Dubai-based fintech, NOW Money, tells us about their business and talent strategy

Alastair Paterson our consultant managing the role
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NOW Money is a fintech based in Dubai who we recently had the pleasure of working with to source their finance manager.

NOW Money use proprietary technology to provide payroll to corporates in the Gulf, and accounts to their staff, the majority of whom struggle to access traditional banking due to the high minimum salary requirements. The company can pay staff safely into NOW Money accounts, and staff can use the app to send money home, as well as monitor their transaction history.

While working with NOW Money founders, Katharine Budd and Ian Dillon, I learned a little about the challenges and rewards of setting up a fintech in the Middle East. Read their story:

Tell us a little about NOW Money’s mission:

We realised that the biggest population in the Middle East are the low-income migrant workers, who unlike in Europe, are not able to open a bank account unless they earn a certain amount of money. This was a segment of the market that had largely been ignored by traditional banks.

Although these people have historically been shut out of the market, they have significant spending power. They are responsible for half the Gulf’s $100bn outbound remittance market and our latest spend report illustrates the impact they have in leisure and retail. Now they have a secure and convenient way to keep and spend their money and can easily transfer funds abroad to their families.

It’s a great industry to work in as the opportunity for profitability is matched by the social impact".

Your strategic focus is very much to work with banks, rather than against them.  What’s the rationale for this?

In the GCC we have lots of banks (around 50 in the UAE and a dozen in KSA), compared with the UK, which until recently was dominated by four major players and badly in need of competition.

In a saturated market, the goal of the regulator is consolidation, to provide economy of scale. So why would we fight to muscle in on an already crowded space, when there are existing players who can provide us with the functionality we need?

There are additional benefits banks can offer: capital, resource, and in our case customers as well. Outsourcing is not a new model for banks - they have used external providers to run the majority of their services for 40+ years. Let’s take ATMs as an example - banks do not run these themselves.

Fintechs are just newer, better vendors than some of the incumbent providers they’ve been using historically.

A decade after the first fintechs came to market, a consensus has been reached that the optimal model is collaboration between large organisations and start-ups. Large corporations globally are turning to start-ups and venture builders to solve ongoing issues.

How have you been partnering with other banks and financial services businesses to provide a better service to your customers?

Last year, we changed our card scheme to Visa, the leader in the Middle East. All NOW Money accounts are accompanied by a physical Visa card, which can be used online or in any of Visa’s 61 million global acceptance locations. The agreement will ensure every person – irrespective of their economic background – has access to the highest quality financial services.

We’ve also partnered with the Commercial Bank of Dubai (CBD), one of the leading financial institutions in the UAE, to provide accounts and cards targeted specifically at low-income customers.

Fintechs are just newer, better vendors than some of the incumbent providers they’ve been using historically".


What are the uncompromising traits that you seek in any new hire into your fintech business?

Grit. This generally translates as us looking at the jobs an individual has undertaken before they joined office life. Examples include waitressing, retail, military etc. These roles create people who can think on their feet and have a high benchmark for service. We look for people who know how to deliver great service, and then we teach them about payments.

The benchmark for service in the banking industry is low, so we generally don’t look for people from there.

What advice would you give to a talented finance professional currently working in banking and thinking about a career change to a fintech start-up?

Consider what’s important to you. The demands at a start-up will be very different to those you might have enjoyed in banking, but there may be bigger upsides long term and in your job satisfaction. You’ll never be bored in a start-up. There are so many opportunities for personal and professional growth.

What key considerations would you point out to ambitious entrepreneurs looking to launch a fintech business?

Educate yourself on regulatory challenges and get ahead on what’s changing. Do your homework on existing players and know how you will displace them, and finally, understand the addressable market – essentially the size of the opportunity a product or service.

Finally, what’s on the horizon for NOW Money?

Our launch in Saudi Arabia is the most imminent. Outside the GCC, there are opportunities in other parts of the Middle East and Africa for NOW Money to continue growing. 

03/11/21
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