still able to live comfortably. Some days he would sell clothes and on others he would work on a farm if he so desired. He used to wake up with no boss, no stress and a level of independence someone with my background can only begin to imagine. He recalls how on the weekends he could afford to buy a new set of apparel by selling the clothes off his back, an unconventional trade by our standards but commonplace for him.

One thing he loathes is the inherent “laziness” of his life here. He shows me a picture of himself when he was in Uganda and the difference is staggering. He now cuts a slim figure but just a few years ago his physique was that of a bodybuilder despite never setting foot in a gym. “In Uganda life is the gym, work is the gym. I never had to pay someone to let me exercise!” He goes on to joke that being a doctor in Uganda is a difficult business because few people are sick.

Unfortunately, one of those people happens to be his mother, hence why he sacrificed his content life to move to Dubai. He now works from 7am-7pm, a stark contrast to the carefree life he used to live. His weekends consist of napping and very little else. He jibes that it takes him 3 days to watch a single movie because he inevitably falls asleep, recovering from his long working hours. His anxiety over his mother’s health is exacerbated by the fact he gets paid at the end of the month. “If an emergency happens in the middle of the month and I can’t send money…” he trails off dreading the worst before his beaming smile re-appears.

The discrimination he faces is deeply saddening. He tells me of the tension between himself and his Asian co-workers. The perception is that he and other African’s have come to steal jobs and there is no way for him to challenge this hostility.

Dennis, who has a degree in management, tells me something profound; “workers like me are not just the first face you see in a company, we are the face of this country. Without us nothing here would work so we should be respected like regular people.”

These tribulations have often caused him to think of quitting. Nevertheless, he dismisses these thoughts as weakness. He would consider himself a failure if he quit and abandoned his duties so remains hopeful, determined and patient. “Part of being a man is surviving these struggles”, he proclaims.

Although he must spend another year away from home, he continues to smile whilst toiling, knowing he is doing this for his family.

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.

Working 7am-7pm, what a way to make a living

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In the second blog post of the Real Life Stories series, we hear Third’s story.

Why is he in Dubai? How does he spend a typical day? What does he do with his money?

Life isn’t always easy, but with an end goal to focus on, there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

Third’s story

Danilo III, or “Third” as he likes to be known, has lived in Dubai for four months, where he moved to from the Philippines. He works as a concierge for a building management company.

Just like most migrant workers in the UAE, Third works six days a week for 12 hours a day, 7am until 7pm. A typical day starts with an instant coffee before the bus ride into work. He lives in Al Quoz, and his accommodation is a long distance from the metro, so he has to share a bus with the colleagues he lives with (he shares a room with several other men). Work is 10km away so walking isn’t an option, especially in the summer when the temperature is known to reach 50 degrees Celsius.

After the bus journey, Third gets to work where he spends the day dealing with the visitors, tradesmen, and office workers in the building. He enjoys his job, there’s lots to do so he’s always busy and especially enjoys getting to know the residents of the building and hearing their stories every morning. He greets everyone with a warm smile, which is bound to brighten up even the dustiest of days!

In the evenings, Third generally does some grocery shopping or his laundry or other household tasks. When possible, he meets up with his wife, which is usually around three times a week. He met her in the Philippines, and they moved over to Dubai together, however they have to live in separate accommodation because they work for separate companies. She works and lives at the airport, which is 25km away from where Third lives in Al Quoz. As you can imagine, being newly weds and living such a distance away from each other with minimal public transport isn’t ideal. They both have the same day off each week, which they spend wandering around Deira City Centre Mall (but not buying anything…).

Third and his wife moved to Dubai to save money and make a better life for themselves, as well as to send money to their friends and family back home. Their first goal is to save enough for a proper Church wedding, as they only had a small affair at home. Then they would like to rent a flat together, so they can settle down and end the current separation. Third is also putting away a little bit of money each month for when they decide to have a baby.

