Originally from Mauritius, Ambareen Musa holds an undergraduate businessdegree from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. She started her first online business, a property portal for international students in Australia, at the age of 21. Moving to London in 2004 to work for GE’s financial arm, GE Money, Musa held various roles in marketing, financial literacy, customer advocacy, ecommerce and led the first online financial literacy initiative in the UK, Moneybasics.co.uk.
Moving to the UAE in 2008, Musa worked as a consultant for Bain & Company Middle East, focusing on financial services projects such as growth strategies for banks in the region. She went on to set up the consulting arm of MasterCard Middle East and Africa, where she stayed for two years before founding Souqalmal.com in 2012. Musa holds an MBA from INSEAD and is the co-author of Entrepreneurial Opportunities On The Internet.
Souqalmal.com is the #1 financial and insurance comparison site in UAE and KSA allowing users to compare retail banking products like credit cards, loans, accounts, insurance and education products. Conceptualized as a highly transparent marketplace with more than 800,000 visits a month, Souqalmal. com is designed to empower consumers to make the right choice by bringing together on one convenient platform all the latest details on more than 3,200 retail banking, insurance and education products offered by various providers in the UAE and Saudi Arabia (KSA).
Mrs. Musa, please share with us a bit about your journey that led you to found Souqalmal.com? How did it all start?
When I first moved to the UAE, it was very difficult for me to figure out the personal finance options I had. Over time, it became clear to me that there was a gap in the market for users like myself and banks as well. The market needed a platform where banks could reach out to customers instead of cold calling them and customers needed a place to compare all their personal finance options. After working for two years at Bain & Company Middle East and two more at MasterCard, Souqalmal.com was born in 2012.
The concept was to create a platform which allows an increased level of transparency to the banking industry in UAE , but more importantly to promote a level of financial literacy never seen before. Today the site boasts more than 800,000 visits a month with 30% of the traffic going to our Money Doctor section where you can find answers to all the questions you may have about your personal finance and living in the UAE from how to open a bank account to what to look out for when purchasing your car insurance. The UAE is an expat driven market and we all come from different parts of the world, different cultures and more importantly are used to different banking standards.
You once said, “The three attributes to success are perseverance, passion and patience.” How challenging was it growing your company to what it is today?
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, I always had to be prepared to wear multiple hats and handle processes within marketing, IT, accounting and even admin. The satisfaction of now looking at what we have built with a team over 30 is unreal - it is an amazing feeling to have been able to put together a team that share your passion and hunger for success.
The one attribute that was critical in a business like souqalmal.com to be successful is the in-depth knowledge of financial products. This level of knowledge brought credibility to the business as we make it a point to help users understand the level of debt they might be in and to watch out for things when making decisions about their finances.
At what period of financial planning should an individual visit Souqalmal.com?
It’s never too early for financial planning, no matter what stage of life you’re in. For example, on Souqalmal.com, we have listed multiple children savings account which parents can use to start saving for their child from an early stage. Before taking any financial decision, always compare your options. Find out what’s out there in the market and look for financial products, which suit your needs. Check out fees or hidden charges involved, calculate repayments, and get more information on any benefits or rewards. We have laid out the be aware list on each product for users to know what to watch out for. Souqalmal.com provides users the opportunity to evaluate all their choices before taking any short or long-term decision. They can narrow their search through filters, which includes salary brackets, rates and conventional and Islamic products. Also, many expats who move to the UAE often overlook essential information assuming it will be the same as their country of origin. That is why the Money Doctor gives users the ability to get information on how banks work, how to manage their finances and what to watch out for. Our users new to the country have also found it a great resource before and after they have arrived. We have a full expat guide on the site where they can find everything about living in the UAE . Also, we have recently launched our car insurance aggregator where users can get quotes in less than 60 seconds and buy their policy online in 60 minutes.
In a survey conducted by Souqalmal.com 66% of UAE respondents say that there is a need for better banking standards. Mrs. Musa, do you believe banks are able to cope with the rise in customer expectations?
The NPS survey assesses the overall banking experience of respondents in UAE and KSA. Even though the results show that there was a need for better banking standards, compared to results from the previous years, consumer satisfaction is on the rise. The percentage of respondents who would recommend their bank has gone up by 27% from 2014, showing that banks are working towards increasing customer satisfaction. If banks continue to improve customer service experience, branch and ATM network, better product offering and move towards digitization, they can improve level of satisfaction as only a happy customer is likely to stick around and recommend their bank to others. Let’s not forget that we are an expat population from over 40 different countries with many languages and cultures and more importantly different level of financial literacy and customer service expectations. What we have heard from our users, is their request to have the basics right – such as their transfers, the recognition of their language at ATM machines and the ability for call center representatives to answer questions about products, etc. Souqalmal.com was launched in May 2012 and has since established itself as the leading financial comparison website in the Middle East.
What is your strategy for growth going forward? Are there any plans to further expand within the region?
We believe in a focused growth strategy. We expanded into KSA in September 2015 and have registered 100,000 members in just a few months. We can see there is significant need for what we offer in Saudi Arabia. In terms of verticals, we have recently launched the biggest online car insurance aggregator in UAE allowing users to get real time quotes in less than 60 seconds and have their policy issued to them in 60 minutes. In the next few years, our plan is to be in every country across the MENA region.
What would be your advice to current and aspiring entrepreneurs?
Following your gut feel is very important. Do back it up with numbers and data before making your next move, but if something does not feel right, it probably isn’t. Your team is your biggest asset so find people that share your vision; the hunger for success and more importantly are committed to the business. These are characteristics that are very hard to find in one person, so when you find them, nurture them and make them feel part of your business. Surround yourself with the right people and focus on your product.