An Exclusive Interview with Mr. Jahanzeb Khan- Chief Strategy & Transformation Officer, Telenor Microfinance Bank

Easypaisa leads the country’s digital financial transformation with many industry-first products and services to its credit

  1. Why did Pakistan need a product like Easypaisa at all?

Pakistan has been home to one of the world’s largest unbanked populations. According to the 2017 Findex, Pakistan is home to 100 million adults without a bank account. But, the situation was worse in 2015 when Pakistan launched its National Financial Inclusion Strategy to achieve its financial inclusion goals. For most of us, it’s hard to imagine living without a financial account, credit card, insurance, or a safe place for our savings in today’s increasingly digital world.

But, for the underserved masses, gaining access to formal financial services and reliable sources of finance is an everyday struggle.

Being able to have access to a mobile financial account is a first step toward broader financial inclusion since a transaction account allows people to store money, and send and receive payments. Facilitating everyday life, access to formal financial services helps families and businesses plan things better, be it long-term goals or unforeseen emergencies. Being excluded from the financial system, especially in a developing country like Pakistan, also potentially results in exploitation of the poor and innocent at the hands of often unscrupulous informal sources of finance. This situation, plus the country’s vision of a digitally and financially included Pakistan, called for an innovative, out-of-the-box solution which Easypaisa provided.

  1. How is Easypaisa contributing to Pakistan’s digital ecosystem?

Easypaisa triggered the digital transformation of Pakistan’s financial services landscape that it leads to date. It leveraged Pakistan’s promising tele-density – which stands at a healthy 77% today – to deliver a swift, secure, and sustainable financial service to the underserved masses. Becoming the pioneer of mobile banking in Pakistan, Easypaisa showed the industry and the government the right direction to move in and address the country’s financial inclusion problem. Its immense success and rapid nationwide penetration inspired other banking and technology players of the country to follow suit and introduce their own mobile banking versions. All this gave the country the support it needed to build a robust digital ecosystem and get closer to its digital and financial inclusion goals.

Today, Easypaisa leads the country’s digital financial transformation with many industry-first products and services to its credit. With empowerment of the Pakistani masses being high on its agenda, Easypaisa continues to digitalize the local financial services landscape through a mix of innovation, partnerships, and an unyielding resolve.

It is thanks to Easypaisa that a common man is able to open a bank account on his phone without needing to travel far to a physical branch.

It is through Easypaisa that poor women in rural areas can now receive their entitlements from poverty alleviation programs without having to stand in long queues at designated bank branches. Also, it was Easypaisa that brought an end to old people spending hours at bank branches to get their entitlements. Easypaisa’s digitalization on all these and more fronts continues to strengthen the local digital ecosystem while empowering the society.

  1. How is Easypaisa leveraging new technology to transform financial services in Pakistan?

Since its beginning, Easypaisa has been driven by technological innovation to bring more people into the fold of financial inclusion and make lives easier. From innovative use of a mobile phone in almost every hand to extend the benefits of technology to the underserved masses, to utilisation of advanced technologies to make the digital financial services ecosystem more robust, Easypaisa leads the way in the industry.

Introducing the industry’s first interoperability solution, Easypaisa expanded its outreach and enabled users of other cellular services to open a mobile wallet account and make swift and easy transactions.

And to make these transactions securer and of larger amounts, Easypaisa introduced Biometric Verification System (BVS), equipping its nationwide network of retailers and franchises with high-tech biometric devices.

With an aim to boost Pakistan’s trust in e-commerce and digital payments, Easypaisa introduced Easypay, the country’s first digital payments platform. The launch of Easypaisa mobile app was also a milestone achievement in the product’s contribution to the local digital ecosystem. Progressing continuously, Easypaisa also integrated an advanced QR payments option, allowing users to go cashless and pay simply by scanning the QR code at different retail stores and outlets. Experimenting with new technologies and turning them into empowerment tools is what makes Easypaisa the industry leader; the launch of Pakistan’s first blockchain-based cross-border remittance service in collaboration with AliPay is a simple proof of that very approach.

Interview with Mr. Jahanzeb Khan

  1. In what other ways is Easypaisa empowering Pakistanis?

Driven by its empowerment vision, Easypaisa goes the extra mile to serve Pakistani people better and develop useful financial products and services. Easypaisa introduced the industry’s first digital nano loan which is processed and transferred to the customer’s Easypaisa account (mWallet) within 2 minutes conveniently without the need to visit a branch or fill out paperwork. Through respective partners, Easypaisa also introduced micro health and life insurance products for the previously underserved millions.

We are also geared to build a Digital Services Platform (DSP) in collaboration with Pakistan Microfinance Network (PMN) to digitize Pakistan’s microfinance industry.

The platform will enable Microfinance Providers (MFPs) to ride on the rail road of Digital Financial Service Providers with the twin objectives of increasing accessibility for clients and bringing efficiency through available distribution channel. The partnership will help the microfinance sector to achieve its goal of reaching out to 10m borrowers, 50m deposit accounts, and 11m insurance clients by 2020. Furthermore, there are 4.5 Million SMEs and micro SMEs of which only 180K are formal borrowers.  Easypaisa is providing access now to these credit starved micro SMEs and home based businesses to provide nano lending for their short term needs. Easypaisa is delivering a complete digital payments solution to the Pakistani youth through its innovative and feature-laden mobile app.

