Follow The Leader: Rajeev Kakar, Managing Director and CEO, Dunia Finance
“Dunia provides a holistic solution to empowering SMEs, as we understand all the struggles they go through from the very start.”
While it was launched in 2008 as a partnership between Fullerton Financial Holdings, Mubadala Development, Waha Capital and A. A. Al Moosa Enterprises, Dunia Finance today has come into its own as a financial institution that boasts of not just an impressive customer base of over 187,000 users, but also of noteworthy revenue figures as well- in July this year, the company reported a record half-year net profit of AED119.6 million, with an operating income of AED335.3 million. With numbers like that, it should come as no surprise that there are a lot of eyes on Dunia right now- various news outlets suggest that UAE Exchange, KKR & Co. and Majid Al Futtaim Holding are among the many firms that are currently considering a bid for the Abu Dhabi-based consumer finance firm, with a Reuters report in August noting that Dunia may be valued at more than US $680 million. With its targets including both mass market and mass affluent segments through its consumer financial services side, and SME and small business customers on its business finance side, Dunia’s product range includes loans, credit cards, financial planning services, deposits and more.
So what have been the factors that have led to Dunia’s success? Rajeev Kakar, Managing Director and CEO, Dunia Finance, boils it down to a strategy involving three main elements. “Firstly, our unwavering commitment to the customer and ensuring they are at the heart of everything we do- we will go the extra mile for our customers in order to enrich lives and deepen our relationship with them,” he says. “Secondly, it is the result of the expertise and commitment of all our employees, who are able to provide all our customers with the service they deserve and expect, as well as innovating to help develop new ideas, financial products and solutions. Thirdly, it is the result of our excellent research, analytics, IT and CRM infrastructure, which gives us a competitive edge and helps ensure we’re operating at the cutting edge from a technological perspective. We have invested heavily to transform our technological capabilities, through the introduction of leading mobility solutions and social media channels, which enables deeper customer insights and allows for rapid deployment of customized offerings.”
But besides the above points, it’s also important to take note of Kakar’s stewardship of the Dunia brand for its success in the market- Kakar has 27 years of experience in the banking market, with his last role prior to Dunia having been as the Regional Head and CEO for Citibank’s Global Consumer Bank, managing the Middle East, Africa and Turkey region. He’s also got an entrepreneurial streak in him- besides coming from a family of entrepreneurs, he has also launched several startups, and so, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that he uses entrepreneurial principles to run his business as well. “In my case, I see entrepreneurship as a product lifecycle,” he says. “So, I invest my time, passion and money in building those products. I follow the same strategy at my organization… At Dunia, we believe that innovation should be at the forefront of what we do. Ideation is an ongoing theme and is integral to our DNA. Our distinctive customer focused approach ensures that our products are directly relevant to the customer’s needs. Continuous innovations in technology necessitate continuous evolution to keep pace with the changing times, and we understood this early on with our earlier innovations, such as electronic statements and instant utility bill payments.”
Kakar also notes the importance of having a good executive team in place for the success of any venture- and for all you entrepreneurs out there, this is especially good advice as your startup scales up. “In the early days of setting up your own enterprise, it is natural to try to own as much of the ‘to-do list’ as you can yourself,” Kakar explains. “But, as your company grows, this becomes more challenging. And, in fact, trying to do too much, without tapping into other skillsets and experiences, is a mistake. That’s why hiring a great team around you, especially the executive team, is so important.” Incidentally, this is a principle that Kakar has put to use at Dunia as well. “I truly believe that building a career path and helping someone find a job is about taking chances, or employee responsibility, and providing opportunities, which is the organization’s responsibility,” he says. “We are all about empowering people, enabling success and enriching lives. We do not want to be a traditional financial services company seeking to maximize profits alone. We also want to hire talented people that can contribute to the success of our business.” And it’s a strategy that has worked out well for Dunia: “For us, talent is a true differentiator,” Kakar says. “Several key members of our original launch team are still with us, celebrating milestones as a family. This makes me very proud as the founding CEO of the business.”
Given his track record in business so far –which has been, by all accounts, quite an illustrious one- what does Kakar think makes a CEO a great leader? “Over the course of my career, I have learnt three things that have led me this far: hard work, integrity, and an unwavering commitment to continue learning,” he says. “It is very true that being a successful CEO is more than just being a strong leader of people. You have to be able to master the science and art of CEO-ship- that combination of knowledge, experience, and leadership that results in a truly effective chief executive officer. A CEO ’s success depends on the capacity to fulfill all this, as well as the definitive responsibility, which is leading the company boldly into the future, and inspiring and guiding the entire team to achieve good results. These different factors, when [put] positively in place, can transform a company’s results significantly, improving self-esteem, creativity and execution of any strategy or initiative.”
Executive Speak: Rajeev Kakar On The UAE's Entrepreneurial Ecosystem
“The UAE market and the global economy needs a generation of job creators, and not job seekers, who are entrepreneurial, innovative and equipped to start new ventures, lead enterprises of the future, and to establish a new momentum for growth that our world so critically needs. The market here is hungry and in need of such people. If you can combine an entrepreneurial approach with gaps in the market, you will be onto something truly exciting. That’s what we have done with Dunia, and we’re now trying to encourage the next generation to think the same way and become leaders. As a company, we truly believe in empowering people, enabling success and enriching lives. That is what this business is really all about.
From a more operational perspective, Dunia provides a holistic solution to empowering SMEs, as we understand all the struggles they go through from the very start. As such, we provide a range of solutions– business services, specialized services, transaction services, as well as essential financial services solutions to small and medium sized firms, including credit cards, flexible loan facilities, secured and unsecured loans, wage protection solutions, fixed deposits and labor guarantees at attractive terms, tenors and rates tailored to suit their specific requirements.
As an organization that believes in continually learning and developing people’s skills at an early stage, we also launched the Dunia Young Business Leadership three years ago, which has been a big success ever since. Through this program, we are giving students exposure to a broad skillset and empowering them to take charge of their own future. They have the chance to engage with industry leaders and real-life business practitioners, giving the students an authentic feel for life in the commercial world. We want these young people to experience the ups and the downs of doing business, as well as learning about the essential skills needed to succeed, so that they are prepared and ready to be the next generation of business leaders, both in the UAE and in our fast evolving world.”
Aby Sam Thomas is the Editor in Chief of Entrepreneur Middle East. In this role, Aby is responsible for leading the publication on its editorial front, while also working to build the brand and grow its presence across the MENA region through the development and execution of events and other programming, as well as through representation in conferences, media, etc.
Aby has been working in journalism since 2011, prior to which he was an analyst programmer with Accenture, where he worked with J. P. Morgan Chase's investment banking arm at offices in Mumbai, London, and New York. He holds a Master's Degree in Journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.