Aurora Magazine

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Being a digital life service partner

Published in Nov-Dec 2019

Interview with Asif Aziz, CCO, Jazz

Asif Aziz, Chief Commercial Officer, Jazz, talks to Marylou Andrew about Jazz's achievements over the last 25 years and what he envisions for the brand.

MARYLOU ANDREW: How has Jazz grown and evolved over the last 25 years?
ASIF AZIZ: Jazz has been customer obsessed for the last 25 years. However, what the customer of 1994 wanted is different from what the customer of 2019 wants. We were a voice and an SMS business. We started off with post-paid services for high-end business clients, then the services became democratised and everyone is now using them. We still retain those customers but we also have a whole new bunch of customers to whom we have to provide new services. We have moved away from legacy services to becoming more data centric and providing more ancillary services over that connection.

MA: What are these ancillary services?
AA: They are third-party services. For example, thanks to Jazz Beema, Jazz has become one of the biggest insurance providers and we have over two million customers. We have a TV service and during cricket matches, Jazz TV is one of the most viewed platforms in Pakistan. JazzCash has turned us into one of the biggest money transmission services in the country with more than six million people using our wallets daily.

MA: In 2016, Jazz went from being the face of Mobilink’s prepaid brand to becoming the umbrella brand for the company. What precipitated this change?
AA: When I first disclosed to friends and family that I was moving to Pakistan to work for a company called Mobilink, everyone would say ‘Jazz’. When I arrived, and went to the market to talk to retailers about Mobilink, they kept saying Jazz; furthermore, our research also demonstrated that Jazz had a resonance with our customers. Secondly, I didn’t want us to be perceived as a technology company but as a digital life services partner and Mobilink didn’t allow me to extend the brand name beyond technology, which we were able to do a lot more with Jazz, such as Jazz Home, Jazz Entertainment, Jazz Ringtones, etc.

MA: What was the impact of Jazz’s merger with Warid?
AA: It was one of the biggest mergers in Pakistan. In terms of impact, firstly, as Jazz was bigger, the merger gave Warid customers an enormous on-net community; it also brought a 25% increase for Jazz in terms of customer numbers. Secondly, we were able to align pricing so both organisations could enjoy similar propositions and packages. Thirdly, the coverage was extended. Fourthly, Warid brought 4G with them, which gave Jazz a quick boost.

"The major challenge is that we need a faster pace of smartphone adoption. Taxation is an area of concern because our customers have to pay withholding tax, GST and handset taxation. Beyond that we need to encourage digital entrepreneurship and allow people to develop new apps that are relevant to the market."

MA: There has been a lot of talk of 5G coming to Pakistan next year. Is it likely?
AA: I cannot see 5G arriving in Pakistan next year because of the amount of work required. No one understands what 5G is. The fact that you will get 800 MB downloads is not the reason why you will move to 5G. You need to have relevant applications and the Internet of Things (IoT) is an important component of that. 5G will bring robotic process automation so a lot of machines will become automated. For example, you will be able to remotely control traffic lights which means smart city concepts will come into play. 5G and IoT will help make smart homes, smart cars and smart schools to become a reality. Of course, some of these applications will come further down the line, but what is important is that the government play an important role and encourage a high level of digitisation in Pakistan and create an ecosystem that fosters rather than hinders it. They have to encourage digital entrepreneurship rather than imposing punitive taxation laws thinking this could be a revenue earner, because it actually could stifle growth. Until this ecosystem and infrastructure is created, it is premature to be discussing 5G.

MA: Mobile broadband penetration has increased significantly in Pakistan over the last five years. What factors have driven this?
AA: Jazz has been leading broadband in Pakistan since 2013 and one of the biggest enabling factors was the availability of cheaper smartphones. There has been a recent increase in pricing due to taxation but that is a secondary hiccough. The availability of popular global platforms, the provision of local content through services such as Jazz TV and the fact that customers understand what they are getting out of data services, have all helped to increase penetration. However, I feel that there is a broadband emergency in Pakistan because half the country still does not use data.

MA: Why is it important for the population to be digitally connected?
AA: There is a direct correlation between digital penetration and the GDP growth this translates into. There is a Capgemini report written with GSMA that showed that for every 10 percentage points of digital adoption, there was a corresponding two percent increase in GDP. We are at about 30 to 40% digital adoption. If we get that to 80% (i.e. a 50 percentage point increase) this will represent a 10% increase in GDP. So if we are a $350 billion country, you have just added $35 billion to the economy overnight! That is the opportunity and I believe we should be fighting for more digital and financial inclusion so that digital entrepreneurs have scope to prevail.

MA: What are the issues surrounding digital entrepreneurship and the creation of local apps and content?
AA: The question for digital entrepreneurs is firstly, how to build a service that has instant brand recognition in a digital environment, especially when you already have trusted international media names that are well marketed. Secondly, content production in Pakistan does not get the support that it needs; therefore, the content isn’t well curated, and our film industry is a good example of this. We are not encouraging creativity nor are we curating enough content and a lot more needs to be on a public-private partnership model. Jazz have been working with the government in a public-private partnership to support entrepreneurship. At the National Incubation Centre in Islamabad we have incubatees who are coming up with new ideas and apps that we are actively supporting. We are also helping them to get seed funding to take their ideas forward and members of the Jazz team are mentoring individual organisations.

MA: What are the challenges and opportunities for the Pakistani telecom market?
AA: The major challenge is that we need a faster pace of smartphone adoption. Taxation is an area of concern because our customers have to pay withholding tax, GST and handset taxation. Beyond that we need to encourage digital entrepreneurship and allow people to develop new apps that are relevant to the market. Finally, we need a better financial regime to ensure everyone uses digital wallets and we reduce the burden on cash transfers.

MA: What is your vision for Jazz five to 10 years down the line?
AA: To be the leading digital services lifestyle partner for Pakistan. The mission is to digitise Pakistan. I see an enormous opportunity with 50 million households, 220 million people growing at a rate of two percent and four million new consumers arriving every year. Digital and financial inclusion for them is the essential bedrock to build upon.

Marylou Andrew is a former member of Aurora’s editorial team.