Fintech firm to launch Pakistan's first financial 'super app,' plans expansion to Middle East

People checking their mobile phones in Karachi, Pakistan, on July 30, 2018. (AFP/File)
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Updated 04 June 2021

Fintech firm to launch Pakistan's first financial 'super app,' plans expansion to Middle East

  • TAG Innovation plans to launch the country’s first digital retail bank after functioning as an electronic money institution for a substantial period
  • The company also intends to offer its services to Pakistan’s largest diaspora community in Saudi Arabia by the end of the year to facilitate foreign remittances

KARACHI: An Islamabad-based fintech firm is all set to launch Pakistan’s first financial super app by the end of the month that will help the country’s population open digital accounts and enjoy cross-border payment facility, the company’s top official said on Friday.
“We are planning to launch Pakistan’s first financial super app by the end of June,” Talal Ahmed Gondal, cofounder and chief executive officer of TAG Innovation, said while talking to Arab News. “Our intention is to target women and youth in the first marketing phase who don’t have access to formal bank accounts.”
“In the next stage, TAG plans to launch Pakistan’s first digital bank,” he continued, adding that his organization would operate as an electronic money institution (EMI) for now and offer relevant services to the intended target market.
“The app will enable users to open digital accounts within three minutes,” Gondal explained. “The users will then be able to make peer-to-peer transfers, dispatch money to bank accounts, pay utility bills and recharge their mobile credit. Their phone number will also be their account number.”
The fintech startup has been authorized by the State Bank of Pakistan to operate as an EMI and is launching its pilot phase.
TAG recently closed $5.5 million in a pre-seed round led by venture capitals from the United States, including Quiet Capital Management and Liberty City Ventures. Other participants were Fatima Gobi Ventures, Unpopular Ventures as well as strategic investors like Visa and Angels Investors, the TAG chief informed.
The funding round makes it the largest ever pre-seed in the Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan region. The position was previously held by an Egyptian fintech, Telda, which raised $5 million, according to the data compiled by various venture capital institutions.
Gondal said Pakistan was among the difficult markets for funding since the economic ecosystem was still not mature for the purpose.
“In the US, it would have taken us a maximum of five weeks, but it took us five months here to generate the funding,” he said, though he also recognized that Pakistani market was still untapped with a huge potential.
The TAG chief said his company would utilize the funding for its commercial launch and to expand its outreach in the Middle East to facilitate remittance inflows and cross-border payments.
“We will Initially launch our services in Pakistan but offer them in the Middle East by the end of the year,” he said, adding that TAG wanted to begin the process from Saudi Arabia by hiring a local team since that was where “the highest number of expat Pakistanis live.”
“The funds will be transferred between Saudi and Pakistani TAG accounts within a minute at a very low rate,” he continued while pointing out that the facility would be offered with the help of Saudi banks.
Gondal said that large number of women and youth, particularly students, did not have access to formal banking channels.
“Existing players are mainly targeting lower income segments, but we will offer services to all income groups as the first B2C operator across Pakistan,” he said, adding: “The farming community will also be tapped to receive or make payments for wheats or subsidies.”
According to the World Bank, Pakistan has the third largest unbanked adult population in the world with about 100 million people without their own accounts.
“There are 60 million total bank accounts in Pakistan out of which unique accounts are estimated at 20 million,” Muhammad Sohail, chief executive officer of Topline Securities, said. “About 70 percent of Pakistan’s adult population lacks access to bank accounts.”
According to Pakistan’s central bank, the country has a low volume of electronic transactions due to low banking penetration, lack of trust and awareness related to digital payment methods, limited interoperability and high cost of transactions.


46 Afghan soldiers seek refuge in Pakistan after losing border military posts

Updated 26 July 2021

46 Afghan soldiers seek refuge in Pakistan after losing border military posts

  • Hundreds of Afghan soldiers and civil officials have fled to neighbouring Tajikistan, Iran and Pakistan in recent weeks
  • Taliban has escalated offensive since US announced it would withdraw troops by September, ending 20-year military presence

