A Chat with Noel Connolly, CEO at GCC Mobile Banking Solution: NOW Money

In the mid-2000s a banking revolution reshaped financial services around the world. Smartphones became readily available and new app-based services launched that made handling money fast and easy for people who had an account. But it wasn’t a revolution open to everyone.

To this day, the countries in the Gulf have some of the largest unbanked and underserved populations in the world. And that is because most people who live in the region are migrant workers whose income is deemed too low to gain access to a ‘traditional’ bank account. Despite being largely unbanked, people who live in the Gulf are amongst the most financially active in the world. Most residents transfer a high portion of their salary overseas, back to their family every month and due to covid protocols are close to 100% digital device penetration.

Needless to say, managing finances with cash alone has consequences. For example, migrant workers often face high transfer fees, spend hours visiting crowded exchange houses, and are vulnerable to hidden – sometimes crippling – costs and even fraud. The majority of funds are transferred to the sub-continent where floods, Covid and changing economic situations have created a gap between immediacy of funds and how typical salary and money transfer works in the majority, leading to predatory lending and other poor practices in their home countries, a symptom of environment and poor literacy.

NOW Money began in 2016, with a drive to develop a financial service for the millions of people who find themselves overlooked, unbanked, underbanked and underserved. At first, there were plenty of people who thought the idea of a digital account and card solution for migrant workers was ridiculous. Many had the ill-founded assumption that this demographic would not be able to afford or navigate an app-based service. But we knew the opposite to be true. Despite many previous attempts, no one had been able to successfully provide digital accounts for this demographic. So, to ensure we built a solution that would stand the test of time in the Middle East, we did something that had never been done before. We re-thought and redesigned the wider financial ecosystem.

We developed a service that would remove the stress of financial services for everyone involved – employees, employers, and banks. And we defied the naysayers to become the Gulf’s first digital payroll and banking service for the unbanked and underbanked.


What do you think makes this company unique?

What makes us unique is we understand the customer and the problems & hurdles they have to overcome to get basic services. We work with corporates to show them that there are other options, those which will help them engage, retain and reward their employees without changing their processes and even save them time and money.

We enable users without a fixed, permanent address or a minimum monthly salary to access our bank account but this is required for most other bank accounts in the UAE.

However, what really makes us stand apart from the competition, is the one to one financial education we provide to users of our app and to their corporates. Our mission is to make measurable change in financial inclusion. We analyse the data of the users, what features, fees and services they like to use and we work to understand their needs. We pride ourselves on passing on as little of traditional banking costs (balance enquiry, failed transactions, P2P etc) to the users so they can have as much disposable income post sending monies to give those who support their families a better environment in the UAE.

We have a dedicated team which travels across Dubai to give training in person at a convenient place to the app user, normally in their workplace or temporary accommodation. We educate customers about fraud and phishing scams but also the importance of money management, planning for the future and saving. This is something we are really proud of, which shows our commitment to financial inclusion and equality and makes us truly unique.


How has the company evolved over the last couple of years?

Since launch, we have partnered with Visa, the powerhouse in digital payments, and the Commercial Bank of Dubai, one of the leading financial institutions in the UAE. We have successfully closed multiple funding rounds and aligned with some of the best known VC’s in the region and globally. We have won global awards for our innovation, agility, customer banking app and our digital payroll service. And our awesome team has doubled year-on-year and we are launching in Saudi Arabia later this year.

But most importantly, we have made real change in financial inclusion, not just by words but by action and the proven traction: We have transformed the payroll process for many of the UAE’s biggest companies. We have not just banked tens-of-thousands of people. We have designed and developed the UAE’s first, human-centric banking app to meet the genuine needs of our customers.

And, we have ensured the fast and safe arrival of over a million transactions around the world and have given financial education to 15,000 people. To date, 4,440,985 transactions have been processed through our platform and over 452 corporates have paid in salaries worth AED 1,223,440,401. We have given back to the workers who no longer have to go to an exchange house on their one day off to send money home, or for the family who don’t have to wait for longer to receive the money and we have allowed extra disposable income to be transferred due to our lower costs that eventually help educate that’s worker’s child back home.

What can we hope to see from NOW Money in the future?

We did something that has never been done before and we were the first one to build a solution for migrant workers in the region. We re-thought and redesigned the wider financial ecosystem and we want to see more of the ‘unbankable’ population be banked across not only the UAE, but globally. We are also currently developing a consumer app, removing the need to access our services via an Employer giving access to digital banking to more people.

We see a world where everyone has instant access to financial services they can and want to use. We’re here to make our customers’ lives easier by removing the stress of financial services and we are doing this by constantly rethinking and redesigning the GCC’s money ecosystem and adapting our app with the most up to date technology and user experience.

Mostly what you will see from NOW Money is remaining on vision and message of driving measurable change in financial inclusion. UAE has COP28, Saudi Arabia has 2030 vision and the UN the 2030 charter, we will be making sure that NOW Money is seen as a leader in this space, will continue to educate, listen to our customers and drive changes in corporate behavior to enable these employees to provide the best life for the families and start the cycle of change in their home country