Kazakhstan’s first digital Islamic bank rolls out services, eyes Turkey and Russia
Kazakhstan’s first digital Islamic bank recently launched, giving a boost to Shariah-compliant finance in the country’s growing Islamic economy.
Tayyab was officially released during Eid Al Adha towards the end of July, according to Ivan Kamenski, the start-up’s co-founder and chief business development officer.
The company has a partnership agreement with Bank RBK, a Kazakhstan-based conventional financial institution that allows Tayyab access to its banking license and infrastructure.
“Our operation company is registered at the Astana International Financial Centre (AIFC), but their regulatory framework for consumer banking does not cover the mainland,” Kamenski explained. “To operate in the Kazakhstan mainland, you must have a banking license from the Central Bank of Kazakhstan.”
Kamenski said Tayyab decided to use RBK because it is one of the few banks in the country with actual operating open application programming interfaces (APIs).
Tayyab has internal Shariah advisors and is certified by the Shariyah Review Bureau.
The Islamic neobank launched its first product, a debit card, attracting 6,500 clients within the first few weeks of its release in May, according to Kamenski, thanks to domestic influencers and news coverage. The company is aiming to hit 70,000 clients within the next year.
The current customer base is predominantly between the ages of 25 and 45, with 60% being male and 40% female. All are Muslim but the company hopes to attract non-Muslims, aiming for them to make up around 20% of its clientele.
The digital bank currently offers digital-only cards, physical plastic cards, payments, and transfers services. All operations are available in four currencies, Kazakh Tenge, U.S. dollar, Euro and Russian Rouble. The services are currently free of charge, except transfers to other banks.
Revenue currently flows in from interchange fees and commissions for premium cards that cost about $3 each.
The app also has ancillary services like prayer time reminders and a zakat calculator as well as a map function to locate nearby mosques, prayer rooms and halal eating establishments.
Unusually for a digital bank, Tayyab plans to launch a marketplace within the app, during the first quarter of 2022, hoping to cash in on Kazakhstan’s growing retail e-commerce market. In the first nine months of 2020 the e-commerce market volume rose by 93% year-on-year to 382 billion tenge ($896.05 million), largely driven by the pandemic and periods of quarantine.
“The marketplace will be similar to Amazon selling products like mobile phones, TVs, furniture, both wholesale and retail. We will not sell non-Shariah compliant products," said Kamenski.
He believes that a key competitive advantage for Tayyab is that it will provide Shariah-compliant instalments for customers who buy goods from within the app.
KAZAKHSTAN ISLAMIC BANKING
There are currently two brick-and-mortar Islamic banks operating in Kazakhstan.
Al Hilal Bank, the Islamic subsidiary of Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, offers deposits and home financing, while Zaman Bank provides mudarabah and wakalah deposit accounts for retail and corporate clients. The bank’s shareholders include the Islamic Corporation for the Development of the Private Sector, the private sector arm of the Islamic Development Bank.
In its rear-view mirror, Tayyab sees other digital Islamic banks set to enter the Kazakh market in the near future.
The most anticipated is Al Rayan Investment, a subsidiary of Qatar’s Masraf Al Rayan, which has yet to formally launch. Last year, Al Rayan announced it intended to establish a fully-fledged Islamic digital bank at the AIFC. The proposed entity would have paid-up capital of $10 million and authorised capital of $20 million.
Kamenski said customers should choose Tayyab because it is digital and halal while being part of the wider Islamic ecosystem.
“A lot of newer Islamic banks like Al Rayan’s digital Islamic bank will be based in AIFC, which is similar to the Dubai International Financial Centre," said Kamenski. “We decided to base ourselves and operate in the mainland market with RBK.”
Kazakhstan’s Islamic finance market is nascent and operates within the wider open banking infrastructure and fintech framework that are reliant on the country’s overall policy towards the fostering and development of a digital economy.
Amid this background, Tayyab’s decision to partner with conventional bank RBK because of its APIs is telling as APIs started becoming available in Kazakhstan only in the last few years. Open APIs facilitate the market for third party fintech developers like Tayyab.
Tayyab is also up against the lack of awareness about Islamic finance in Kazakhstan. The platform’s marketing slogan is "simple and halal" but it has been difficult explaining Islamic banking concepts to clients, according to Kamenski.
Despite these challenges, he is confident in Kazakhstan’s positioning as an Islamic finance hub in central Asia.
“Although Uzbekistan is doing a lot, Kazakhstan is positioning itself as the centre of Islamic finance in central Asia,” he noted. “The Kazakhstani government is committed to supporting the industry and developing its domestic halal economy.”
In addition to capturing the domestic market, Tayyab also has international expansion plans.
“[Whilst] Kazakhstan [is our] first and home market; we hope to enter Turkey in the first half of 2022,” said Kamenski. “We hope to launch around Ramadan and will be working with one of the commercial banks there.”
He added that Tayyab plans to enter the Russian market that has more than 20 million Muslims.
“We are going to provide the same services as we have now: debit card, application for transfers and payments,” he said. “[The] marketplace and investments will be for the second stage.”
Looking ahead, Tayyab hopes to start Islamic retail lending within the next six to seven months, as an option to support merchants selling in their marketplace.
There are also plans to start offering SME financing after two to three years.
The company sees future revenue streams coming from commissions in the marketplace, Islamic investments, profit/loss accounts, buying sukuk and Shariah-compliant shares from the LSE via a brokerage company.
Tayyab hopes to break even by 2023.
The company is currently boot strapped and is planning a seed round that it hopes can be completed by the end of 2021, according to Kamenski.
“The financing will be used for acquiring customers-lead generation, the marketplace and the banking setup costs in Turkey and Russia,” he said.
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