Forty-six Afghan soldiers sought refuge in Pakistan after losing control of military positions across the border following advances by Taliban insurgents, Pakistan’s army said on Monday.
Hundreds of Afghan army soldiers and civil officials have fled to neighboring Tajikistan, Iran and Pakistan in recent weeks after Taliban offensives in border areas.
The Afghan military commander requested refuge at the border crossing in Chitral in the north, the Pakistan army said in a statement, adding the soldiers were given safe passage into Pakistan on Sunday night after clearance from Afghan authorities.
“Afghan soldiers have been provided food, shelter and necessary medical care as per established military norms,” the statement said.
The move comes at a time of poor relations between the neighbors. Afghanistan recalled its diplomats from Pakistan after the brief kidnapping of the Afghan ambassador’s daughter in Islamabad earlier in the month.
Afghan officials did not respond to a request for comment.
The Taliban has escalated its offensive since the United States announced in April that it would withdraw its troops by September, ending a 20-year foreign military presence.
Washington has said it will continue to carry out air strikes to support Afghan forces facing insurgent attacks.
Afghan government and Taliban negotiators have met in Qatar’s capital, Doha, in recent weeks, although diplomats say there have been few signs of substantive progress since peace talks began in September.
Reeling from battlefield losses, Afghanistan’s military is overhauling its war strategy against the Taliban to concentrate forces around critical areas such as Kabul and other cities, border crossings and vital infrastructure, Afghan and US officials have said.
The Pakistan army said the soldiers who sought refuge will be returned to Afghanistan after due process, as had taken place in the case of another batch of 35 soldiers earlier in July. 


Scottish climber dies on Pakistan’s K2 

Updated 26 July 2021

Scottish climber dies on Pakistan’s K2 

  • Allen was killed after being hit by an avalanche while attempting a new route on the mountain over the weekend 
  • Allen’s death comes week after South Korea’s Kim Hong-bin was killed in a fall descending from nearby Broad Peak

ISLAMABAD: Scottish climber Rick Allen has died while attempting to summit Pakistan’s K2, his expedition team said, the latest death on the world’s second-highest peak.
Allen was killed after being hit by an avalanche while attempting a new route on the mountain over the weekend. His body was recovered on Sunday evening.
“After consulting with his family and friends, the legend will be buried this morning under the foot of Mighty K2,” Karakorum Expeditions wrote on Facebook Monday.
A charity that Allen was raising money for during the climb also confirmed his death.
“Rick died doing what he loved the most and lived his life with the courage of his convictions,” tweeted Partners Relief & Development, adding that two other climbers on the expedition survived the avalanche.
Allen’s death comes a week after South Korea’s Kim Hong-bin was killed after falling into a crevasse while descending from the nearby Broad Peak.
With Pakistan’s borders open and few other places to go due to the coronavirus pandemic, the country’s summer climbing season is attracting a large number of alpinists.
The summer season follows history being made in northern Pakistan as a team of Nepali climbers became the first to summit K2 in the winter.
But at least five other climbers died on K2’s slopes while a sixth went missing during an ascent on a nearby peak.
Known as “the savage mountain,” K2 has harsh conditions — winds can blow at more than 200 kilometers per hour (124 miles per hour) and temperatures can drop to minus 60 degrees Celsius (minus 76 Fahrenheit).
Unlike the world’s highest peak Mount Everest, which has been scaled by thousands of climbers young and old, K2 is much less traveled.


Pakistan welcomes resumption of Umrah for foreign pilgrims from August 10

Updated 26 July 2021

Pakistan welcomes resumption of Umrah for foreign pilgrims from August 10

  • Says will follow whatever mechanism Saudi government devises
  • Pakistani religious affairs and Saudi Hajj ministries coordinating

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan’s special assistant on the Middle East, Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi, on Monday welcomed Saudi Arabia’s decision to resume the Umrah pilgrimage for international visitors, halted earlier due to the coronavirus pandemic.
According to Saudi media, the Kingdom has decided to resume International Umrah from the first of the Islamic month of Muharram, likely to fall on August 10 this year.
“We welcome the decision of resumption Umran for foreign pilgrims and whatever mechanism Saudi government will devise, Pakistan will follow that,” Ashrafi told Arab News. “Pakistani ministry of religious affairs and [Saudi] Ministry of Hajj and Umrah have contacts and if there will be any issues, both will coordinate on that.”
Media reports suggested COVID-19 vaccinations would be mandatory for all pilgrims.
Hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis would visit Saudi Arabia every year, mainly for Umrah and Hajj, before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Umrah is a pilgrimage which can be undertaken at any time of the year, in contrast to Hajj, which has specific dates according to the Islamic lunar calendar.
Saudi Arabia closed its borders last February to foreign Umrah pilgrims, and in March stopped its own citizens and residents from taking part. Last July, it allowed a limited number of domestic pilgrims to perform the Hajj. This year too, Saudi Arabia restricted the annual Hajj pilgrimage to its own citizens and residents for the second year running in response to the coronavirus pandemic.


