Migrant workers in the UAE get a digital banking solution

Accion Venture Lab continues support for NOW Money to bring app-based financial tools to migrant workers in the Gulf Coast region of the Middle East

Ahsan Ullah, an electrician working in the UAE, uses NOW Money’s app to remit money back home to his family in Pakistan.

Ahsan Ullah moved from his home country of Pakistan to Dubai to find work as an electrician. Like many other people who have relocated to the Gulf Coast region for better work opportunities, he sends 75 percent of his salary back home to his family in Pakistan. Ahsan found a way to transfer money overseas in NOW Money, the first digital banking solution for low-income migrant workers in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). He uses NOW Money’s app to transfer the money he earns servicing cable cars and other machinery, and his family receives it the next day.

When Accion Venture Lab first invested in NOW Money in 2017, we were incredibly excited by the company’s vision to tackle the challenges its customers, migrant workers in the GCC, faced. These customers have unique financial needs as they often earn just $200 to 300 a month and typically send 70 percent of those wages to family members back home. The traditional financial infrastructure in the GCC prevents these workers from accessing bank accounts, excluding them from the cashless economy. Without a digital banking solution like NOW Money, workers like Ahsan have to wait in line for hours to send much-needed money back home to their families.

NOW Money co-founders

NOW Money was founded in 2015 by Katharine “Kat” Budd and Ian Dillon.

The last 12 months of the COVID-19 pandemic have only made those realities tougher, as the brick-and-mortar institutions often relied on by this population temporarily closed, all but shutting these individuals out from the financial world. As noted by co-founder Katharine Budd in an episode of our VentureKast podcast, “Having access to digital finance, as long as you’ve got an internet connection, is a lifeline.” Inclusive fintechs like NOW Money are critical to supporting this lower-income and often-overlooked population throughout the pandemic, continuing to provide their products and services safely and digitally.

Accion Venture Lab is pleased to announce our follow-on investment into NOW Money’s Series A round, to support the company as they continue to build their moat as the first fintech company in the GCC to use digital banking technology to provide access to fairly priced and well-designed financial products to the migrant workers that need them.

To reach these migrant workers, NOW Money partners with businesses to provide an end-to-end digital payroll solution for their employees. They manage the backend for their partner companies and allowing workers to receive their salaries directly into the NOW Money app. NOW Money bundles a suite of relevant, digital financial services into their app, including a contactless-enabled debit card, mobile top-up, bill pay, remittances, and more, aggregating all the services these migrant workers need to manage their financial lives.

We’re excited to continue supporting NOW Money as they disrupt the region’s fintech scene for a few core reasons:

  • Focus on an underserved segment: NOW Money continues to target the migrant worker population in Gulf States like the UAE and the broader GCC. The migrant population in the Persian Gulf Coast region is a historically underserved segment. Employers often mistreat their workers, and workers are in dire need of financial services. These workers earn minimal wages — typically ranging is between $200 to 300 per month, depending on occupation — and often live in overcrowded “labor complexes” with poor living conditions. Additionally, today’s UAE banking standards are exclusionary, preventing customers that earn less than 3,600 dirhams per month (approximately $980) from accessing a bank account. As a result, workers often turn to Wages Protection System (WPS) cards, which function as payroll cards with free once-a-month withdrawal from an ATM, but no functionality at merchants.
  • Multi-product, full-service offering: Our team at Accion Venture Lab has been excited about the impact potential of holistic neobank solutions for a while, and NOW Money continues to provide us with the ability to test and learn more about this approach. The company continues to design its product and application with its users in mind, providing positive financial benefits in many ways, including bringing workers into the formal financial system, providing a convenient and competitively priced remittance platform, and increasing access to other digital products to better manage one’s financial life (e.g., mobile top-ups and bill pay). We continue to be impressed by the team’s ability to execute on its product roadmap, and are excited to watch it continue to expand.
  • Digital-first solutions during the pandemic: As the pandemic continues to disrupt life, NOW Money’s customers need these digital products now more than ever. Since the COVID-19 lockdowns began, the company has seen engagement with the app more than double as the pandemic sped up the trend towards digitization. The team has prioritized investing in their user experience and interface during this time by working hand-in-hand with customers to design a product that suits their needs. We believe this digital shift is here to stay and are excited to see the company continue to drive high levels of engagement.
  • Strong future growth potential: While the company has already made significant progress in building its footprint in the UAE, we continue to be particularly excited by its growth potential, both within and outside of its flagship country. Within the UAE, the company’s recently announced banking partnership with the Commercial Bank of Dubai will continue to fuel growth. The need for this product is just as acute outside of the UAE, and we look forward to supporting the company as it brings its suite of products to Saudia Arabia and the broader GCC region.

We’re proud to be a part of NOW Money’s journey and growth over the last few years, and we believe that this series A will propel them to financially include even more migrant workers in Gulf Coast countries. As NOW Money continues to grow and scale, they can provide the critical financial tools and services that migrant workers need to support themselves and their families back home.

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