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Fierce competition as UAE digital bank Zand prepares for launch

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Dubai, United Arab Emirates – Dubai-based digital bank Zand will attempt to attract customers with competitive deposit rates and a digital-first product lineup when it launches later this year, challenging traditional bank rivals as Covid-19 drives a wave of digital adoption in the Gulf.

“We think there is a huge opportunity,” Zand CEO Olivier Crespin said during a CNBC moderated panel session at the Open Banking Ecosystem Summit hosted by QnA International on Monday.

“We are onboarding friends and family on both the retail and corporate side, and we should be ready to go to market in the next couple of months,” added Crespin, who said interest in the Sheikhdoms newest bank had been “very strong” ahead of its official launch date, which is still subject to final administrative and licensing requirements.

Zand plans to be the first fully independent digital bank in the UAE, with a remit to service both retail and corporate customers. Emaar Properties founder Mohamed Alabbar, the developer behind The Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa, has invested in the company and will serve as chairman.

Other domestic and international backers are yet to be disclosed.

Zand will offer interest rates of “around 2%” on deposits according to Crespin, as it seeks to attract users and compete in the crowded UAE market, where 48 banks already cater to a population of around 10 million people. 

For example, major local incumbents such as First Abu Dhabi Bank and Emirates NBD offer 0.020% and 0.2% respectively on a standard website advertised savings account. Rates are dependent on a multitude of factors, and a proper like-for-like comparison can’t be considered fair until details of Zand’s product offering are released to the public. 

Zand will offer cards, loans, accounts and personal financial management products “comparable to N26 or Revolut” for new retail customers, Crespin said, drawing a comparison with some of Europe’s established neobanks. “We’re also focusing on the corporate side, where we are going to work primarily on supply chain finance,” he added. 

The launch comes as Covid-19 accelerates the adoption of digital services across the Gulf region. Demand for financial technology products among its young and mobile enabled population is rising, particularly in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Regional competition

In the UAE, Emirates NBD has already launched digital retail bank Liv and separate digital business bank E20 — leveraging its banking license, large customer base and established brand credibility. Liv claims to have 400,000 users. 

Other banking incumbents have chosen to partner with financial technology platforms as a means to grow their digital presence. Large international digital banks such as Revolut have also signaled an intention to enter the region, promising currency and crypto exchange services, person-to-person payments, and advanced personal finance analytics beyond the standard offering.

The rising competition underscores the challenge for Zand — a start-up that will need to compete on product, service and back-end technology, while still being subject to the same capital requirements and regulations as its traditional bank rivals. 

“The challenge is being able to combine two DNAs — the DNA of banking, which is about risk management, financial expertise and compliance with regulation, and the DNA of digital, which is about customer centricity, better leverage of analytics and the latest technology,” said Crespin, who previously held roles at BNP Paribas, Citi, and DBS Bank. 

Local reaction

Zand will be put to the test when it finally launches, according to big bank executives who also joined Monday’s panel discussion.

“I think it’s a great development,” Bernd van Linder, CEO of Commercial Bank of Dubai, told CNBC. “The challenge that Zand puts to the banking sector, and one that I embrace and look forward to, is to make sure that we become as agile as fast and as innovative as (Zand) will be.”

However, he said: “The big challenge for the digital banks … is to make money while you compete with lots of incumbents that have already developed their digital proposition, and who know how to make money on the back of lending.”

“The competition is going to be fierce,” Boutros Klink, CEO of Standard Chartered Middle East, told CNBC when asked about digital-first rivals in the region. “It’s exciting, and we need to do what we need to do to stay ahead of the curve,” he added.

“Some will survive, and some will fail, without a doubt.”

 

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More money chases Indian tech start-ups as investors shun Chinese names

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Zomato food delivery partners is seen on a road in Kolkata , India.

Debarchan Chatterjee | NurPhoto | Getty Images

At a time when investors are selling Chinese technology stocks, more money is chasing Indian start-ups.

Shares of food delivery app Zomato soared as much as 82% in their debut Friday on the National Stock Exchange of India. The initial public offering was priced at 76 rupees per share, or a little more than $1 per share. The stock opened more than 50% higher, valuing the company at about 910 billion rupees or $12.2 billion.

Jayasankar Venkataraman, head of equity capital markets at Kotak Investment Banking, said before trading started that the IPO was oversubscribed for institutional and retail investors.

“I think Zomato’s successful IPO might open the floodgates,” said Anirudh Suri, founding partner of the India Internet Fund. Suri has invested in 20 start-ups across India.

Tech giant Uber sold its India food delivery business to Zomato last year in an all-stock transaction that gave the U.S. company a stake. Zomato’s other prominent backers include Indian internet company Info Edge, Alibaba-affiliate Ant Group and Singapore state investor Temasek.

Sources told CNBC that after listing in India, Zomato has plans to make its debut in the U.S.

As to which companies will be next to go public, Suri said he’s betting on Paytm, which claims among its backers Japan’s SoftBank, Ant Group and Berkshire Hathaway.

India payments company Paytm recently filed its IPO paperwork with a goal of raising $2.2 billion in its public debut this November.

Overall, Indian start-ups raised $12.1 billion in funding in the first six months of the year, compared with the $5.3 billion raised during the same period last year, according to Venture Intelligence.

