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Print Print 2020-03-30

An interview with the co-founders of Oraan Tech Pvt. Ltd.

Halima is the founder and CEO of Oraan, a collaborative platform for group savings. After graduating from University of Waterloo, she started off her career in investment banking and then moved on to consult for top North American banks on Fintech product
Published March 30, 2020

Halima is the founder and CEO of Oraan, a collaborative platform for group savings. After graduating from University of Waterloo, she started off her career in investment banking and then moved on to consult for top North American banks on Fintech products. She moved back to Pakistan after a decade to start Oraan along a serial entrepreneur, Farwah Tapal, with a mission to simplify savings for the people of Pakistan in 2018.

Farwah is the founder and COO of Oraan. With an Industrial Design degree from Rhode Island School of Design and a recent MBA graduate from a European B-School, Farwah brings a holistic perspective to Design and Innovation in Pakistan. Her design process places an emphasis on empathizing with the multiple stakeholders involved to being human-centric in strategy and execution.

Below are the edited excerpts of a conversation BR-Research had with the Co-founders of Oraan:

BR Research: What is the story behind Oraan? How did you come up with the idea?

Halima: We started off with research as to why savings to GDP ratio is so low in Pakistan. Even though the formal economy data is alarming, the informal sector plays a massive role in people's life to save and raise capital for their needs. 41 percent of people save through committees. For Oraan, that was an interesting opportunity to find and become that conduit that moves the informal sector into the formal sector.

BRR: What does “Oraan” signify? What is your vision?

Farwah: Oraan means to take flight and we believe, financial stability for men and financial independence for women are the center point for people to take control of their futures and be able to take flight in other aspects of their lives. Our mission is to make saving simple and achievable for anyone, anywhere.

BRR: What is your business model?

Halima: Oraan is changing the way Pakistanis’ imagine committees. It enables you to save with a safe group in a simple and transparent method whether you are looking to save for a car, a wedding, or just become better at savings. Oraan has adopted ROSCAS, commonly known as committees which are not only socially and religiously acceptable but used by women 1.3 times more than men. However, relying on traditional informal ROSCAs mean your ability to raise capital is limited to the financial health of your social network.

By digitising ROSCAs, Oraan connects savers and borrowers with a ROSCA manager, which we call commissioners, outside of their geographical and social networks. These commissioners either in their past life have been managing committees and we verify and partner with them or get graduated to become commissioners based on their ROSCA participation experience.

This platform then serves as a management tool, which provides safety and a means to meet financial needs in a timely manner and also empower commissioners by giving them an alternative income.

BRR: Since everything is virtual, how do you ensure that all members pay? What is you plan in case of a default/back out/non-payment by members?

Farwah: We verify each member who comes to take part in Oraan Committees making sure they have the willingness and ability to make the payments for the committees. We also leverage social capital and their “social rating” to make sure they are included in making payments in the timely fashion. For members who drop out, we plug new members in making sure the cycle of committees runs smoothly.

BRR: What initial challenges were faced by the entrepreneurs and the business in general? How did you overcome these challenges?

Halima: I think everyone can unanimously agree that being an entrepreneur is not easy, there are failures, there is exuberant amount of stress, self-doubt, there is also social discrimination being a woman. But nothing that we, Farwah and I together, couldn’t handle. Where I felt short or couldn’t handle, Farwah jumped in and vice versa.

In early days, building a team on an idea and making them believe in the vision and constantly reiterating the vision was definitely challenging. We both believed in ourselves, sought help wherever needed, weren’t afraid of failing and learning, and are too focused on solving the problem of financial exclusion rather than being hung up on our solution which allows us to constantly learn from the audience and for our team to constantly grow.

BRR: It is still informal savings. How do you plan to scale the business in directions that could help in financial inclusion of these savers into the formal economy? Maybe partner with financial institutions or move into developing your own financial instruments?

Halima: Sure, the first step is to get informal savings digital and documented. The second step is to move them into the formal sector once they are comfortable and understand the need to save formally. We have partnered with multiple financial institutions to graduate people into more mature products like insurances and mutual funds.

BRR: Tell us about the team at Oraan.

Halima: Our team is multidisciplinary. From finance professionals to illustrators, all experts in their own fields but ready to roll up their sleeves and jump to resolve or help when needed. We very strongly believe in being flexible and catering to our customer needs.

I started off my career in investment banking and moved on to do consulting for fintech products before moving to Pakistan in late 2017. My work has revolved around leveraging data for product and process innovation. I'm also a certified chef.

Farwah: I’m a design strategist by profession and a serial entrepreneur. After completing my MBA, I moved back to Pakistan in 2018, to start researching the savings space and solutions for improving financial inclusion.

BRR: Any plans particularly for the financial inclusion of women?

Farwah: A key step in that is the grant we have won. Karandaaz Pakistan is providing us the grant to create innovative solutions to get more and more women into digital financial services. This partnership will allow us to not only build a trusted community but open up our services to a larger audience.

BRR: The single largest threat to the world and the country right now is from the coronavirus pandemic. How do you see the situation evolving? What can Oraan offer?

Halima: The world is an uncertain place, more so than ever which can cause fear and even panic, and a lot of instability. And in times like these, our financial choices are not necessarily optimal.

Oraan's mission and vision is to allow people and shift behaviors towards more savings and less credit so they have reserves for uncertain times, they are ready for emergencies like coronavirus. We must micro save - not hoard but save small to build up our funds and feel secure.

Remember, building up a fund can give us choices when we feel like everything else is falling apart. Oraan is hassle free, money is transferred digitally and therefore requires no physical contact or mobility is required. Moreover, being digital and relying on your community by being part of Oraan also provides that sense of belonging which in these rough times can help reduce financial anxiety.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020

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