Aurora Magazine

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Lighting up Pakistan’s Banking Sector

Published in Mar-Apr 2021

Sadia Kamran on the launch of Roshan Digital Account.

On September 4, 2020, Prime Minister Imran Khan announced the launch of Roshan Digital Account (RDA) – a major initiative of the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) that aims to integrate an estimated nine million non-resident Pakistanis (NRPs) into the country’s banking system. These accounts provide traditional and Islamic banking and investment solutions to NRPs. Previously, NRPs had to be in Pakistan or visit a consulate/embassy of Pakistan in the country they resided in to open an account and make transactions in a Pakistani bank. This was a huge limitation on the range of financial services that could be offered to such individuals, consequently leaving them out of the active financial system.

RDA has changed this. Accounts can be opened at a participating bank in 48 hours by NRPs in the country they are residing in if they provide all required documents. These have been kept at a minimum and include scanned copies of CNICs/NICOPs, passports, signatures, photographs, proof of NRP status and monthly income statements. This has reduced the painstaking process of opening a bank account in Pakistan to a few clicks.

Apart from facilitating expatriate Pakistanis in investing in Pakistan in various avenues such as the Naya Pakistan Certificates (NPC), Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX) and in real estate, it has also been a relief for overseas importers and exporters seeking financial services as it allows them to make transactions with ease. In the process, this gives Pakistan the opportunity to attract foreign capital in the form of remittances, especially important at this time when the country’s trade deficit has taken a blow, with exports decreasing by 0.9% and imports increasing by 13.2% in 2020.

SBP has, so far, made the facility available through 11 banks, which have upgraded their technological infrastructure for RDA. “SBP selected the banks on the basis of their overall brand name and equity, their commitment towards future digitalisation of services, the current status of their IT infrastructure and security protocols to protect IT systems and digital portals,” says Syed Mohsin Ali Shah, Head, Retail Products, Habib Bank Limited (HBL).

Overseas Pakistanis are used to more sophisticated and seamless banking services. “This in itself was a major challenge for SBP and commercial banks offering RDAs. The level of service expected there is much higher. The digital system and the support staff have to be at their best,” says Ijaz Farooq, Group Head, Retail Banking, Commercial, SME & Agriculture Finance, Meezan Bank.

Therefore, participating banks developed their IT infrastructure and modified their operations to meet their expectations. “To provide seamless and convenient services to our expatriate customers, HBL inducted a stream of dedicated relationship managers to ensure that each customer gets personalised service 24/7,” adds Shah.

Farooq says, “Meezan Bank developed a bespoke in-house application and front-end portal for the successful deployment of RDA. In order to obtain customer feedback for improvement, customer surveys for RDA were also introduced.”

According to Sharjeel Shahid, Group Executive – Digital Banking, United Bank Limited (UBL), “UBL was awarded the best Digital Bank by Asia Money and by the Pakistan Banking Awards in 2020 as the bank that has been working on innovative ventures to bring about many customer centric technological offerings. Our design thinking team ensured that we design an easy customer experience with as little friction as possible.”

With these innovative solutions, the RDA initiative has revolutionised Pakistan’s digital banking platforms in a matter of months. Examples of such innovations are mobile apps of participating banks, whereby HBL’s state of the art mobile app, HBL Mobile For All, allows transactions, such as local transfers, bill payments , mobile top-ups, NPC bookings, PSX and real estate investments for NRPs, to be carried out by the click of a button. Similarly, local and overseas customers can manage their accounts from the UBL Digital App for all their banking needs.

Shahid adds, “What sets this proposition apart is the attractive NPC Scheme – backed by the Government of Pakistan which offers returns up to 11% on the Pakistani rupee accounts and seven percent on US dollar accounts which are enticing many NRPs to invest in Pakistan. They can also invest in PSX and buy property in DHA Pakistan through this account. The funds are fully repatriable as and when the customer requires which is also a big convenience.”

Participating banks have played a major role in promoting RDA and have used all mediums – TV, radio, print, and digital – to do so.

“HBL facilitated the development of SBP’s TVC for RDAs by engaging its creative agency, in collaboration with other partner banks to promote the proposition and aired its own TVC highlighting NPCs and other RDA features,” says Shah. HBL employed influencer marketing with a number of sports celebrities and leveraged its HBL PSL franchise to deploy in-stadium branding. Furthermore, HBL partnered with Pakistan International Airlines and offers hygiene kits consisting of a mask and sanitizer to all domestic and international passengers. These kits are branded with RDA logos and include essential information about RDAs.

“Meezan Bank conducted nine webinars in collaboration with various consulates and embassies, SPB, securities companies, mutual funds, professional forums and other bodies for different communities and countries across the world to publicise RDA features,” says Farooq. Meezan Bank has extensively used social and digital media to target potential account holders in many countries across the world including Australia, the UK and the US and those in Europe, the Far East and the Middle East, as well as in cities in Pakistan with a high concentration of people whose family members live abroad. “Apart from traditional mediums, UBL has used influencer marketing by NRP influencers such as Zaid Ali to promote RDA,” adds Shahid.

So far, according to an article in Dawn on March 13, 2021, the number of RDAs has “crossed 100,000 accounts and attracted $671 million from over 100 countries.” At a ceremony held in Islamabad in February 2021, the Prime Minister congratulated banks for their exceptional achievements. UBL was recognised for securing the highest number of RDAs, Meezan Bank for the highest number of deposits and investments in Islamic Naya Pakistan Certificates (INPC) and HBL for the highest number of investments in NPCs.

Talking about the future, Shah says, “We are seeing an increasing amount of interest in the RDA proposition and HBL believes that this is a great nation building activity that the bank is proud to be associated with. RDAs have been a priority for us.”

Shahid adds: “SBP has started offering NPCs in pounds and Euros which will attract NRPs from Europe as well to invest in Pakistan; there is huge potential there and we expect more accounts and remittances.”