The Customer doesn’t matter in the Pakistani Banking System!

Author: Bazigh Kiani

In my beloved Pakistan, everything is as simple & straight as a Jalebi! The Banking sector is no different. We’ve seen countless banks come and go, merge with another, go bankrupt, flash in the news ticker as a scam or whip up a new logo/name and continue with the same rusted products. Pakistani customers never got anything new or convenient from these old or new full-fledged licensed traditional banks. 

Did the Fin-techs reinvent the banking wheel?

Enter the era of the fin-techs. I wake up every morning & see my LinkedIn newsfeed filled with multiple people showcasing their NayaPay or SadaPay Debit Cards. What is so different or new that we got from these Fin-techs? It’s just a card, you deposit money in your account, and you swipe it at a POS or withdraw cash at an ATM. We have been able to do all this forever, with all the cards I have in my wallet. So why are my fellows flaunting their cards like it’s something as exciting as Web 3.0 or the Metaverse?

You will find that the answer is simple and not in Jalebi circles. The actual reason is that for the first time forever, a licensed Financial Institution cared about the customers and designed the processes, policies, pricing & overall product for the customer’s satisfaction/convenience. For the first time, the Customer mattered to the company.

Pakistani Traditional Banks – The Bad & The Ugly

It shouldn’t come as a shock when I say it has always been super frustrating to use the absolutely limited, exploitative & broken traditional banking services in Pakistan when you have tasted the awesomeness on offer elsewhere in the world (Mercury in the US by Immad Akhund) & (Wise).

Let’s dive deeper.

The Traditional Jalebi – Personal Bank Accounts

You go to a traditional bank’s branch, you ask for opening a personal bank account, and they will give you a list of documents to produce, multiple 7-15 page forms to fill, declarations to sign, and wait 7-10 days for the ATM card & account activation, 10-20 days for a checkbook. It depends on the bank’s representative’s mood on that day whether they would like to fill up the endless form for you and maybe guide you on the process. Don’t forget to take a clear copy of your CNIC along because the rep may say that our machine isn’t working and you can go outside, go left and then straight, and then on the right, you will see the photocopy vendor. It all depends on your luck, the bank, the branch, and whether the rep fought at home this morning or not. It is also possible that the rep forgot to get one of the documents signed by you and asked you to come again. Keep your days free until the account is opened. 

If you are an unemployed housewife, please take your husband or father along as you’ll have to show proof of income otherwise you don’t deserve a bank account as decided by the countless VPs & SVPs of the Bank. If you are an unemployed male, you better not even dare try and open a bank account just like that, you must first go and request a friend or acquaintance who has a company to write on their letterhead that you are employed with them and then take that “fake” letter to the bank to get your account opened. If that isn’t an option, try going to your college or university and get a fresh student letter issued and bring that to the bank along with your CNIC and then try your luck.

The Traditional Jalebi – Easing your business since 1947

Not enjoying the onboarding experience story of our banks? Well, let’s switch the topic and talk about “ease of doing business” in the context of the Pakistani Banking System. So for instance, you just registered your company with SECP as a Private Limited and went straight to the bank to open your first company account. Word of advice, take a water bottle along, some nicotine gums, and as much patience as you can muster because you’re going to need all that. Don’t forget to take certified true copies (hard copies) of all the incorporation documents in original as well because you don’t know whether they have heard about Digital CTC verification of SECP yet or not. Sorry, my bad, they read the circular all right, but you the customer don’t matter to them. Make sure that all the shareholders/directors must be present in person along with their Original CNICs (one clear copy as well) and nicotine gums.

In your bag that morning, pack a rubber stamp that clearly states your company name as mentioned in your SECP Incorporation certificate as well as 10-15 letterheads of your company. They’re going to print multiple declarations on your letterheads and ask all of you to sign them & then use your new rubber stamp all over those pages. Once all that and a bit more, you’ll be asked to refer to the rep in a few days to ask about the status of your account and after 10-20 days, your checkbook will arrive. You will be relieved, finally, you can transact. Nope. We’re not done with the fun of corporate Pakistani banking yet. Once you start transacting, you’ll want to keep track of your account balances & want to be alerted of incoming/outgoing transactions, right? You call your branch rep or RM and ask about Internet/Online Banking access, the rep just shakes his head and says it’s not possible. Well, it turns out, to the bank geniuses, you don’t deserve to get that information so easily. They will give you a story at first that the State Bank of Pakistan doesn’t allow that. It’s not true but it doesn’t matter.

If you are persistent and keep pestering the RM/Branch Manager and you opened up with one of the few banks that offer this, you might get lucky to receive a “Cash Management Service Activation” form and be asked to pay anything from Rs. 5,000 to 25,000 per month just to be able to transact online and view your transactions on a clunky interface. If you cannot afford this or if your bank doesn’t offer this, kindly be friendly and courteous with your branch representatives and keep their WhatsApp numbers on hand to politely request the status of a transaction or to tally your balances at the end of the day. Please don’t waste your time or the bank’s time by asking for SMS alerts or a corporate debit card.

Just by the way, you would want to pay the salaries to your employees from your new shiny (not!) corporate bank account, right? Cool. Here goes. Please make a request letter and type up the salaries corresponding to each employee along with account numbers on your company letterhead, duly signed by all the signatories and stamped with the rubber thingy along with a cheque of the total amount in favor of the bank. Then send someone timely to the branch to hand over the instrument & written request and then have your guy watch the operations manager or the guy over the counter, manually type all that information into his screen and make the transactions 1 by 1. Come on, by now you should know full well that you don’t matter to the bank. Time is not money, please don’t irritate the bank representative by asking about time again and again, or else you’ll find yourself having to sit on the hard metal or uncomfortable bench/sofa next to the door for a long boring period. If you don’t want to do that, please make individual cheques and sign them for each employee and give it in their hand to go deposit in their account themselves. 