  1. Walk us through Easypaisa’s transition into a complete digital payments solution.

Beginning as an innovative mobile money solution allowing a common Pakistani to send and receive money instantly without needing to have a conventional bank account.

Easypaisa has transformed into an ultimate digital payments solution for the millennial customer.

With a winning mix of technology, partnerships, and a firm grip on ever-changing customer needs, we have enhanced Easypaisa to become a complete digital payments solution for today’s customer. The latest Easypaisa app allows users of any network to send and receive money, gift money to loved ones, purchase mobile top-ups and bundles of different telcos, buy movie and bus tickets, make utility bill payments, and do a lot more. The QR payments feature eases payments at shops and restaurants while making users eligible for different offers and discounts. Our growing partnerships with restaurants, retail stores, insurance companies, and health utilities etc. are bringing a greater value to the app users and showing the people that we truly care for them.

 

  1. What is Easypaisa’s urban and rural uptake like?

Easypaisa revolutionized the way payments were made in the country and it continues to do so. We have achieved a high measure of success in a short period of time.

At present, the total number of users is approximately 29 million.

Of these around 39 percent are in 10 major cities which are Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad, Rawalpindi, Gujranwala, Peshawar, Multan, Hyderabad, Islamabad and Quetta while the remaining 61 percent belong to the smaller cities and rural areas. This distribution of Easypaisa consumers mirrors closely the demographics mix of Pakistan. These numbers are quite encouraging as they show that demand for Easypaisa is not only high but that people trust us when it comes to fulfilling their important financial needs.

  1. What does the future hold for Easypaisa and the local financial services landscape?

We envision a promising future for Easypaisa and the financial services landscape in Pakistan. The masses are fast realizing the convenience that FinTech is bringing in their lives. Those who couldn’t open a bank account are now easily making transactions and are enjoying access to loans and insurance facilities. Standing in long queues is a thing of the past and hundreds of thousands of pensioners and beneficiaries of poverty alleviation programs are now receiving their entitlements directly in their mobile wallets or through one of the 75,000 retailers spread across the country. FinTech is bringing freedom and quality of life to people and the society is embracing it wholeheartedly.

Tele-density is going to play a huge role in determining the future of financial services in Pakistan and we are lucky to be faring very well in that area with the current 77% mobile uptake.

According to GSMA’s recent study ‘The Mobile Economy’, 700 million new cellular subscribers are expected by 2025 globally with 4% of the new subscriber base to be originated from Pakistan. Mobile connectivity will bridge the gap between the physical and digital divide. High tele-density, NGMS reaching 72 million subscribers and smartphone penetration are to collectively help both Easypaisa and Pakistan reach their financial inclusion and digitalization goals more effectively and in a swifter way.

  1. What more does Pakistan need to do to boost FinTech and achieve its financial inclusion goals?

Although a developing concept globally, FinTech is remarkably easing lives and improving livelihoods globally as it is widely embraced by societies. In developing countries like Pakistan too, FinTech is making its way into the market thanks to the user-friendliness it features. The Easypaisa model is an example here where digital literacy of the masses did not stand in the way of a mass-scale uptake. In fact, FinTech is expected to significantly impact Pakistan’s economy in the long run.

McKinsey Global Institute report titled ‘Digital Finance For All: Powering Inclusive Growth In Emerging Economies’ projects that adoption of financial technology in Pakistan will add 93 million bank accounts and $36 billion a year to the country’s GDP by 2025.

For greater uptake, the financial technology needs to be intuitive and user-friendly and must be built with low financial and digital literacy levels in mind. Fulfilling unmet needs of our millennials and enabling them to do their jobs easier will help propagate financial inclusion. A robust and larger digital financial payment ecosystem is the need of the hour for which Easypaisa is working relentlessly. There must also be digital and financial literacy programs that run on a national level and teach the workings and need of a digital financial system.

Partnerships can also play a great part here as technology players can join forces to assess current trends and needs to build smarter solutions. Adequate merchant value proposition needs to be in place for retailers to encourage digital payments. Initiatives like micropayment gateway with same day settlements and easier merchant on boarding policies that SBP has recently published will help the sector.

There is a scarcity of viable aggregators in Pakistan in multiple sectors like agriculture, health and education; incubators and venture capitalists can help inject capital in FinTechs to flourish early start-ups that can subsequently be integrated into a digital ecosystem.

Policies need to be in place to empower women and reduce exploitation by providing them financial freedom -they should be able to open their financial accounts independently with simpler customer journey and improved KYC requirements.

Easypaisa is working closely with the regulators and multiple government entities to encourage public-private partnership for increased digitization of the economy via progressive digital policies.

 

Onsa Mustafa

Onsa is a Software Engineer and a tech blogger focuses on providing the latest information regarding the innovations happening in the IT world. She likes reading, photography, travelling and exploring nature.
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