In this edition of #FintechProductDiaries, we chatted with Rahul Kanotra, Product Lead at one of Saudi Arabia’s fastest growing Buy-Now-Pay-Later (BNPL) fintech startups, Tamara. Founded by serial entrepreneur Abdulmajeed Alsukhan in 2020, Tamara was the first BNPL firm to be enrolled in the Saudi central bank’s sandbox programme. In April 2021, just 8 months after its official launch, the fintech closed the largest Series A funding round in MENA of $110m led by Checkout. com, bringing its total funding to $116m.
Rahul joined Tamara at the beginning of this year after spending the last couple of years in Germany between Dock Financial (previously Crosscard) and Wirecard. Prior to Wirecard, he held global product consulting and development roles at tech giants like Capgemini, TSYS and IBM across Norway, India, Cyprus, and Spain.
With his extensive experience and expertise in payments, rewards and wallets, Rahul is also part the Blockchain Technical Advisory board for GSD Council, USA.
What’s required to build a viable BNPL product offering in 2022? And what’s unique about the UAE fintech market? Learn the answers to these questions and more, in Rahul’s complete story below.
Rahul’s entrance to the fintech sector wasn’t intentional. After graduating from university, the first job offer he received was from the leading global tech providers, IBM, where he was appointed as a product developer for a billing-related application of Vodafone, Spain.
“Luckily, I got into the first project [at IBM], which was highly financial at that time and that was the first step for me into fintech.”
Rahul then moved to one of India’s largest payment providers, TSYS, which was later acquired by Google payment. And this is where, he believes his actual fintech journey started. With TSYS, Rahul relocated to Europe taking over product management for core offerings like payment infrastructure and reward programmes.
“In most organisations, product managers were mainly called consultants and SMEs. So, [at TSYS], I was acting as an SME and helped build various reward programmes for them, e. g., the migration to the Vegas Fraud Management tool.”
After 2.5 years at TSYS, Rahul joined Wirecard, where he was responsible for various multi-currency products and forwarding models.
Fast forward to 2022, Rahul is now a Product Lead at probably the trendiest BNPL fintech in Saudi Arabia, Tamara. In less than two years since its official launch, the fintech has penetrated across both the KSA and UAE markets with its core products: ’Pay in 30 days’ and ’Pay in 3′ which are available both online and in-store through Tamara’s consumer app.
According to Rahul, the most interesting aspect of his product career so far has been the opportunity and ability to solve his own problems.
“Back in India, we used to have these AMEX expense cards, but they were just corporate cards with certain limit and they didn’t have any actual expense management features. So, one of the best projects in my career was when I got the chance to build a proper expense management product for the Indian market.”
During his first couple of months at Tamara, Rahul has been focusing on understanding and shaping its core offering, a major part of which is the company’s money dealing technology. He’s also been highly involved in Tamara’s overall product development, customer acquisition and retainer strategies.
“Right now, it’s more about understanding what we want and where we are aiming for. So, our focus is on building a strategy, making sure that we’re following the firm’s vision and mission — we have a very straight forward vision that we aim to reach with every step we make and every OKR we meet.”
For the development of an effective BNPL product offering, Rahul has identified 3 key factors that designers should take into account. These include:
1) Clear instalment terms — “If you are building something which is more focused on customer, the instalment terms should be very clear, there should be no hidden fees.”
2) Minimum number of checkout steps — “For a BNPL checkout, it shouldn’t take three minutes but more like one.”
3) Ensure adequate user verification — “Just like any fintech, BNPLs should ensure they run proper user verification because the risk is on them — if there is a default, it could impact their whole revenue model.”
According to Rahul, the UAE market landscape is “totally different” and not just by market segmentation, but as a whole. In the region, there’s no such thing like open banking, for example — there’s still no government mandate to facilitate and drive the technology adoption. And generally, projects take much longer to complete than in other markets.
“Here things are bit tougher — things that can be done easily in other markets, here take time. There are a lot of licencing processes going on. In the UK or Germany, for example, maybe 100s of fintechs are getting licences every month. Here the number is much lower. And then there are other things like every market has, if you talk about Saudi market and UAE market there is a huge contrast. UAE is more on the credit card market because more people are expats — everybody will have four to five credit cards. In Saudi, the credit card penetration is lower because there are more local people.”
“Every company will sooner or later become a fintech. So, the focus will be on embedded finance for at least the next two to three years. BNPL will continue to rise in the next five years for sure.” — Rahul Kanotra