Portmanteau: /noun/ A word that blends the sounds and meanings of two other words, such as “motel” (motor and hotel), “brunch” (breakfast and lunch) or “Finabler” (financial enabler).
That last one is the name chosen by billionaire Bavaguthu Raghuram Shetty for a new holding company he established Monday, April 23 by merging two financial services companies he controls, formerly known as Travelex and UAE Exchange.
Travelex is a global financial company with 1,500 stores and 1,250 ATMs at ports of entry and tourist locations worldwide. UAE Exchange is one of the largest payment providers in the Middle East and has a dominant presence in the United Arab Emirates. Together, the Finablr network brands boast four decades of industry experience and have collectively touched over a billion lives.
The non-UAE locations of the business are being rebranded Unimoni as part of Finablr’s creation.
Reuters reported that the singular parent company was created in preparation for a possible initial public offering. Shetty’s son and executive in the family businesses, Binay Shetty, said the plan is to bring Finablr public on the London stock market once regulators approve the new holding company.
That’s the headline story – but as always, there’s a bigger picture to unpack. Karen Webster dug in to learn more during a recent discussion with UAE Exchange CEO Promoth Manghat.
The Global Citizen
Meet the Global Citizen. He may work for or own a multi-national company. She may be an innovator establishing and building a company, or trying to grow an existing one that needs greater distribution. Up to this point, UAE Exchange’s focus has been on enabling that Global Citizen to move freely around the world and have their money move as seamlessly as they do.
That’s still true, said Manghat, but the vision is broader now that Finablr has come about.
Yes, the platform touches individuals, but it also impacts large enterprise institutions, he said, touching millions of lives. Across the board, it raises the question of how to be a seamless money mover, how to truly integrate into an economy, and how to mask the complexity of doing those things behind a simple, attractive solution.
The New Economy
Today, businesses have the option to hire a full-time salaried employee who moves between multi-national corporate offices around the world, or to hire freelance and gig workers to provide project-based work.
Emerging technology is creating new ways for those workers to be paid: Instead of every two weeks of every month, they can collect a paycheck daily or even instantly, as soon as their work is done.
Consider the implications for Global Nomads, the subset of these Global Citizens that Manghat noted makes up almost 600 million people. These individuals are workers in countries that are not their homes – someone from Poland working in France or someone from Latin America working in the U.S., for example. They need to manage their money while in transit, to send it to family back home, and they need access to it when they arrive to work and then when they get back home – or at the next job.
“How can we become the FinTech bank for the global nomads?” Manghat said. “That’s the proposition we’re working on. The Finablr platform will enable organizations who want to keep pace with the demands of this 'new economy' to assemble different pieces of the platform for different use cases.”
He added that UAE Exchange already had a banking license in France and one for digital banking, services that are being used today. Now, he said, the time has come to take it to a global scale.
A Roadmap for the Roadmap
From a bird’s eye perspective, Webster observed, the merger doesn’t just mean creating a new roadmap for the companies involved, now a single entity – it means nothing short of creating the roadmap for how participants in the new economy will rely on payments and payment infrastructure to deliver new services. It is, she said, a blueprint for the new global way of approaching payments.
But how will Finablr get there? Manghat outlined a few concurrent strategies.
First, further investments and acquisitions will play a significant role, he said – and that was always true for UAE Exchange as a standalone company. Manghat said the company chooses a capability to focus on and invests in companies that can help it offer that capability.
For instance, UAE Exchange recently led the Series A round in a virtual gifting company called Swych to enable what Manghat called “purpose-driven remittances." Together, they have developed the Swych blockchain lab to explore payments and remittance applications for distributed ledger technology.
Second, Manghat said that Finablr is developing innovation hubs – IHubs - to explore how the partners and innovators can leverage UAE’s platform and assets to collaborate and co-create new solutions. IHubs will be geographically distributed in the U.S., Mumbai, London and Dubai.
One such partner has been Mastercard, with which UAE Exchange has worked to bring about a cashless Middle Eastern economy. Mastercard powers UAE Exchange’s Smart Pay payroll card for salary disbursements, as well as its Gocash multi-currency prepaid card for online spend and travel expenses.
Another, more recent partner is Ripple. In February, UAE Exchange became a member of RippleNet, a decentralized global network of banks and payment providers utilizing Ripple’s technology to deliver instant, on-demand, low-cost global payments services to their customers via blockchain.
These are the types of partnerships and co-creations that Finablr hopes to continue and expand by establishing these IHubs, Manghat said.
Manghat said living in a global world means there’s not just one problem to solve in terms of resources for the Global Citizen, so no single solution will suffice. Instead, what Finablr will do (and what UAE Exchange has done in the past) is provide capabilities that touch both individual users and institutions, enabling and connecting infrastructures as they go.
That’s no easy feat, he admits, but it’s a big part of what UAE Exchange has done for the last four decades – and it has now become part of how Finablr is positioning companies to do the kinds of things they dream of doing for end users: Enabling them to move their money as seamlessly as they move themselves, no matter where in the world they go.