Access to an online account means they could manage their finances and keep their money securely in an account (rather than in cash format stored in shared accommodation). The life Third and his wife wish for is within reach. The money to be made in Dubai is far more than they can earn back in the Philippines, which will in turn open up more opportunities for their future family. Giving Third and his wife access to banking and cheaper remittance could bring their dream wedding and life as a family one step closer.

What does it take to be Dubai’s most requested beautician?

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In this new “day in the life” series we have interviewed low-income migrant workers around Dubai to understand about their lifestyle, why they’re here and their prospects for the future. Today we speak to a beautician from India.

How did you hear about working in Dubai?

My sister and I both trained to be beauticians in India. My sister heard you could earn more doing the same things in Dubai, and her friend helped her to get a job working for one of the best salons here. A year later, I followed her to work for the same company.  Eight years later, my sister and I are still here.

What’s your schedule like each day?

I work 12 hours a day, usually 10am to 10pm. I’m the top requested person in the salon so I usually have a full day of appointments, mostly waxing. I can do all treatments but people say it’s not painful when I wax them, so that’s the top thing I get booked for! My clients are very loyal- I know them well and enjoy chatting to them, so the day passes quickly.

Do you get to see your sister much? How do you spend your time?

We share an apartment in Al Quoz provided by our company. We work in different salons but the company makes sure we get the same day off, and we travel to work on the same bus. We’re usually tired by our day off, so we’ll sleep in for a while! We try to go to church every other week, and we go to the mall, or the cinema.

What’s your company like to work for?

We work hard but we are loyal to the company because they are loyal to us. Like tomorrow we have a party, which is Great Gatsby theme. We’ve all got new shiny dresses. There will be around 500 people, which will be a lot of fun.

How often do you go back to India to see your family?

We get 30 days of leave each summer, sometimes more if you worked overtime in busy times like Eid, Christmas and New Year. Usually my sister and I go back to India, but this year, we brought our parents to see Dubai instead. It was hot but they loved it. We went to Dubai Parks, saw the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall. They’ll come back.

Do you send money back to your family every month? Can you afford to save money for yourself as well?

Yes, we’re supporting our parents and younger brothers through university. One of our brothers might come to Dubai if he can get an IT job when he graduates. I don’t always save for long things like a house…. I have paid for myself to get other things I wanted though, like orthodontic braces! Haha.

Will you move back to India eventually and settle down?

When I first came to Dubai, I thought it would just be for two or three years, but now I’m not sure. It’s lovely to visit home, but the people there haven’t left or explored the world much. I think I’d get bored living at home now I’ve been independent in Dubai all this time; I’ve changed. My parents want me to choose the person I’ll marry and I don’t think the right guy is there at home for me. My sister met a guy in Dubai and I think they’ll get married and stay here. Maybe one day I will too!

UAE VAT for FinTech companies explained

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Everyone who lives in the UAE knows that on January 1, 2018 value-added tax (VAT) will come into effect. There is a lot of talk, and furthermore, uncertainty, with the date just around the corner. When it comes to the impact that this will have on the world of FinTech – the uncertainty just goes over the top!

As a result of my experience with both VAT and FinTech, I thought I’d write a post about the issue, and address the main points of uncertainty.

Most people will be familiar with VAT in general, but if not, you can email us to view the presentation from my last ‘VAT in the UAE training’ here that was organized by Astrolabs on the 29th of October, 2017.

So what is a FinTech and what attributes does it have which make VAT treatment so vague?

According to Patrick Schueffel, in his paper, Taming the Beast: A Scientific Definition of Fintech in the Journal of Innovation Management; “FinTech is a new financial industry that applies technology to improve financial activities. FinTech is the new applications, processes, products, or business models in the financial services industry, composed of one or more complementary financial services and provided as an end-to-end process via the Internet.”

Based on the definition above, I have come up with some unique features of FinTech companies, and what VAT complications they may face:

1. Provision of financial services

Financial services in relation to VAT is still a grey area in current VAT legislation. However, as draft cabinet decision on the Executive Regulations of UAE VAT law says, if the financial services are performed NOT in return for an explicit fee, discount, commission, rebate or similar, then they are exempt for VAT purposes. However, if the services above are performed for a fee, discount and commission, etc., then they should be taxed at 5 per cent to the extent of the amount of that separately identifiable charge. For example, the remittance operation itself is exempt from VAT however the fee that is charged by the financial institution is not. Therefore, there will be 5 per cent VAT added to the amount of the fee, but not to the amount being remitted. The last point – agreeing to do, or arranging financial services as per current UAE legislation also counts as the provision of financial services.

