Published in Sep-Oct 2022
As I make my way through the afternoon traffic, I start to feel the effects of the torrid post-monsoon sun seeping into my car, and I see my plans of making a good first impression on Naureen Hyat (whom I am about to meet), falling apart. As I enter the offices of Tez Financial, I introduce myself to the receptionist and I am escorted to a conference room adorned with abstract sculptures and paintings, and a yellow Vespa model parked next to a revolving bookshelf.
As I am about to sit down, the door opens and an elegantly dressed young woman enters, wearing a black mock-neck shirt and straight pants; she walks towards me with a welcoming smile and introduces herself as “Naureen Hyat.”
We begin our conversation with a brief summing up of Karachi’s current extremes of weather patterns. “Karachi has grown on me,” she quips, (she is originally from Islamabad) and adds that despite it being a “messy” city, she loves the food Karachi offers. This is when she confesses that she actually didn’t want to move to Karachi in the first place.
“I felt that I was being selfish by leaving my family behind in Lahore, but it was just something I had to do. It was my calling.”
Hyat believes everyone has a purpose in life that they must identify, understand and then pursue. In her case, it is to “serve” the underprivileged segments of society and seek to improve the quality of their lives. She attributes this instinct to coming from a political family who believes in “giving back to Pakistan.”
Although she is now considered a fintech-guru by many people in the sector and has won recognition for her work, she initially wanted to become a doctor. “Medicine is still my first love; it came more organically to me than finance.”
After completing her A’ Levels from the Beaconhouse School System (with a focus on pre-medicine), she took a gap year and then applied to medical colleges in Islamabad as she did not want to move away from the city; as the eldest of three siblings, she wanted to stay and take care of her family. She was, however, unable to secure admission in Islamabad, although she was accepted by the Nishtar Medical University in Multan.
Reluctant to move to Multan, she changed her orientation and applied to Bahria University in Islamabad to pursue a Bachelor’s in finance. The idea was to find a job in the development sector and thereby fulfil her objective of serving the underprivileged and giving back to her country. After graduating, she opted for the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) programme in Lahore and moved there (her family followed later). During this time, she had the opportunity to work at the prestigious Pakistan Credit Rating Agency (PACRA), as Senior Financial Analyst in 2011 – quite a feat given her age.
Nevertheless, the urge “to do something bigger” prevailed. As she was working closely with the microfinance sector, she saw that the mainstream financial organisations were not catering to far-flung areas or marginalised people. This is when she and Humza Hussain decided to try their hand at setting up a fintech, which they named CheckIn Solutions. The aim was to provide financial services to people from the lower income segments. “Fintech,” says Hyat, “is more than just finance. It is about understanding human behaviour.”
However, Hyat and Humza soon realised that neither had the expertise to run a start-up, so she resigned from PACRA and joined Shopistan.pk in 2014 – an e-commerce start-up in Lahore – in order to gain hands-on experience, all the while continuing to work towards establishing CheckIn Solutions. However, juggling a job and trying to set up another venture “became too hectic; starting a business requires full-time dedication and undivided attention.”
She left Shopistan.pk and began to pitch the idea of CheckIn to several microfinance institutions to secure funding. No one was ready to help. It was then that she decided to seek advice from Nadeem Hussain. She is a go-getter and not inclined to let the grass grow under her feet.
“I messaged Nadeem on LinkedIn and I honestly thought he would not get back to me. Yet, to my surprise, he did within 15 minutes.” They met; Hussain believed in her idea and introduced her to the Pakistan Microfinance Network to see if they could facilitate the project. Nothing came of this, although Hyat recalls Hussain saying to her, “I have a feeling we will be partners one day.” He was right. Shortly after she decided it was time to move on from CheckIn and joined Hussain along with Humza to co-found Tez Financial. Hussain had told her that “it is time we show these institutions how it’s done.”
Tez Financial came into being in 2017 and within a year the start-up was given a non-bank financial company (NBFC) licence. The goal at Tez is similar to what Hyat wanted to achieve with CheckIn; provide services to the financially underserved and today it is considered to be the first fully digital financial institution in Pakistan.
The year 2017 was also when Hyat made it to the Women in Fintech Power List. It is very much her view that technology can provide the missing pieces to financial inclusion Pakistan so desperately needs. In May this year, Tez was acquired by ZoodPay (a Switzerland-based digital lending platform for e-commerce), which will provide Tez access to international funding, resources and the ability to expand further.
Given her demanding work schedule, Hyat says balancing her professional and personal life is difficult. She doesn’t much care about the notion of working late, but at this point, she feels she has no choice in the matter. Nevertheless, she does try to chill out. She loves music and singing, and often joins friends for jamming sessions; her preferred genres are Bollywood and Lollywood classics as well as Pakistani folk music. Sport also features in her downtime. She used to play basketball in school and is now learning to swim. Painting is another hobby waiting for her to take up.
This being said, work is still what drives Hyat and she believes she has a lot more to achieve – especially in terms of fulfilling her purpose of making finance inclusive and accessible to everyone. As our conversation ends, it is clear that I have been conversing with a very accomplished young woman, who, despite the dedication and determination she brings to her work, is charming, warm and very easy to talk to.