Aurora Magazine

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Deploying the Power of Fintech

Published in Sep-Oct 2022

A day in the life of Ghazanfar Azzam, President and CEO, Mobilink Microfinance Bank.

Every morning, unless I have meetings scheduled with clients, business partners or staff members, I have breakfast with my wife – and if we are lucky, with our children if they have not already left for college. After that, I promptly set off for my office – which is located 15 kilometres away in F-8 Markaz. The 20-minute drive is my relaxing ‘alone time’ as I listen to the soul-stirring voice of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan rendering “Jab na tha kuch yahan hai magar tu hi tu, Allah hoo, Allah hoo.”

Upon entering the head offices of Mobilink Microfinance Bank, all Sufi thoughts disappear as I switch to ‘work mode’. The first thing I do is to go through the emails that have accumulated since the previous night and respond to them carefully. After that, my day begins in earnest as I preside over a series of meetings that take place throughout the day. Although this may sound excessive, it is not, as at least 10 department heads report directly to me (including both our online and off-line departments such as Branchless Operations, Branches, Finance, IT and Service Quality) and I must keep abreast of how their departments are faring.

Service quality in particular keeps me busy throughout the day. I scan not only my phone and email messages but also LinkedIn and Facebook for customer complaints and try to address them as quickly as possible. Maintaining the quality of our service is a top priority and removing bottlenecks is crucial. That is why a substantial part of my time is spent working out how we can improve the customer experience in conjunction with our IT team who have been given the task to develop new applications, software and solutions.

Among other things, we discuss at length projects in the pipeline, the hurdles they are facing, the hiccoughs that we have encountered concerning sales and how we can overcome these issues. In addition to updating me about these things, my department heads inform me about recent developments in the microfinance sector, the overall economic situation, the market response to our new products and the tasks that can be accomplished that very day subject to my approval. These meetings, although demanding, enable me to stay on top of things and smooth out any arising issues ASAP. Suffice it to say, the future of our business depends on these meetings!

I love interacting with my colleagues; not only to discuss business but to chit-chat about different things. These informal conversations allow us to get to know each other better, and contribute to us working well.

After my meetings in the morning and early afternoon, the next thing on my agenda is lunch, an hour-long break during which I try to relax, although given my workload that is not always possible. Nonetheless, I do try to take a break and opt for a soup and steak sandwich in a bid to stay healthy. After lunch, my focus shifts to other aspects of the business, such as the brick-and-mortar wing – the core banking department which consists of over 100 branches across the country. It is imperative to keep a track of the daily operations of our branches, their overall performance, the progress of the exciting promotions that we have introduced and, of course, the challenges they are facing. We discuss the capacity building of each branch to empower them with resources accordingly. These days, our major focus is on automation and digitisation so we can eventually eliminate the need for physical branches by ensuring that all transactions are made digitally.

Of course, we also have to keep an eye on the competition. At the moment our main competitor is Easypaisa, which competes directly with our mobile wallet JazzCash, which is the market leader and offers services that no commercial bank does. Therefore, I cannot afford to take a back seat and relax. I look at data that charts our progress daily to keep track of whether or not our targets have been met.

Although working in fintech is exciting, it is extremely challenging, especially given the fact that our customer base amounts to 41 million people – and over 100 million transactions are conducted every day. Still, I love working in fintech as I know that through our products, we are able to touch the lives of ordinary people. We empower them so they can become entrepreneurs. Our customers range from women in urban areas who run small businesses, from beauty parlours to outlets that sell ready-made garments, or men who own small shops in the crowded bazaars across Pakistan as well as the men and women in the rural areas who are farmers and raise livestock and reap crops.

This segment of the population does not receive any support from larger banks, which is why, as I remain seated in my office, my mind travels to places such as busy markets or small villages where I know JazzCash has changed the lives of people. The only thing they need is a mobile phone and the rest is taken care of by us. I feel honoured to be part of the revolutionary fintech sector in Pakistan. 

As if all of this were not enough, I have to give my attention to future developments and my team members and I shortlist potential areas to explore. For example, we (Veon as a Group) have applied for a digital banking license and are waiting for the State Bank of Pakistan to issue it, as they have received at least 20 applications. Once these licences are issued, the landscape of digital financial services will change drastically as only then will banks that are ‘digital only’ become a reality, and further change Pakistan’s financial ecosystem.

However, it is not all work and no play at work. We have weekly celebrations that recognise the achievements of my team members, be they awards or other honours that are given to them, along with snacks at teatime. They are extremely important because it is crucial that team members are appreciated for their hard work and mini celebrations such as these help keep everyone motivated.

Another thing that I believe to be important is providing people with a conducive work environment and that is why we have several recreational venues for our employees, such as a mini gym. I, however, prefer exercising in solitude, so after the work day is over, I head over to one of Islamabad’s beautiful parks and walk for an hour.

As the sun sets, I head home. The day is over, and the world of fintech is left behind – at least for now. After a relaxing dinner, it is time for some Netflix. These days we are watching Turkish dramas, and my guilty pleasure is a daily dose of Ertuğrul. Then it is time to call it a night, unless, of course, a work issue has arisen and needs to be addressed. I look forward to tomorrow – a day that will be filled with ways of empowering people, fintech – and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

As told to Uzma Khateeb-Nawaz.Ghazanfar Azzam is President and CEO, Mobilink Microfinance Bank.