When it comes to the recovery of input VAT, tax incurred on costs wholly attributable to the standard rated supply of financial services can be fully recovered; and VAT incurred on costs in relation to exempt supplies – cannot be recovered. Therefore, companies should accurately distinguish which costs are attributable to the financial services that are exempt, and which are taxable supplies. If the company has both, then the following ratio should be applied:

Taxable supplies/Taxable + Exempt supplies

For more guidance on this, please have a look at the guidance published by the federal Tax Authority here.

2. Provision of services digitally

Another feature of a FinTech company, is the digital provision of its services. For this we have to be familiar with the place of supply concept, because if the services are provided to someone outside of the UAE, VAT is not applicable, and vice versa.

The place of supply for the goods, for instance, is where the goods are. When it comes to digital services, the provider has to know who is the recipient – whether it’s a company (B2B) or an individual (B2C).

In a B2B scenario, the purchaser is responsible for accounting for the invoice in accordance with a rule known as the reverse-charge mechanism. The purchaser accounts for the VAT of that invoice as an Output VAT (sounds strange but that is the way) and Input VAT at the same time, meaning there is no VAT liability, only reporting of the transaction.

With B2C, the scenarios are as follows:

3. Fintech companies registered in Dubai International Financial Centre and other free zones

There is a lot of talk around free-zones and how they are going to be treated for VAT purposes. The latest draft regulation says that if the company is registered in a designated zone which is a fenced free-zone, then it is considered as outside of the UAE VAT scope. If the free-zone is not fenced – like DIFC – then general UAE VAT rules apply.

I hope the above helps shed some light on VAT treatment for FinTech companies who, just like us are trying their best to navigate in this complex business world.

Please feel free to leave comments if you have more insight on the VAT situation described in this post, or any questions.

4 reasons to meet us at RegTech MENA

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We have a confession: we love to scan.

Any kind of ID document; you have it, we want to scan it.

The NOW Money team have been geeking out over customer onboarding over the past few months, and the conversation in the office rarely steers from what’s come to be known as “scan chat”.

Ben Walton, NOW’s Technical lead, has been working tirelessly, testing different techniques to find the crème de la crème of compliance and biometric security. He’s scanned Co-founder, Ian Dillon’s passport so many times we think he’s now been put on a warning list. There’s been hours of fun testing comparisons such as a female’s ID photograph against a male selfie.

“Do I REALLY look 12% like a man?”

All in the name of onboarding security.

When we were invited to the RegTech conference in Bahrain on 22nd and 23rd November we jumped at the chance to get involved in the conversation in the region. Ben even moved his flights forward for Bahrain 70.3 triathlon, which he’s taking part in the following weekend. He’s that dedicated to RegTech.

If you’re going too, here’s 4 reason’s you should come and find us for some “scan chat”

  1. See a demo of the most advanced onboarding service in the Middle East

As one of the region’s first and most prominent FinTech companies, we’re ahead of the curve when it comes to digital onboarding. But you’ll have to see it to believe us – and we want to show you! Get in touch to arrange a meeting.

  1. Hear about cyber security from NOW Money’s Co-founder

Don’t miss Ian Dillon speaking on the subject “Cyber Security and Cyber Risk in the Age of RegTech” which is on Tuesday 21st November 21st at 11:35 AM. Put a reminder in your calendar and bring your best questions.

  1. Learn how to save time

With many companies in the region, onboarding and KYC processes can take days, weeks and even months. If any information is missing at sign-up, then the application is not progressed or refused. Our onboarding solution can verify documentation on the spot, using the latest scanning, biometric and KYC technology, saving you time making multiple trips to a branch.