I’m sore having to write about all that mess that Pakistanis have been dealing with for as long as I can remember. I haven’t even touched the bank assurances, the lending, the dormancy reinstatements, the link-down unavailability, and the trade banking (import/export/LC’s/Guarantees) Jalebis. Not much energy left for that. 

And how can I forget, the transactions are sometimes held in mid-air between the sender & the receiver. If you are a startup or a new business owner and read some “funky” terms online like “Revenue-based financing”, don’t go to your banker to discuss it unless you want him to think you’re naive. Wasn’t their onboarding process not enough to show you that you don’t matter?

Did I tell you that if you’re the unlucky ones whose transaction goes awry for no fault of yours, you will be given successive timelines of 24 hours, 7 days, 14 days, or a maximum of 21 days for the reversal redressal of the transaction/complain? Anyone of those depends on your luck and countless other mind-boggling factors.

So one day, you’re feeling lucky that today is the day your transaction will be resolved and you dial up the bank helpline and your thumb is just a few centimeters on your dial pad to hit 0 to be directed straight to a “phone banking officer”, you’re told that “our menu has changed”. You thought it was that easy? No way, come on, you should know better by now. So please listen to a few unsolicited offers of the bank’s old product line and then they will tell you the menu options and I can tell you with utmost confidence that the option to talk to the phone banking officer will be at the end of the recording.

I made a simple formula to understand what the traditional bank can do for me and what it couldn’t.

If anything will be beneficial and convenient to me or my new business, my bank wouldn’t offer it! Plain and simple. So if you get any wild ideas or read something on the internet, trust me, your traditional bank would not offer it to you and if one of them does, the process, timeline, or terms won’t make any sense to you.

The Halwa – Personal Banking Fin-techs

Thank God for making it rain with guidance over at the regulators.

Enter the first line of Pakistani Fin-Techs.

Firstly, NayaPay & SadaPay, both have created beautiful, well-rounded, and convenient apps. They are super quick to navigate through, with no delays, no links down, and no surprise messages with a cryptic numeric error code (if you know which one of the oldies I’m talking about). The onboarding takes less than 5 minutes. Your account gets approved usually within the hour. No form to sign, and no CNIC photocopy is required. Your account limit gets raised by letting your phone camera see all your 4 fingers together. That’s it! I’m not kidding.

The processes in the apps are simple and well designed. A transaction to a new beneficiary is completed within seconds. No more waiting to tally email or SMS OTPs. For your financial security, you can log in via biometric scan. The UI is key to an amazingly simple but satisfying UX and I would like to thank both these companies for making it easy for every Pakistani to have a basic banking account the easy way. NayaPay has more payment options, and SadaPay has lesser but I’m sure that it’s in the works.

If you perform an online transaction with your card, you get a prompt in your app to approve or disapprove the transaction. No more calls to the helpline to request activation of your card for online subscriptions. No more after-transaction calls received from the bank’s fraud detection department hours after you slept asking for confirmation. 

Both have beautiful cards. The sleek color-changing SadaPay Founder’s Club Mastercard is numberless, so snap pictures, no need to fudge out anything for security reasons. The portrait layout is a great idea and the ends are catchy as well.

The bright NayaPay Visa card looks great and it’s pertinent to mention here, that they have become the first to offer me, automatically, to print the initials of my name on the card and they did not pick and choose at random between my first name, middle name and last name. (Yes, I have an exceptionally long full legal name.) It is this meticulous attention to detail that leaves a lasting impression. (Take note SadaPay) No other bank in Pakistan offered that before.

What about reversals or problem tickets? Let’s say you had a transaction go south at a POS or ATM with a NayaPay or SadaPay card, don’t worry, no more calls to the helpline. You have live chat for that in-app, someone will be there to assist you in a matter of minutes. Follow-up will be a breeze. NayaPay is a step ahead and also has a dispute center built into the app to track your tickets/disputes.

These Fin-techs care about you. The Apps do exactly what they’re supposed to do. You’re in good hands.

The Halwa – Fin-Tech for Pakistani Businesses

So what about a Fin-tech offering for the new business or startup? One word. Finja.

Account Opening & Onboarding, from the time I emailed the SECP documents to Finja to the time I was smoothly onboarded by the very professional, Asil Abrar, the total elapsed counter was 4 hours. The virtual account as they call it comes with an IBAN to be used for incoming transactions or deposits. You can also deposit cheques into your account via their arrangement with partner banks. You can process salaries and vendor payments online and yes, you can always view your transactions via email alerts or by logging in to the dashboard. The balance of your account can be easily seen at the top of your home page. How cool is that? No more calls/WhatsApp or visiting the bank to cheque your business account balance. To top it all off, they offer expense cards as well.

My message to the traditional banks out there, the executions these fin-techs have done aren’t based on rocket science however they’re surely going to the moon. For just one simple reason. They care about the customer. They care about the experience of the customer. They want their customers to be happy about their product. They want to ease the lives of the customer. And that’s how the monopolies are broken. This is how the expectations of the average banking customer would rise.

There is a lot to be done on the regulation side and I hope sense prevails and the 200k limits on the fin-techs are removed or ceiling enhanced creating more space for these amazing teams to become the true challengers in the Banking sector that I so want them to be once the deposit games officially start. A level playing field for everyone and more competition leads to better services & offerings for the customers.

Kudos to the founders of SadaPayNayaPay & Finja.

Cheers to the amazing people who work behind these brands to make their customers smile every day. 

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