From left to right: Roy Zakka, and Khalil Daoud, NECB's General Manager
Going to the bank every month is a chore many of us prefer to avoid. For someone who moves from any reasonably developed foreign country into the region, the idea of having to physically go to the bank regularly sounds absurd. “Online banking in America is dead easy,” says my colleague Stephanie d’Arc Taylor, who moved from the United States to Lebanon two and a half years ago.
“When I first moved back to Lebanon I started using online banking and it was so awkward and inconvenient," says Lebanese serial entrepreneur Roy Zakka, founder of Ubanquity Systems Limited, an omnichannel solution provider for banks and financial institutions. "I said ‘there’s got to be a better way!’”
This means that instead of building online banking systems from scratch, banks ostensibly can buy existing platforms from Ubanquity, including native banking apps that customers can download and real time data apps on customer behavior.
Zakka started the company as a “weekend project” in early 2011. “Before I knew it, I had a nice product and started showing it around to banks,” he says. The company launched officially in May 2011, with an initial investment from Contuneum Investment; one and a half years later, they got another seed round from Wamda Capital, MENA Ventures, DASH Ventures, and Tajouda.
Invisible to customers; indispensable to banks?
As a white label omnichannel solution for banks and financial solutions, Ubanquity seeks to enable banks to help their customers keep track of their goals and manage their finances. “We don’t exist as far as the customer is concerned; they do everything through their banks’ platforms,” Zakka explains.
The mobile app Ubanquity loads locally, and pushes any notification from the bank to users' phones. Each app is optimized for the different bank platforms, and is very secure, says the founder. “You don’t use a username or a password, but a six-digit PIN code,” says Zakka. “For security and credibility purposes we get tested, audited, and certified every quarter,” he adds.
The app also allows a bank’s customers the option of recording which helps the user keep track of how much they spend on gasoline, for example, sending alerts whenever limits are exceeded. “You can also do video calls with your bank,” says Zakka.
Banks can see also see their customers’ transactions in a 360 degree view, which helps them extract useful data. “For example, the bank can check when, how, and where are customers spending their money, then segment them and target specific services for them,” explains the founder.
With offices in both Jordan and Lebanon and 13 employees in all, Ubanquity has already sold its services to five banks in the region. Having started with Jordanian banks Al Etihad, Al Ahli, and Societe Generale de Banque au Liban (SGBL) in Lebanon, and The National Bank in Palestine, the founders are going to be signing with three other banks outside Lebanon very soon. “We managed to develop traction in the region because once you start with one bank others follow,” explains Zakka.
Last week Ubanquity signed an agreement with the Near East Commercial Bank SAL (NECB), a member of the Saradar Group.
“We are now ready for Series A”
After trying several different business models, Zakka opted for a one time license fee for banks, as well as a yearly maintenance fee. “Banks don’t buy all our services at once; they instead start with a couple of basic ones, then increase after testing the value. The minimum price is a six-figure number and up,” he says.
“We look forward to many new online banks to launch in the region. We know one will be launching in Saudi early next year, we already approached them but nothing is set yet,” says Zakka hopefully.