SM Kamal was born in Dhaka but brought up in Chittagong. He attended Chittagong Collegiate School and then Chittagong Commerce College and did his graduation from Chittagong University. Later on, he did an MBA from Royal Road University, Canada.
Kamal spent a significant part of my career in FMCG industry, almost 14 years out of his 26 years of career, working at companies like ACI and Berger Paints Bangladesh. He started his career in FMCG industry. Afterward, he moved from FMCG to Financial Institution (FI).
Kamal joined Western Union in 2005, a Fortune 500 company and global leader in international remittance. He stayed there for over six years and then he moved to MasterCard, as the Country Manager of MasterCard Bangladesh in 2013. He has been working in the capacity since then.
The financial industry in Bangladesh is witnessing a digital revolution, and Syed Mohammed Kamal, country manager at MasterCard Bangladesh, is playing an important role in paving the way for a digital payment industry in the country.
Kamal started his career in the Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) industry and then transitioned into the Financial Industry (FI). In his career that spans over 26 years, he has witnessed and contributed towards several innovations that revolutionized the financial sector locally and globally.
In an interview with Fintech, Kamal gives an insight into MasterCard’s operating system and vision in Bangladesh.
FiNTECH: We would like to start by learning about MasterCard’s business. What’s its operational evolution history here in Bangladesh?
SM Kamal: We recently celebrated our 20th anniversary here in Bangladesh, as we first began operating here in 1997. Our Bangladesh offices, however, only opened up in November 2013. Before then, we operated from overseas, sometimes from London, sometimes from the United States, but we soon discovered that it was getting increasingly difficult to maintain operations from abroad in such a growing market, we realized that we needed a strong local presence. With a population of over 163 million people, Bangladesh has become one of our ideal markets, especially for card division, and our focus has diversified towards financial inclusion, new acquisition, and digital products. In South Asia, we opened our office here right after India.
FiNTECH: One of your digital products, MasterPass, has been quite receptive globally. Are there any barriers in introducing such an innovation in Bangladesh?
SM Kamal: There are always going to be certain barriers that one needs to overcome while introducing any innovation in a new market, be it in the financial sector, or somewhere else. We are doing our research and preparing ourselves to overcome these challenges. Our global digital wallet, called MasterPass, is an innovative solution to digital payment methods. Instead of repeatedly filling in information on different platforms, customers can store their debit and credit card details and shipping information, all in one account, and use it to for their shopping purposes. It can be used across channels – online, in apps, in stores, etc. and across devices – desktop, mobile, tablets, etc. It’s currently active in about 24 countries and we hope to launch it in Bangladesh by the end of this year.
FiNTECH: How advanced is Bangladesh regarding digital payment methods?
SM Kamal: We are definitely a few steps ahead on that front. In 2010, the two-factor authentication (2FA) system was introduced in Bangladesh, back when most developed countries hadn’t introduced it as well, and it was definitely a big step towards ensuring the customer’s trust in digital payment methods. Its working method is very simple but secure; the user, who’s trying to access a particular account, would put in their ‘knowledge factor’ – which is usually their username and password – and an authentication code is sent to their mobile number or an e-mail associated with the account. The user then provides that code to gain access to the account, thus completing the account-verification process, and providing an ‘ownership factor.’
FiNTECH: What are some of the challenges that you face in Bangladesh while introducing innovative digital products?
SM Kamal: Firstly, the number of card users in Bangladesh is pretty low, about 10 million overall, of which 8.5 million are debit card users and 1.5 million credit card users. Unless we can increase those numbers, we won’t see much success in digital payment methods either. Now, another problem is that you’ve to be a registered taxpayer to get a credit card, and not everyone in Bangladesh is a regular taxpayer and thus cannot register for one. Despite these challenges, we are coming up solutions to overcome them. For example, we are working on a pre-paid online card, which is a service that can be availed by everyone. If you’ve BDT 2000 in your pocket, you can put that amount into your pre-paid card and use it for online purchases. Such innovative solutions can definitely help us pave our way forward and all things considered, Bangladesh is definitely quite advanced when it comes to online transactions.
FiNTECH: Apart from these digital payment innovations, MasterCard has also introduced a financial literacy programme in Bangladesh. Can you tell us more about that?
SM Kamal: MasterCard has a global focus on harnessing entrepreneurship among women and children, and in Asia Pacific it aims to provide entrepreneurial opportunities to over 400,000 women and girls by 2020. In partnership with an NGO, BURO Bangladesh, we launched the first phase of our literacy programme in target places outside Dhaka in 2013, when we opened our first office here. Since then, we have provided training to over 135,000 women, to ensure an efficient use of microfinance loans for women entrepreneurs nationwide, and to provide them with the skills and confidence to start their own business. The programma happens in phases,and we are currently on our fourth phase.
FiNTECH: How has the response been so far?
SM Kamal: Oh, the response has been absolutely fantastic. I have personally visited a couple of our workshops in Comilla and Uattarbanga, and I was so happy to see the large turnout, and believe me when I say this, most of the women were already very knowledgeable about starting their own business and managing their finances, we just provided a better structure to guide them. We give them booklets and necessary information to convince them how important it is for them to have financial literacy.
FiNTECH: What is MasterCard’s Consumer Confidence Index? Where does Bangladesh stand in that?
SM Kamal: We have been publishing the Consumer Confidence Index for 20 years now, but it has only been about 5 or 6 years since we introduced Bangladesh on the Index. In Asia Pacific we survey 17 countries, and it is the most comprehensive and longest running survey that is conducted twice yearly, gaining an outlook on a country’s economy, employment prospects, local stock market, regular income prospects, and quality of life. Based on our latest report, Bangladesh has a very stable economy and the consumer confidence is highly optimistic, putting it in close range with China. Which is a big deal for us, to have a similar level of consumer confidence and economic stability in comparison to such a major global player. It’s proof that Bangladesh is advancing quite well into the global market.
FiNTECH: And finally, what do you think of the emerging e-commerce industry in Bangladesh? Has MasterCard worked with any of the upcoming companies?
SM Kamal: See at the end of the day, we’re all working in the same ecosystem, and if the market continues to grow then there’s room for different sectors and industries to grow together. For example, recently a number of foreign software companies have been replaced by local software companies, who are working with several banks and providing them locally created softwares for their operations. With more funding in digital marketing and more branding, small companies and new innovations can grow in Bangladesh’s economy. As for the ecommerce industry, which is booming in Bangladesh, we’ve worked with about 6 or 7 of them previously, like Ajker Din, Bagdoom, etc. We are constantly thinking of new and creative ways to work together and provide convenient solutions to our consumers.
FiNTECH: Thank you, Mr. Kamal, for taking the time to speak with us today and giving us an insight into MasterCard’s operating system here in Bangladesh.
SM Kamal: Thank you, the pleasure was mine.