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Zand unveils big names as UAE’s digital banking rivalry hots up

Mohamed Alabbar is best known as the founder of Emaar Properties, the developer of assets such as the Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Mall Creative Commons
Mohamed Alabbar is best known as the founder of Emaar Properties, the developer of assets such as the Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Mall

Zand, the digital bank headed by Emaar boss Mohamed Alabbar, has named a number of business big hitters as part of its board of directors ahead of its launch.

Adnan Abdulfattah Kazim Abdulfattah, Emirates chief commercial officer, and Yusuff Ali MA, chairman of retail giant Lulu Group, are part of the new venture as competition in the UAE’s digital banking sector intensifies.

The startup was granted a banking licence from the Central Bank of the United Arab Emirates, it announced this morning.

Last week rival Wio, backed by Abu Dhabi Holding Company, Alpha Dhabi, Etisalat, and First Abu Dhabi Bank with an initial capital of AED2.3 billion ($630 million), revealed to AGBI that it plans to “reboot” banking in the UAE when it launches later this year.

Digital banking is gaining traction in the UAE and wider Gulf region as financial organisations seek to seize opportunities thrown up by fintech.

Gregory Johnson, chairman of Franklin Resources – part of Franklin Templeton, Raja Al Mazrouei, executive vice president of DIFC FinTech Hive, Hamad Jassim Al Darwish, founder and CEO of Al Hail Holding, and Sushil Agarwal, CFO of the $45 billion conglomerate Aditya Birla Group, are also part of Zand’s board ahead of what it called an “imminent launch”. 

Alabbar said the board includes a panel of “seasoned business leaders”, each bringing a “unique approach on building a banking experience for the digital age”.  

“Building a new and unique digital banking experience is about more than just technology,” Alabbar said.

“It requires visionary people with a digital mindset who believe in the power of technology to improve people’s lives while creating a sustainable business model.”

Zand’s co-founder and CEO, Olivier Crespin, said: “We’re fortunate to have a board of directors that shares our commitment to providing unrivalled banking solutions and bringing ease, simplicity and transparency to retail and corporate banking.

“With our board’s collective leadership experience, we have all the support that we could ask for.”

Late last year Zand’s shareholders completed the acquisition of the majority of shares in Dubai Bank ahead of its planned launch.     

Emirates’s Abdulfattah joins the board as an independent director. He is on the board of Emirates Airline Foundation and is also chairman of Emaar Development.

During his 15 years as CEO of Franklin Templeton,  Johnson led the company’s rise to become one of the world’s largest global asset managers and currently has approximately $1.45 trillion in assets under management.

Representing Al Hail Holding and Global Development Group, Al Darwish is a prominent investment leader who also serves as a board member and chairman of various group companies across the GCC. 

Mohammed Alshaiba Almazrouei, COO of Al Hail Holding, who has more than 40 filed patents as co-inventor, is also on the Zand board while DIFC FinTech Hive’s Al Mazrouei joins as an independent director. 

Also an independent director, Talha Al-Hashimi, CEO and co-founder of HWH Investments, is a hospitality investment leader while Lulu’s Yusuff Ali MA is a prominent shareholder in Zand.   

Zand and Wio will go up against the likes of Liv., the UAE’s first digital bank targeted at millennials, which was launched back in 2017 by Emirates NBD, Dubai’s largest bank.

Jayesh Patel, who previously spearheaded the creation of Liv., was appointed CEO of Wio in May.

He told AGBI that the bank’s initial focus would be SMEs, entrepreneurs and freelancers through its Wio Business offering.

In Dubai alone, SMEs make up nearly 95 percent of all companies, employing 42 percent of the workforce and contributing around 40 percent to GDP.

The latest UAE Banking Sentiment Index conducted by KPMG found that operational issues, including lack of timely support from bank staff, long waits and lack of feedback, continue to dominate consumer conversations in the country. 

Customers have also complained about inability to use banks’ mobile apps and problems with online banking.