What’s behind the recent pivot to India?

Somesh Dash, general partner at venture capital firm IVP, said that investors are waking up to the idea that China no longer has the best growth story in town.

“China doesn’t have a lot of young people. India does. What the Indian economy presents is a growing middle class and a dynamic workforce: one of the largest populations in the world. It’s very attractive from a longer-term perspective,” Dash said.

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Amit Anand, co-founder of exchange-traded fund company NextFins, expects Indian tech IPOs to price at a premium multiple compared with Chinese companies, citing growth in internet penetration.

“Investors recognize the long runway for internet penetration. E-commerce penetration in India is 7% versus 25% in China. Smartphone penetration in India is about 30%, less than half of China’s 60%,” said Anand, who formerly worked for Axial Capital.

Anand and his partners at NextFins launched the Nifty India Financials ETF on the belief that investors will want more exposure to India’s secular growth story, especially as internet and smartphone penetration continue to rise. INDF’s assets have tripled since the beginning of the year and are up 50% since June.

“Investors are betting that as these people enter the workforce, they will consume more and need financial products like credit cards, mortgages and auto loans. That’s why e-commerce and fintech companies have been the primary recipients of venture capital investment in India,” noted Anand. With more tech companies going public in India, he now has plans to launch an ETF focused on Indian tech stocks.

“The tech indices in India currently track the large outsourcing companies; there is no way for investors in either India or the U.S. to target faster-growing internet companies,” he said.

Some of the country’s unicorns, those companies worth $1 billion or more, continue to raise additional rounds, capitalizing on the strong interest in India tech. Hotel start-up Oyo, backed by SoftBank, raised an additional $660 million. E-commerce platform Flipkart raised $3.6 billion at a mega-high valuation of $37.6 billion, the largest fundraise for an Indian company. Key investors include the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and Walmart.

Like China, data privacy issues do exist in India. Last week, Indian regulators banned Mastercard from issuing new credit cards to customers in the country after not complying with data privacy rules. Key question venture investors are trying to answer are whether India’s government will carve out its own path or follow China’s lead on the topics related to regulation and overseas listings.

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Asia-Pacific stocks set for mixed start after Wall Street record close

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SINGAPORE — Shares in Asia-Pacific looked set for a mixed start after the major indexes on Wall Street sailed to record closing highs last week.

Futures pointed to a higher open for Japanese stocks. The Nikkei futures contract in Chicago was at 28,230 while its counterpart in Osaka was at 27,910. That compared against the Nikkei 225’s last close at 27,548.

Australian stocks, on the other hand, looked poised to open lower. The SPI futures contract sat at 7,335.0, against the S&P/ASX 200’s last close at 7,394.40.

On the economic data front, Singapore’s industrial production figures for June are set to be out at 1:00 p.m. HK/SIN.

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On Friday, the Dow Jones Industrial Averaged closed above 35,000 for the first time ever while the S&P 500 jumped 1.01% to 4,411.79 and the Nasdaq Composite gained 1.04% to 14,836.99. Friday’s moves upward saw all three major indexes stateside at new closing highs.

Currencies

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was at 92.885 following a recent bounce from below 92.8.

The Japanese yen traded at 110.53 per dollar, weaker than levels below 110 seen against the greenback last week. The Australian dollar changed hands at $0.7368, above levels below $0.732 seen last week.

Here’s a look at what’s on tap:

  • Singapore: Industrial production for June

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Stock futures hold steady ahead of a huge week of Big Tech earnings

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Traders working at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), today, Wednesday, April 21, 2021.

Source: NYSE

Stock futures opened little changed after the major averages finished the previous session at record closing highs and ahead of a busy week of earnings reports from technology’s heaviest hitters.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average eased by 5 points, or 0.01%. S&P 500 and Nasdaq 100 futures dipped 0.03% and 0.01%, respectively.

In the previous session, the Dow jumped 238.20 points, or 0.68%, to 35,061.55. The S&P 500 gained 1.01% to 4,411.79 and the Nasdaq Composite climbed 1.04% to 14,836.99.

All three of the major averages finished at record closing highs last week after the markets tumbled at the start of the week on concerns about the spread of the delta variant of Covid and how it would potentially hinder the economic recovery. The uncertainty briefly sent bond yields lower, and investors jumped into tech stocks. Both bonds and equities rebounded quickly by the end of the week.

Tech stocks rose last week on better-than-expected second-quarter earnings reports, as well as the continued spread of the delta variant. Twitter and Snap each surged Thursday following better-than-expected second-quarter earnings reports. Twitter ended Friday 3% higher, while Snap shot up 24%.

One of the busiest weeks of earnings reports is on deck in the week ahead, with Tesla kicking it off after the closing bell. Last week, CEO Elon Musk said the automaker would likely start accepting bitcoin for vehicle purchases again.

Big tech giants Apple, Alphabet and Microsoft are all set to report on Tuesday, and Google, Facebook, and Amazon will also report later in the week.

Investors will be watching the Fed’s two-day policy meeting, beginning Tuesday. The Federal Open Market Committee and the Board of Governors are expected to issue a statement on the stance of monetary policy Wednesday. On Thursday the Commerce Department will report second-quarter GDP data.

On Monday morning the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will release new home sales data and the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas will release its monthly business activity index for manufacturing in Texas.

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