Four Pakistani soldiers die in road accident in Azad Kashmir

Updated 26 July 2021

Four Pakistani soldiers die in road accident in Azad Kashmir

  • The soldiers were in the semi-autonomous region to police local parliamentary polls
  • Their vehicle plunged down a ravine off a curvy mountain road in Azad Kashmir

ISLAMABAD: Four Pakistani soldiers died on Sunday when their vehicle plunged down a ravine off a curvy mountain road in Azad Kashmir, the part of the disputed Himalayan region administered by Pakistan, the military said in a statement.
The soldiers were in the semi-autonomous region to police its local parliamentary polls, it added. Another three soldiers and the driver were injured in the accident.
Violence has marred the voting, with local administration officials saying two supporters of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party were shot and killed at a polling station.
The shooting involved supporters of the rival Pakistan People’s Party, once led by former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was killed in 2007 as she campaigned.
Pakistan and neighbor India each control part of the former princely state of Kashmir. Both countries claim a united Kashmir as their own. They have fought two wars over Kashmir and have come close to another on more than one occasion.


Hundreds light candles in Pakistan for murdered ex-diplomat’s daughter 

Updated 26 July 2021

Hundreds light candles in Pakistan for murdered ex-diplomat’s daughter 

  • Noor Mukadam was killed and beheaded last week by suspect Zahir Jaffer at his house in Islamabad
  • Protests and candlelight vigils held in major Pakistani cities, including Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Multan

ISLAMABAD: Protests and candlelight vigils were held on Sunday in major Pakistani cities, including Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore and Multan, over last week’s killing of 27-year-old Noor Mukadam, the daughter of former Pakistani Ambassador to South Korea, Shaukat Mukadam.
Mukadam was allegedly killed and beheaded on Tuesday night, the eve of Eid Al-Adha, by suspect Zahir Jaffer at his house in Islamabad’s posh F-7/4 sector. Jaffer, his parents and two members of their household staff have been arrested in connection with the murder.
The protest in Islamabad on Sunday was organized by the Women’s Democratic Front (WDF) and the women’s rights organization, the Aurat Azadi March, with hundreds of demonstrators gathering in solidarity over violence against women in Pakistan.
“We demand an end to state impunity against patriarchal violence,” Ismat Shahjahan, WDF president, said, addressing protesters. “We want a complete overhaul in the very structures of the state and society that are contributing to femicide in Pakistan.”

Women holding posters against brutal killing of 27-year-old Noor Mukadam, daughter of former Pakistani Ambassador to South Korea, Shaukat Mukadam, Pakistan on July 25, 2021. (AN Photo)

Last week, Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi expressed “my absolute condemnation of the recent violence and brutality against women.”

Protestors gather outside to protest brutal killing of 27-year-old Noor Mukadam, daughter of former Pakistani Ambassador to South Korea, Shaukat Mukadam at Islamabad Press Club in Islamabad, Pakistan on July 25, 2021 (AN Photo)

“This has no place in our society, lives, religion or culture,” he said. “We must work harder and do more for prevention & for justice.”

“For Saima, for Quratulain, for Noor,” he added, naming two other recent women murder victims.

Protestors gather outside to protest brutal killing of 27-year-old Noor Mukadam, daughter of former Pakistani Ambassador to South Korea, Shaukat Mukadam at Islamabad Press Club in Islamabad, Pakistan on July 25, 2021 (AN Photo)

A candlelight vigil in Islamabad’s Swiss Avenue Park followed Sunday evening’s protest. Similar vigils have also been held in Canada and Ireland where Mukadam spent many years growing up.

People light candles at a vigil to protest brutal killing of 27-year-old Noor Mukadam, daughter of former Pakistani Ambassador to South Korea, Shaukat Mukadam at Islamabad Press Club in Islamabad, Pakistan on July 25, 2021 (AN Photo)

Renowned rights activist Tahira Abdullah addressed the crowd at the vigil, standing beside the Mukadam family and leading chants of “Justice for Noor.”

The candlelight vigil held to protest the killing of 27-year-old Noor Mukadam, daughter of former Pakistani Ambassador to South Korea, Shaukat Mukadam, Pakistan on July 25, 2021. (AN Photo)

Ali Khan, a resident of Islamabad who attended the vigil with his family, said he had come out as part of “a drive for justice.”
“We need to show our support,” he said, “and we need our numbers to show we will not rest [until justice].”