Compare options before saying 'I do'
Souqalmal.com aims to enhance user journey and promote a high level of financial literacy
After moving to the UAE from London in 2008, Ambareen Musa, then a professional management consultant, couldn't find an online platform for comparing personal finance options - like bank loans with lowest interest rates for new expats, cheapest no-frills credit cards, or banks offering promotional car loans.
"There was a need for a platform where users could research banking products in one place without having to get in touch with individual banks. The concept was to create a platform that provides transparency to the banking industry, but more importantly promotes a high level of financial literacy," says the founder and CEO of finance comparison website souqalmal.com, which became a reality in May 2012.
Arabic for 'money market', Souq al Mal is a banking and insurance aggregator in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. It now offers details on 3,200 retail banking, telecoms, insurance and education products.
The portal allows customers to do their financial homework with information on more than 360 credit cards, 450 bank accounts, 147 personal loans, 100 car loans, 105 mortgages, 1,143 mobile phone plans, 150 broadband plans, 280 schools, 234 nurseries and over 100 car deals in addition to 115 SME financial products.
"Financial education has been a key pillar of our existence since inception and it is one of our USPs. We have established an extensive library of content that users can access to find answers to all the questions they may have about personal finance," says Ambareen.
Ambareen reveals that, to date, her firm has raised more than Dh18.4 million ($5m) and is in the process of raising more funds. With more than 800,000 visits a month, the portal is in expansion mode.
"In the past one year, we have expanded our operations to Saudi Arabia and have registered quick growth in our subscription base as there is a great need for good Arabic content. In terms of verticals, we have launched our online car insurance platform in the UAE and our aim in the coming year is to offer all kinds of insurance in both the UAE and Saudi Arabia. In the next few years, our plan is to be in every country across the Middle East and North Africa region," she says.
So how is souqalamal different from other such portals? "The customer has always been at the core of our services where we use technology as an enabler to facilitate and enhance the user journey. Our focus has been on quality and educational content to build a large user base," says COO Byron Koller.
"As we move forward, our number one priority will always be to ensure a high level of trust, credibility and transparency. Being in the fintech landscape, it is crucial to remain agile to be able to evolve and grow."
Atik Munshi, senior partner at Horwath Mak, says comparative platforms provide a good start for consumers for choosing the right service providers. "Consumers need to be diligent before making the final decision as the terms and conditions would be different from one service provider to the other, so even an attractive looking initial price quote may not suit your requirements," he says.
Ambareen describes her journey so far as challenging, rewarding and full of learning.
The high road to a successful startup
Ambareen Musa faced many challenges during her journey and so can offer advice to new startups.
> Setting up your own business isn't an easy job and then growing it to its full potential is even tougher. To face the challenges ahead and be profitable, startups need the right funding, leadership and team. But being able to find the right blend of these attributes is a challenge in itself.
> As a founder, you will find yourself wearing many hats and taking on various responsibilities. My advice to any entrepreneur is to follow their gut instinct and never let fear hinder them from realising the full potential of their idea. Your team is your biggest asset, so find people that share your vision.
> Technology has definitely been an enabler for startups with all the tools that have facilitated the ease of doing business beyond borders or time zones. The environment is now in favour of disruptive innovation and it is these startups that are embracing the forces of digitisation.
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