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COVID 19 has provided a fresh impetus to deepen digital financial inclusion so critical for poverty reduction, and business continuity in Pakistan. Karandaaz since its inception has strategized itself to help modernize and upgrade Pakistan's financial infrastructure and payment system to adopt and adapt financial and technological revolution underway across the world. More and more individuals are using digital platforms, new ways are being devised to generate and use data for improved financial access and product design, innovators are disrupting traditional business models by leveraging technology for providing financial services, and users' demand for bespoke services tailored to their needs are increasing. While Pakistan has steadily been enhancing its digital footprint, the launch of Raast is a major step as it offers the essential rails for supporting disruption that is being witnessed in developed countries.

Raast is designed to bring innumerable benefits to Pakistan. In addition to providing infrastructure on which the payment landscape of the country can be systematically digitized, it will serve as the edifice on which a varied set of institutions-banks, fintechs, payment service providers, among others-can build innovative product and service offerings. Raast also holds promise for the utilization of big data to provide sophisticated products to unbanked sections of our population, using big data analytics in the appropriate policy framework. According to a study by McKinsey, digitizing financial services in Pakistan could result in an increase of up to 7% in GDP. And last but not least, enhanced documentation of the economy will enable the Government to capture hidden flows for informed taxation policies and improved compliances under international commitments.

Setting up a payment system of this scale is a multi-year and multi-organization commitment and over the coming months, it is my hope that Raast will help generate more innovation in digital financial services, enabling Pakistan to achieve the goals set in the National Financial Inclusion Strategy. Creation of Raast has been a pivotal activity and an area of focus for Karandaaz since its inception and I must acknowledge the leadership of the State Bank of Pakistan and the financial support of our sponsor Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for turning this project into a reality.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021