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The million-dollar question

Updated March 13, 2019

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The writer is the CEO, Jazz.


Almost every investor looking to make social and business impact now considers Pakistan as a priority market. General reports on communicative technologies reveal that Pakistan’s progress on developing a robust emerging economy have partly rested on an early adoption of telephony and broadband services. Jazz has grown with Pakistan and our success is seemingly interwoven.

The million-dollar question is: Can Pakistan bridge the digital divide in time to absorb the large influx of potential youth jobseekers that need the right skillset for the future? Also, does the regulatory framework foster open access to the internet? More significantly: Does access to the internet alone ensure progress?

This year, as Jazz marks 25 years, we have come to realise that connecting 170 million Pakistanis is not only a massive opportunity, but also a huge responsibility. Our competitive advantages are mainly three: Access even in the remotest regions; a customer-centric approach and finally, a commitment to affordable digital tools for all.

Expand internet access

According to the World Bank, Pakistan is one of the 11 countries contributing to the next billion new internet users. In terms of access, this means improved developmental goals. Education, health, and agriculture are the top priority for Pakistan and also its low hanging fruit. Jazz was the fi rst to develop digital policy frameworks for these sectors.

With a growing youth population, a surging middle class of about 50 million, and a trajectory towards urbanisation, expanding access is a race against time for Jazz. As the current administration enhances its commitment to connectivity, we envision Pakistan heading into a dynamic knowledge based economy. Every fourth Pakistani is a Jazz subscriber and out of those about 90% access the internet through their mobile devices. So we know a bit about digital access. And, as we often remind our partners in the business ecosystem that being on the web alone doesn’t make you digital. The question remains what more should we do?

Create holistic financial solutions

Our customer-centric approach plays a big part in our Digital Financial Services ambition. Jazz is motivated to give our customers complete control over their money in addition to giving them access to capital so they don’t just limit their entrepreneurial skills to the paychecks they earn.

We want all Pakistanis to be banked and maybe eliminate cash because that now has risks associated with it in terms of delay and fraud. Instead, we want to move towards digitalised cash. Digitalising eliminates corruption and is very consistent with the State Bank of Pakistan’s financial inclusion policy.

We want to document these transactions too. When transactions are documented, there is an unmistakable trail that helps eliminate money laundering.


With an enabling regulatory regime, a committed forward-looking government and the right kind of thought leadership, there can be no limits to the progress we can achieve together. Nothing would give Jazz and our partners more meaning than to have led that when there were only a handful of believers in the powerful magic of technological progress.


We think that Pakistan is ripe for adoption of mobile banking technologies vertically across all strata. Leading Pakistan into the future, this is the most decisive economic turn-around solution for Jazz.

The smartphone revolution allows the phone to become a remote control to the world.

This is why we are working closely with regulators of the digital landscape and advising them to cut all barriers that hamper access to data services.

The term digital means a complete platform where you find all solutions fully integrated. We have a vision of converting every Pakistani who buys a SIM card, regardless of the network they are on, onto the Jazz digital platform.

We presently are doing this though JazzCash, a simple yet fully equipped application that allows for payment transfers; vendor management; utility payments and lifestyle upgrades through a scan-and-pay mobile-banking service. We want financial wellness for every Pakistani. Today, we have 5 million mobile wallets and over 80,000 trusted brands and small and medium sized companies are part of the growing network.

Top on Jazz’s agenda, therefore, is to disrupt the traditional financial sector in a substantial and value-enhancing manner.

According to the State Bank of Pakistan, only about 23% of adults in Pakistan have a bank account. That massive unbanked population is reliant almost entirely on cash, which is where technology can step in and offer solutions that can help build a cashless society. Without mobile wallets the adult adoption of financial services goes down to about 18% only.

Thus far, the efforts in the financial sectors have been on increasing bank accounts, we believe that the future of Pakistan will depend on solutions that cut processes instantly and bring solutions to the customer’s fingertips, literally. Jazz’s award-winning BIMA services, for instance, allow health services and emergency care at the doorstep at an affordable cost through the mobile wallets.

Develop affordable tech tools

Finally, for the third commitment of making digital tools affordable for Pakistanis, Jazz has customised its products for a local context. Digital disruption is not a cookie-cutter solution, that could be applied everywhere. It is a continuous iterative process that has to relate to the people for them to adopt it.

Digital disruption is a lot like a “separatist movement” according to Yuval Noah Hariri. He authored the international literary sensation called Sapiens. As a futurist, he explains that Artificial Intelligence will take power from the established companies and distribute it to the masses. We have seen this happen with the new models in hospitality with Airbnb; Careem has impacted Taxis and our very own Jazz Discount Bazar has done this to the few food industry veterans.

How does Jazz, as a result, not become a victim of its own success? The only way is to spread, share and expand the power data gives us with the people who gave us that power in the first place; our users. In its truest sense, technology is a great equaliser if used democratically and sensibly.

Remain relevant

As the industry leader, we see Jazz headed to a bright future where it would take the lead in investing in advanced infrastructure and supporting 4G/5G, cloud computing and AI. With digital products and services integrated, digital disruption is almost guaranteed in Pakistan, also.

With this disruption, we stand at the threshold of a massive technological revolution that would allow our country to catch up quickly with the developed world and become a technologically advanced modern nation.

With an enabling regulatory regime, a committed forward-looking government and the right kind of thought leadership, there can be no limits to the progress we can achieve together. Nothing would give Jazz and our partners more meaning than to have led that when there were only a handful of believers in the powerful magic of technological progress. We don’t just connect Pakistanis to each other and Pakistan to the world; we also prepare the youth through mentorships, entrepreneurship opportunities and blended learning programmes so our digital impact is intergenerational.

Happy 25th Jazz Anniversary to Pakistan! Here is to being a partner in the progress of our people, which is our abiding mission as a technology company. And a big thank you to our customers for the opportunity.


Profile

Aamir Ibrahim has been the CEO of Jazz since 2016, Pakistan’s largest telecom and internet company with over 55 million subscribers and one of the country’s largest businesses. He is also a member of the Global Executive Committee of VEON (the sixth largest telecom operator in the world).

Prior to his current role, Aamir has held senior leadership positions in VEON, Telenor Group, Ford Motor Company, Jaguar and Land Rover, and Mobilink. His career spans 25 years, in seven countries and industries as diverse as telecommunications, automotive, and financial services.

Aamir received his Bachelors in Business (Accounting) from The University of Texas at Austin. He also holds an MBA from IMD in Switzerland and an AMP Diploma from the Harvard Business School. Aamir has been credited with creating and launching the Jazz brand in 1999 (Pakistan’s first prepaid mobile service) which today is the country’s largest indigenous consumer brand. In addition to his expertise in marketing, Aamir has broad based strengths in strategy, business development, government relations and operations. In 2015, Aamir led the Mobilink — Warid merger forming the largest telecom company in the country. In 2017, he helped Jazz sell its towers portfolio for a deal valued at $940m.

Aamir has been an instrumental member of the team that helped transform Jazz from a legacy telecom operator to being the country’s preferred digital lifestyle player which today offers mobile broadband, digital financial services through JazzCash, and an instant messaging platform via its VEON app.

Working with the government, Aamir was instrumental in helping establish Pakistan’s first National Incubation Centre — a unique example of public private partnership that was subsequently emulated across four cities in Pakistan. He also serves on several boards including The Universal Service Fund (USF) aimed at reducing the digital divide in Pakistan. Aamir is passionate about technology and is a leading voice and proponent of ‘Digital Pakistan’.