The Middle East and Africa (MEA) region is generally an up and coming region with respect to its wider economic development. Specifically, the region has seen a growth and importance in fintech, producing its own unique innovations, entrepreneurs and thought leaders in the space. As The FinTech Times in September celebrates Women in Fintech we take a moment to hear more from some of the leading female leaders in both the Middle East and Africa. One of them is Ambareen Musa, who is originally from Mauritius but lives in Dubai and is an expert in fintech and specifically in insurance & banking comparison services.
Originally from Mauritius, Ambareen Musa started her first online business, an online property portal for international students in Australia, at the age of 21. Her professional resume includes diverse roles at GE’s financial arm, GE Money in London, working as a consultant at Bain & Company Middle East, and setting up the consulting arm of MasterCard Middle East and Africa. She also holds an MBA from INSEAD. Musa launched Souqalmal in 2012, the most trusted financial comparison and insurance platform in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) & Bahrain. The company ranked second among Forbes’s “Top 20 Most Disrupting FinTech Startups” in the Middle East. Most recently, Musa featured on Forbes Middle East’s list of the top ‘Women Behind Middle Eastern Brands’. Arabian Business has also recognized her as one of the “50 Most Influential Women In The Arab World”.
Describe your career journey
Even before I embarked on my corporate career, I was already smitten by the idea of becoming an entrepreneur. At the age of 21, I launched my first online business – an online property portal catering to international students in Australia.
Thereafter, I relocated to London in 2004 to work for GE Money where I held various roles in marketing, financial literacy, customer advocacy and e-commerce. The next move brought me to the UAE in 2008 where I worked as a consultant in financial services for Bain & Company Middle East. My last stint in the corporate world was at MasterCard Middle East and Africa, and two years later I founded Souqalmal.com in 2012.
The idea behind starting Souqalmal.com came after I moved to the UAE and realized that there was no way I could compare my personal finance options. I had to contact every individual bank to get information about their products. Clearly, there was a gap in the market and an opportunity to introduce an unbiased and user-friendly platform to simplify the search for banking and insurance products.
As a recognised thought leader and a female, what difficulties have you faced in your career?
I have learnt from personal experience, to never underestimate the funding process and duration. You should plan your product launches keeping a realistic funding timeline in mind.
I also believe that startup entrepreneurs need to be aggressive, especially when approaching investors to fund their business. And this is probably where women entrepreneurs need to step up their game a bit. With most women juggling work and home, they’re often not as aggressive when asking for funding from investors and scaling up their businesses. Scalability is the route to a business’s long-term success, and we need to see more women shift the focus from short-term profitability to scalability.
What are the future trends and predictions you see happening in the region?
The opportunity for fintech in the region is enormous. Pick any statistic – Internet penetration, mobile adoption, customer adoption of online financial services – All signs point towards the massive potential of fintech and how digitization is transforming the future of finance. Customers are becoming increasingly comfortable with the idea of technology revolutionizing the way they traditionally managed money.
We’re seeing more banks and financial institutions jump on the digital bandwagon, launching digital-only banks, lifestyle banking apps and futuristic banking kiosks. Mobile wallets are also being introduced in a bid to promote cashless payments. Insurtech too, looks all set to revolutionize the local insurance industry and the insurance aggregator model is proving to be a game-changer.
Fintech innovations are expected to enable financial inclusion in the region, bridging the gap between the banked and the unbanked. With greater regulatory support, we also expect to see a jump in the number of Fintech startups in the GCC.
What advice and recommendations do you want to give future female entrepreneurs and thought leaders who are based in the Middle East & Africa (MEA) region?
For women specifically, it’s a great time to be able to succeed in business. There are more women in leadership roles than ever, as well as more networking and mentorship opportunities available. From a surge in female entrepreneur support groups (early-stage accelerator programs for female-founded startups as well as mentorship programs like Endeavor) to increased funding for new businesses, there’s never been a better time for a woman to start a business in the UAE. These support groups form an ecosystem that allows women entrepreneurs to get their startups off the ground, develop a strong business network, and grow their business.
But regardless of whether you’re a man or woman, you need to have sound knowledge of industry dynamics to come anywhere close to succeeding.