  1. Discuss blockchain with people who know what blockchain is

So often you go to a conference where the speakers are throwing buzzwords around in an attempt to show they’re keeping up-to-date with industry trends. But we really do know our stuff. We are using blockchain in our onboarding solution to solve real life problems in the Middle East. We live and breathe FinTech and RegTech, so if you want to have a proper chat about the latest fashionable buzzwords, we’re your guys.

Have we convinced you? Get in touch now to arrange a meeting.

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

What is Dubai Expo 2020… and what does it have to do with NOW Money?

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Not long after my arrival in the UAE a few years ago, decorations and flags began adorning towers, announcing that Dubai had been awarded the Expo for 2020. We were even given an extra day off from work to celebrate. It wasn’t unlike the fever experienced in London in 2005, when it was chosen to host the 2012 Olympics. Everyone was excited about this great event Dubai would be home to in 2020, but few seemed to know what “Expo” really meant. The best explanation I could find was “it’s every four years, and it’s all about trade. A big, long global trade show.”

Four years on, that description is fairly accurate, and coming to life at the rate we’ve all come to expect from the UAE. An official 438 hectare site has been chosen for the six-month long event beginning in October 2020 and culminating in April 2021, which will be home to more than 180 nations participating for the duration and numerous others who will visit to develop new international opportunities. A central plaza, entitled Al Wasl (meaning “the connection” in Arabic) is surrounded by three large pavilions built by Al-Futtaim Carillion, each dedicated to one of the Expo’s sub-themes: opportunity, mobility and sustainability.

In light of the latter, the site is set to become the town of “Dubai South” after the Expo, and will no doubt become one of Dubai’s hottest new locations with plenty of residential and commercial options. I recently visited the site, which has laid impressive foundations but is still mostly sand. How will this be done in three years? If we were in any other city I would say it were impossible. In Dubai, I wonder if we could do it in two!

The reason for my visit was to meet the team behind Expo Live. The Expo team have set goals relating to the subthemes, such as reducing food waste and increasing opportunities to recycle. They have created Expo Live to encourage innovation globally, particularly relating to startups with a social impact. Startups from anywhere in the world can apply directly to Expo for grants to support the development or expansion of their business. Selected startups are flown to Dubai to pitch and explain how they would use funding, and if successful are awarded the grants shortly after. We are thrilled to announce that NOW Money was in the most recent wave of selected startups, joining a fellow UAE social impact startup catering to the migrant worker population, Smart Labour. Alongside the obvious financial benefit, there are others: being listed as part of the Expo procurement website and the opportunity to demo at the event in 2020.

Applications for the next wave have just opened again for anyone who fits the profile!

Expo are hosting a huge, free party this Friday, 20th October at The Beach on JBR to mark exactly three years until the start of the main event. We have been asked to let all the friends of NOW Money know that you’re most welcome to attend! As well as lots of celebrations for every age (think a six-metre high zip-line, food trucks and Kris Fade) you can also expect to find a bit more about Expo… more than “a big, long, global trade show”!

For more info about getting to and around the event, please click here.

Meet Ben – Technology Specialist

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Although a developer by trade, Ben has proven to be quite the estate agent since joining NOW Money in September 2017. Not only has he been driving NOW Money’s technology to the next level, he’s also taken on the office move. He can code and build flat-pack furniture – what more could a start-up want?

Tell us about your role here

I’m currently working on the technology which on-boards customers to the NOW Money platform. The on-boarding process is how we identify customers, collect all regulatory information from them and prevent fraudulent accounts being created.

The job involves testing lots of different technologies and using them across lots of different platforms. The process so far has allowed me to dive into all of the latest RegTech and biometric innovations. There’s some really advanced technologies out there – it’s really great to be working alongside those at the forefront of the industry.

What is your first short-term goal within the company?

Other than really improving the application, my secret goal has been to relocate the NOW Money office as close to my apartment as possible.

What do you like most about working for a start-up?

Pretty much everything. I love working in small teams trying to do big things, and the feeling that we’re all really motivated, heading towards the same goal. Oh, and also no pointless meetings!

What are you most excited about over the next few months?

