Pakistan’s personal finance app attracts users in 168 countries

KARACHI: In what appeared to be a simple question from Jaffer Business Systems (JBS) Chief Executive Officer Veqarul Islam, while hiring the head of a newly established innovation unit, is now showing the potential of becoming a global product.

JBS application Hysab Kitab has been downloaded in 168 countries in less than one year. Its updated version is expected to be launched next year.

Prior to hiring Khawaja Mudassir Ahmed as the country head of innovation, the CEO asked him if he would present some innovative ideas.

The candidate then presented the idea of enterprise resource planning (ERP) – a mobile application for small businesses in Pakistan, arguing there were much software for medium and large businesses, but none for brick and mortar stores.

Pakistan has about 5,000 IT companies, including small ones with the staff of fewer than 10 people. Of these, less than 5% will be product-based, according to Pakistan Software Houses Association (P@SHA) Secretary-General Shehryar Hydri.

Product-based companies create their own product and sell them in markets like Google, Oracle and Microsoft while service-based companies work on products of other companies like TRG, Infosys, Wipro, Cognizant, etc.

Service-based companies need a lot of manpower but they depend on product-based firms and do not even make a fraction of what product-based companies earn with their limited but quality resources.

JBS’s journey towards IT

The company’s history goes back to 1849 when Jaffer family established a trading company in Pune before the partition of the sub-continent. Jaffer Brothers (Private) Limited was incorporated in Karachi on July 2, 1948 and it entered into IT business in the early 1980s.

Jaffer Business, which has been trading IT hardware for decades and working with HP and Microsoft and other big companies, decided recently to produce its own products.

“We decided to shift from trading to production,” said JBS CEO in an interview with The Express Tribune. “Our goal is to produce 20 (software) products in the next 10 years.”

After working for six months on Hysab Kitab, the app was ready for small businessmen, but the company decided to go for a version which common people could use because personal finance was the need of everyone.

Islam told his team that if the app was developed for common people, its scope could be expanded manifold.

In a three-hour-long meeting, the team decided to set aside the previous business-only version and introduce a simple version for the common people.

Three stages of the app

In the first stage, JBS released the application on Google play store and so far 130,000 people have downloaded it.

Hysab Kitab covers multiple areas of personal finance, which helps the common man to keep a record, track and prepare monthly budgets.

According to Islam, the application enjoys 20th position globally in the ‘free personal finance’ app category, while in South Asia it is in the first place.

Introduced in September 2017, the app has recorded 1.8 million transactions across 168 countries, even though the company has not yet launched it officially. It will be launched at the beginning of 2019 with its second version for small businessmen.

In the third phase, the company has plans to develop the application to the stage where customers will be able to communicate and pay shopkeepers through the app.

Hysab Kitab, keeping all finances of a person or household at one place, also notes spending patterns and monetary behaviour, which helps users in planning their budgets.

Promoting start-ups

Almost a year ago, JBS acquired Blutech Consulting, a data analytics firm, which analyses the millions of transactions that go through Hysab Kitab.

“At present, the big data market is worth $27 billion worldwide, which is estimated to grow by 400% to $100 billion in the next five years, which is why JBS is also venturing into this arena,” said the CEO.

JBS has plans to acquire more start-ups and nurture them into complete businesses.

“We will acquire one or two start-ups in the near future to bring them into corporate governance, which is the only way for a start-up to succeed,” he said.

The previous PML-N government worked a lot on the ecosystem of start-ups. Pakistan has five National Incubation Centres where dozens of start-ups are being nurtured. The current PTI government has also called e-government its main goal.

“The government is a big buyer in any country; thus, the government should alter its system and make a policy that it will only buy software from Pakistani start-ups, companies and engineers,” suggested the JBS CEO.

“Once a start-up succeeds in Pakistan, it goes to other countries like the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra), a successful experience in Pakistan that also helped Sri Lanka and others in managing their database,” he added.