“Exponential growth in digital payments through Raast”.
Mahnoor Nadeem joined REDtone Telecommunications and Quantum Global Communications Inc. as the Group Vice President - also simultaneously serving as the CEO for REDtone Digital Services. Under this role, she works on establishing strategic partnerships with international telecommunications operators, banks, and enterprise firms across the globe. She also spearheaded the launches of various digital products and solutions across the Group companies; FTTH, cloud computing, education, fin-tech, on boarding and retail digitisation.
Alongside her full-time roles at REDtone Digital Services and Quantum Global Communications, Mahnoor provides pro-bono legal services and advice in the UK to non-profit organisations. She also works on corporate strategy and legal matters with a select corporate client base.
She holds an undergraduate degree in Law from City, University of London, and a Bar Professional Training Course together with a master’s in law from the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn and City, University of London.
Following are the edited excerpts of a recent conversation BR Research had with Mahnoor Nadeem:
BR Research: How do you see the digital ecosystem of Pakistan? What areas need immediate attention?
MN: The digital ecosystem of Pakistan is evolving; smartphone penetration is growing, new applications/start-ups are getting people to buy and sell online, learn online etc. Digital payment platforms are also moving from proof-of-concept phase towards pilots and commercial launch.
To grow the pie further, and bring more people online, there needs to be growth in reliable infrastructure both in rural and urban parts of the country; education and localisation of content; and incentivisation from both the public and private sector to boost digital adoption.
BRR: How does your company contribute towards digitising the economy?
MN: Digitisation is a gradual process. As a firm we have multi-decade experience in the telecommunications sector and have customers/business across 50+ international destinations. But our heart stays home, we are a Pakistan-first firm that understands that the right investments, both in infrastructure and next-generation technology can help us leap-frog and become an innovation hub for the world.
We are investing directly into connectivity, cloud, retail, and education to digitise them and bring them at par to the world. We see a bright future for Pakistan, where our people can launch the next wave of innovations for the world, we are invested into that vision, to grow Pakistan and take it global.
BRR: Tell us more about REDTone’s presence in Pakistan and what service are you offering in the country?
MN: REDTone Digital Services is a one-stop telecommunication, infrastructure, and digital solutions provider. Part of Quantum group and as a licensed local loop telecom service provider, we offer cutting-edge corporate and enterprise solutions, cloud powered hosting and services, triple play, on-demand entertainment, customer onboarding, educational, and fintech solutions across a variety of customer journeys and touchpoints with presence across Pakistan’s major cities.
REDtone through Redlinkx (Har Ghar Fiber) is focusing on key areas like Fiber based connectivity (we are working on a similar model to other players, but our focus is to build a more robust and next-gen infrastructure - that can support new requirements like the internet-of-things, VR/AR, gaming, and home-based entertainment/ education/ work-from-home requirements).
We have also brought Redrackx - Pakistan’s first multi-country cloud to the market. This, for the first time, gives customers access to an international cloud which is both locally and internationally deployed and can support their virtualisation requirements not just in Pakistan, but across other countries as well - all managed by our domestic and international teams to ensure support always fits within your working hours.
Our third initiative is REDRETAIL (Har Store, Super Store). The supply chain and logistics part of our Kiryana/mom-and-pop stores needs massive overhaul; as a critical component of our economy, right now the retail sector needs digitisation. With REDRETAIL, we have started to digitise legacy, brick-and-mortar stores, and are connecting them to the distributors, the manufacturers and eventually to the consumers.
We see gaps in the entire supply chain process, ones that can easily be eliminated, through connectivity and interoperability. Through our proprietary mPOS (hardware and software) and our disruptive business modelling, we are turning the supply chain into a value chain, one that will reward all partners be it the merchants, distributors, manufacturers, and consumers; and make them efficient.
BRR: With Pakistan competing with other countries in the region, where do you see Pakistan’s IT exports heading? Which areas need to be focused on to achieve the targets set by the IT ministry?
MN: The MOITT is on a mission to first build an environment of innovation through knowledge parks, educational initiatives, investments in the start-up space etc.; and then incubate this country as a centre of excellence and development. This is a fantastic vision, because you are transforming the mindset of a country, to focus on core competencies and bridge gaps between talent and real-world experience.
If we can get our people to become more aligned with the innovation requirements of the world, we open ourselves up for business, which will immediately boost our IT exports, as our work will speak for itself. The key areas in development for local talent are IoT, Blockchain, Cloud/Edge Computing, Robotic Process Automation etc. We need to first get our people to understand the building blocks behind these innovations (which means giving them the right exposure/mentoring to understand how the tech was built, core languages/components behind it).
In short, the Ministry of IT is being led by brilliant people, they have the right vision and are taking necessary steps to incubate our domestic talent. The private sector needs to up their game, support the ministries initiatives and align efforts so that we are all moving in a cohesive manner.
BRR: Pivoting to retail, how is the retail ecosystem transforming, and how important is the role of digital payment system?
MN: Digital payments are essential to the growth of the retail sector, with more and more retailers augmenting their brick-and-mortar operations and making room for ecommerce initiatives, they need a robust digital payment system that can help them settle funds and receive payments efficiently.
The cash on delivery (COD) method relies on the transportation of physical cash from the buyer to the seller, one that is no longer necessary. To get rid of COD and truly embrace digital payments, we need to work on trust (both at the consumer and the retailer level - making sure that the right goods land on the right customers doorstep every time); real-time settlement to reduce the reconciliation and settlement process between buyer and seller to allow for smooth working; and incentivisation i.e., rewarding people for investing in a transparent business process - through cashbacks, tax incentives, smart-lending, rewards etc.
These measures build habit and reduce friction. If we put our weight behind digital payments, it will ease cashflow issues and reduce time to market, and hence lead to an efficient retail sector.
BRR: What impact do you think the introduction and implementation of Raast will have on the development of the retail ecosystem?
MN: Raast is Pakistan’s first instant payment system that will enable end-to-end digital payments among individuals, businesses, and government entities instantaneously. It aims to act at the centre of the Digital Financial Services ecosystem. As this begins to grow, stakeholders will be able to make instant transactions, with ease, which will allow for real time settlements at very low costs. With our proposition of digitising the kiryana ecosystem through REDRETAIL, an initiative such as Raast will play a pivotal role - it will allow us to have real time settlements between our merchants, distributors, manufacturers, and consumers, thereby optimising the ecosystem. I look forward to the exponential growth in digital payments we will witness through Raast - currently such payments only account for 0.2 percent of Pakistan’s transactions.
Our goal at REDtone has always been to enable innovation and digitisation in the country, and SBP’s initiatives such as these play an enabling and complementary role, thereby propelling Pakistan towards a digital and cashless society.
BRR: How fast do you see Pakistan adapting to technological change happening globally and where do you see Pakistan in the next five years?
MN: If we work with diligence and build the right public and private sector synergies that can help us fast track innovation, we are looking at a very different 3-to-5-year roadmap for Pakistan.
Right now, the world is changing, moving towards automation and digitisation, so essentially, we are on the right track, but we need to pick up the pace, innovate legacy systems, infrastructure, and practices so that we can remove any barriers in our growth. The indicators are all there, growing internet penetration, smartphone adoption and an emerging Gen-Z audience are all evidence of exciting and disruptive days ahead. Good luck to us all.