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Wio Bank has a big idea: let SMEs spend less time on banking

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Jayesh Patel was appointed CEO of Wio in May

The UAE’s next digital bank is launching with a focus on businesses and a pledge to reduce the admin, reveals its CEO Jayesh Patel

Wio Bank, a digital platform set for launch later this year, is promising to “reboot banking” in the UAE, its CEO has told AGBI.

Jayesh Patel, who previously spearheaded the creation of digital-only bank Liv., said its initial focus would be SMEs, entrepreneurs and freelancers through its Wio Business offering.

“We’re excited to bring to market a banking solution that is designed by SMEs to help them with everyday challenges,” Patel said.

“SME owners often need to be heavily involved with banking admin which takes them away from focusing on their business growth.

“Wio Business will help them by taking away the admin stresses which means they can focus on why they started their business and take it further.”

This focus is apt as SMEs are the backbone of the UAE economy. According to the Ministry of Economy, they represent more than 94 percent of companies and employ some 86 percent of the private sector’s workforce. 

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.

“We are building a more holistic solution that is focused on helping them achieve more of their goals,” said Patel.

Wio Business would act as a “complete financial offering”, he said, including facilities such as automated VAT saving, invoicing, virtual cards and low FX charge.

Business banking is “just the start for us”, he added. “We have ambitious plans for the brand, however, our focus for the first year is the UAE market and servicing our customers to open new paths in the best way we can.

“We need to address the needs here in the UAE before we go to other markets.”

Having built a digital bank over four years at Liv., part of the Emirates NBD group, Patel said he planned to go “past normalcy and innovation” with Wio, which is jointly owned by Abu Dhabi Holding Company, Alpha Dhabi, Etisalat, and First Abu Dhabi Bank. It has initial capital of AED 2.3 billion ($630 million).

“We want to be the enablement platform for our customers to grow, and we believe we are rebooting banking to serve people in the best way possible.

“The successful onboarding of customers is a key priority for us during the launch period, but what makes Wio different is the untapped potential to provide unique customer experience and service throughout the region, along with leading the approach on innovative banking solutions,” he said. 

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

Zand – a platform helmed by Emaar founder and chairman Mohamed Alabbar, which will offer both retail and corporate banking in the UAE – is also on the launchpad while Liv. set up shop in 2017.

Patel said: “The UAE is quickly becoming a hub for financial innovation in the region and beyond, and it’s fantastic to see such talent within this ecosystem locally.

“We believe this is only set to grow further and will pave the way for further progress in the market. 

“Many ideas and offerings will emerge over the next few years, but only the strongest will survive. The key is to ensure that well governed concepts remain, whilst continuing to always protect customers throughout.” 

He added: “We are seeing many innovative fintechs emerging in the Gulf with phenomenal offerings.

“These are contributing to a rich and competitive business environment that challenges us all to be more agile and innovative. It’s an exciting place for us to be.”

Wio is an open banking platform designed with the customer front of mind, he said.

His comments come as 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.

Financial innovation is being supported strongly by the UAE government, he said. “The government has a robust strategy laid out to support the development of talent, research and application, regulatory framework, and cross-border collaboration for the growth of the fintech industry, which is helping enhance the investment outlook of the country. 

“The UAE is a hub for attracting talent globally to come and launch businesses here, and we can help to be the enablement platform for businesses in the region.

“As the digital banking landscape evolves, the entire ecosystem of money changing hands will need to evolve as well. This gives us a great opportunity for growth, but globally this must mature more so real-time data can be transferred across areas.” 

Patel said the revenue model of a digitally native bank was “different to a traditional bank” that has largely monetised on balance sheets. 

“At Wio, we look to monetise through balance sheets and tech… As an open platform versus a closed model, we believe this allows us to democratise finance, building more insightful platforms because our data and products are structured around the customers.”

The CEO, who was appointed in May following the bank’s licence approval by the UAE Central Bank, cited Tesla when explaining how he wants Wio to work.

“A digital bank is not just an app, it’s a bank at heart. When you look at Tesla and conventional cars, they are fundamentally different, however offer a similar solution.

“What sets them apart is the type of the product and the range of services. This is a digitally native bank versus a traditional bank,” he said.

So will bricks and mortar banking survive this fintech revolution in the region? 

Patel is clear. “The UAE has a robust banking industry and traditional banks are very strong. With the emergence of digital enterprise, we see a new set of customers emerging and these are the people we plan on helping.

“We know there are customers who will still prefer a more traditional offering; however, we believe there’s room for everyone to succeed, and it’s important to put the best services out there to suit customers and their varying needs.”

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