Seeing the stuff I’m working on going into production. Everything we do at NOW Money has the chance to change people’s lives, and the company has great potential to do some amazing things over the next few months. We get closer to these everyday.

What were you doing before you joined NOW Money?

I’ve been in the UAE for ten years now. Originally I came here to work for Dubizzle, which, at the time, was a start-up of similar size to NOW Money today.

After seven years at Dubizzle I was keen to do the start-up thing again, this time right from the start. So, I co-founded a fitness technology start-up, as well as working with other start-ups remotely.

If you weren’t with NOW Money, what would you be doing?

I’ve been really interested in FinTech for a while now. If I wasn’t with NOW Money, I’d probably be developing my own cryptocurrency.

Start-ups attract people who can’t sit still. What do you do when you’re not developing things?

Usually riding one of my bikes at Al Qudra, running somewhere, or eating copious amounts of burritos at Taqado.

How do you let your hair down?

Some sort of hop-based-bevaerage, maybe of the German weiß variety. Aside from that I love travelling and visiting new places, preferably ones with great vegan food options!

How I learned to embrace fear

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I believe that fear is not something we are born with, it’s a feeling that’s developed over time. It could be due to a bad experience or just a lack of self-confidence. But, at times we don’t recognise what we fear until we face it head on.

Of course, it’s hard to do things we’re afraid to, but it’s always worth a try. After all, there’s nothing to lose by trying, right?

From personal experience, overcoming some of my fears has brought me immense joy, and has given me the perspective to see things in a different way. I won’t lie, doing something new for the first time is hard, but I’m so glad I can say that I have put myself out there.

Here are some challenges I faced during the year I worked at NOW Money, and how some wonderful people around me made it easy to overcome them.

Blogging

I still remember the first time I was asked to write an article for the company blog, I was shivering! It’s something I’ve always thought I couldn’t do.  I resisted it for a long time, until I was told to just do it, so begrudgingly, I did. I will be honest, it was hard but wasn’t impossible. I learnt a lot about the art of creative writing including how to structure a blog, the importance of adding personal experience to your writing and how to make it engaging for the reader.

I still have a long way to go before I write what I think is a brilliant blog, but I’m so grateful to my colleagues who encouraged me to try blogging, and to the readers who have appreciated my work and have given me such positive feedback.

Multi-lingual presenting

In early 2017, I was given a task to train some users of the NOW Money app. They were mainly native Urdu and Hindi speakers, so I had to present in multiple languages. Although I was usually quite confident presenting to a large audience, this time I was nervous. It was important that the transition between languages was smooth so the training session would be understood by the audience. I had no option but to do it as I was the only Hindi speaker in the company!

I remember very clearly, just before I was about to start my presentation, my boss Katharine (Kat) said, ‘You can do it V!’. And that was all I needed to hear. The presentation went really well and became interactive, which was a sure sign that they were listening and were interested in what I had to say.

I was so lucky to have such an amazing mentor who pushed me beyond the limits I set for myself. Thanks Kat.

Presenting to the UAE government

As part of my role at NOW Money, I used to enter the company into start-up competitions. In one particular competition we reached the final, which involved presenting to senior managers in the UAE government.

Kat and Ian, NOW Money’s other co-founder, asked me to present the company as I had taken ownership of the project from the start. I was reluctant when asked, as it was quite frightening for me to present to such senior people.

Ian motivated me to seize the wonderful opportunity in front of me, and not to worry about anything else. The whole team helped me perfect my script, listened to me present couple of times and asked me potential questions from the judges. The learning experience was fantastic. On the day of the competition, when I was on stage, Kat was seated in the audience. After my presentation all she said was ‘I’m proud of you, V’.

Honestly, I’m so grateful to be a part of such a wonderful organisation where we encourage each other to grow each and every day. We meet very few people in our professional lives who want others to grow with them instead of leaving them behind in the ‘professional race to save their jobs’. It’s much more productive to create healthy competition rather than being too competitive, and by doing this we could make a massive change in our professional lives.

Let’s be open to growing individually and together!