First Person: The Impact The Coronavirus Pandemic Is Having On Our Startup, Our Customers, And Our MENA Region
The founder of fintech startup NOW Money reflects on how the world of business will be reshaped for the coming years.
These are unprecedented times globally. Seldom in human history has there been an event that affects every person wherever they are in the world to quite the extent that the coronavirus pandemic already has, and will continue to do so in the coming months and years. As a founder of a fintech startup, NOW Money, I’m having a unique perspective on the way in which individuals are reacting, and how the world of business will be reshaped for the coming years.
Firstly, our customers. We provide accounts for low income migrant workers in the Gulf to receive their salaries, and allow them to make remittances to their home country directly from a smartphone app. We have seen continued growth through the coronavirus pandemic and oil price crash- in the year to date, the trend towards using smartphone-based services, the issues at traditional remittance providers like UAE Exchange, and our continued product development and improvement have led us to see strong growth in remittances: 31% month-on-month growth in January, 46% in February, and 20% in March to date.
The bulk of the impact of the pandemic for us, and all individuals in the Gulf, will start to show through in the coming months. As businesses see a slowdown, employees will be put on unpaid leave or laid off, which leads to reduced salaries, spending, and, for us at least, lower remittance volumes. This will have a month or two of lag before it starts to show, but when it does, it will be when the economic impact will really begin to bite, for all companies in the region. And the impact of this for the low income migrant workers and their families, who rely on the flow of remittances, will be enormous.
The financial markets have reacted with sheer panic in early March. Such crashes are underpinned by human psychology rather than fundamentals, as shown time and time again from the crashes seen in the US in 1929, the dot-com bubble of 2000, the financial crisis of 2007, the crypto bubble of 2017, and right back to the Dutch tulip bubble of 1637. Have a look at graphs of asset prices in each- the pattern is remarkably similar.
NOW Money is a venture capital funded business. These venture capital investors, whilst having a much longer-term view than stockbrokers and traders, are not immune from panic and worries about the future uncertainty that the coronavirus crisis brings. Whilst all of our investors have been supportive and wanting to help wherever possible, they have clearly been rattled by the market turmoil.
At the same time, our staff have been amazing at NOW Money. In our hiring process, the values we look for above all else are grit, ability to do anything, and independence. As a nimble, fast-moving, and lean startup, we don’t have the budgets or the ability to have large, wide-reaching HR teams, and benefits packages- we have to rely on hiring responsible, mature people that we can pay well and let them support themselves far more than a larger corporate would. While this narrows down the hiring options we have in the good times, in adverse scenarios like this, the policy really comes into its own- our staff have calmly and diligently adapted to working from home, and turning their hands to different tasks. Our people are the main reason why we’ll come out of the other side stronger, however that may look.
Finally, the region as a whole- it’s fair to say that the impact the coronavirus pandemic will have is going to be massive and far-reaching. However, if there’s any region in the world that can bounce back quickly, and take advantage of new ways of doing business that will surely prevail, it is the Middle East. We are part of a young, tech-savvy, and ambitious population, and we have strong leadership that has acted decisively to support the residents of their countries. At NOW Money, we are excited by the progress we will make whilst others slow right down, and we believe the Middle East more widely will similarly capitalize on the opportunities as the world recovers.
Ian Dillon is the co-founder of NOW Money. Ian was educated at Cambridge and Exeter Universities. Whilst at Cambridge, he started a successful e-commerce business, which has recently been sold. Ian’s former banking career was spent at HSBC, working in retail and corporate banking and FX, before taking a management role within investment banking capital markets. In 2015, he co-founded NOW Money, an accounts and remittance service for the unbanked population of the Middle East. He was recently honored with the “UAE Fintech Founder” award at the Fintech Abu Dhabi 2019 Awards.