5 key enablers Pakistan's fintech industry should prioritise in the coming years

If we resist progress in expanding the sector, our demographic dividend will become a GDP liability.
Published July 18, 2019

The fintech story of Pakistan is not just about the 75% unbanked population; it is about the incredible uptake of millions who have readily adopted digital financial tools.

Consider that despite entering late into the fintech market with JazzCash, we have the lead in terms of the number of transactions. Over 14 million people who use the money transfer facility without the need for a bank account collectively hold 14 billion rupees, which is a 60% increase since last year.

There are 80,000 brands that are our partners across all industries.

Though m-wallets make for useful financial tools, we'd miss the whole point of digital transformation if we continue to emphasise on building just this method of financial technology. We still need to emphasise on the creation of more innovative products and services for ultimate financial wellness the industry. Financial wellness does not just mean access to payments and money transfer but also savings, health, insurance and other life style needs.

Though I do not wish to expand too much on these trends in fintech, I do hope we know that a fully fintech-adopted Pakistan means significantly lower banking costs, robust innovation and greater access for all.

Let this fact sink in: only 18% of Pakistanis have used digital financial services. We must road-map the remaining market that is in need.

If Pakistan does not take effective steps in opening and expanding this sector over the next five years, our demographic dividend will become a liability on the GDP.

There are some key enablers to consider as we build the digital industry of Pakistan’s financial services sector over the next five years.

Here's a look at them all:

1. Financial wellness for all, not just the financially literate

In designing fintech architecture it is important to understand that this is not just the domain of technologists and deep domain experts, but of those who understand community mobilisation.

Fintech is thankfully disrupting old incumbents, and doing so rather dramatically. Many large banks refuse to leverage customer loyalty and hardly innovate on competitive offerings. When they jump into the fintech field, many aim only at a tiny - and tech-savvy - audience, and as a result, they miss out the most vulnerable and excluded members of society.

The customer will only adopt a product if, a) they feel comfortable about money, b) if they can anticipate change, and c) if they can react to financial shocks such as disease, death and investment for the future.

2. Focus on Gen Z over Gen X

Needs of the consumer are changing.

The future belongs to a generation that does not trust big financial brands that are largely responsible for financial crisis and exorbitant markup rates that have proven to lead their parents to a debt crisis.

Young people look out for a democratised solution that gives them both control and choice at their fingertips.

They also want that choice to be free, or almost nominal compared to traditional bank charges. Most importantly they want there to be consistent access at any time. No one under 20 ever buys anything simply because of a brand name, they compare, and make a choice purely based of their comfort level.

3. Enable women to outsize financial inclusion impact

We know that empowering women through access to financial services leads to a spike in spending on both healthcare and education. But with mobile financial independence, the contribution to GDP is outsized because women in conservative societies can transcend mobility challenges.

Several women with mobile wallets and access to microloans and saving schemes via phones are venturing into the e-commerce space and gig economy.

Due to rise in the penetration of internet and 3G/4G services, the e-commerce industry has doubled to 40 billion rupees since last year. As a result, the services sector increased its GDP contribution from 52% to 60%.

As of now, only 1% of Pakistan’s entrepreneurs are women, and with fintech, the talents and innovation can grow and scale not just women’s lives but help shrink our fiscal gap.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) reports that Pakistan is the second-worst in the world in terms of gender parity, ranking 148 out of 149 countries in the ‘Global Gender Gap Index 2018’ report.

Having said that, in the recent times JazzCash has witnessed more women coming under its fold compared to the little population that finds comfort in using traditional banking channels. This is an encouraging finding for the fintech market of Pakistan because it displays a clear trend of comfort and preference that women have despite the terribly low smartphone penetration rates for this demographic.

4. The time is now

In the next five years, while the bulk of our population will head towards their core affluent years, we need to advocate for financial independence so we move towards enabling richer and fuller lives.

Presently the economic health of our working class is suffering.

In general, most Pakistanis run out of money before the end of the month or close to paycheck time. Savings often make up a fairly small chunk of their salary. When in such a situation, people borrow from traditional financial institutions and often find the idea troubling because of exorbitant interest rates that are prohibitive enough to send them into a debt spin.

One of the tragedies of Pakistan is that the digitally excluded are the ones paying the highest prices for financial inclusion. The barrier is both language and complicated user interfaces.

The poor and not-so-poor are affected in a similar manner as both find finance intimidating and accounting jargon difficult to comprehend.

This leads to bad financial decision-making which results in forcing them to stick to jobs in order to pay off the banking commitment mistakes they made.

5. Government-backed digital reform to curb corruption

Digitisation enables tracking and monitoring; this is why digital financial services is an agenda close to the present government's political mandate as they seek to bring radical transparency to our institutions.

With e-government and many fee payments increasingly adopting mobile wallet payments, inevitably the leakages in governments especially in the G2B sector can be curbed with a range of fintech interventions.

Presently the State Bank is open to creating a financial wellness culture across Pakistan in tandem with the private sector.

Digital leadership is not possible without collaboration. The results we can deliver with innovation and regulatory collaboration can produce scale, stability and open Pakistan to global investors who see us as a promise, but hesitate because of the fact that market maturity and transparency lag behind.

Our solutions need to be quintessentially Pakistani, in local languages reflecting a local value system and several choices for our young women and men. The unique differential that Jazz offers in the fintech industry is that it does all this and more in its upcoming versions.