Generation Start-up: How Maly is supporting financial wellness

The Dubai ‘FinWell’ platform is a free app that helps users take control of their finances and save more

Mo Ibrahim, co-founder and chief executive of FinWell app Maly, wants to encourage people to build a healthier relationship with money. Antonie Robertson / The National
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The daily stress of managing finances can be an overwhelming experience for many, often caused by a lack of financial literacy skills to cope with the likes of spiralling debt, unexpected expenses or losing a job.

However, the issue is taking a toll on society, with millions of people around the world now struggling to overcome the cost-of-living crisis and the effect the pandemic had on their savings, raising concerns about their financial well-being and resilience to withstand negative monetary shocks.

This is what Mo Ibrahim set out to address when he launched Maly, a Dubai financial wellness platform, in August last year.

“When we started working on the platform a year and a half ago, we wanted first to do something to help people with their savings,” says Mr Ibrahim, who is also the chief executive of Maly, which means “my money” in Arabic.

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“After observing what’s going on in the market and how people are finding it very difficult to actually save out of their disposable incomes because of the high pressure from debt and inflation … we wanted to encourage people to build a healthier relationship with their money, to take care of their financial wellness.”

Financial literacy is essential for the empowerment and financial well-being of people, according to a global study published in December by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Financial well-being is an important element of smart money skills. Defined as a person’s ability to meet their current financial needs and commitments, it is about how they cope with negative financial shocks, as well as feeling secure about their financial futures and being able to make choices that allow them to meet future money goals, the OECD says in the report.

The study, which is published every three years and measures the financial literacy levels of adult populations in 39 countries, found that the average financial well-being score is only 42 out of 100 points, while financial resilience scored 46.

“Results suggest that among many adults, the understanding of certain basic financial concepts and the application of basic financial skills may not be sufficient to make sound financial decisions in challenging economic contexts, such as the current landscape characterised by cost-of-living pressures in many countries,” the OECD says.

“The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and cost of living pressures have highlighted the importance of protecting and supporting individuals and households to be able to face unexpected financial shocks.”

The global financial wellness programme sector is forecast to reach $4.94 billion by 2031, up from $1.75 billion in 2021, as companies increasingly recognise the negative effect that financial stress can have on employee productivity and retention of workers, according to a study by Business Research Insights.

In the UAE, employers are also formulating plans to help workers bridge their savings gap and grow their financial wellness, a 2023 survey by Swiss insurer Zurich International found.

Companies must work towards implementing programmes such as pension and life insurance plans and provide educational resources that aid financial literacy to meet employee needs and address their financial concerns, Zurich International said at the time.

Retirement savings is the biggest financial challenge faced by employees in the GCC, followed by childcare and education expenses, and saving for other commitments such as housing, day-to-day costs and emergencies, according to a separate survey by global advisory company Willis Towers Watson.

This resonates with Maly’s research, which found that two thirds of people in the UAE and Saudi Arabia – the platform’s two primary markets – do not have a pension or savings plan.

Savings is a core tenet of financial resilience and security, in particular an easily accessible emergency fund that holds three to six months of a person’s expenses to protect against job loss and other unexpected expenses, according to personal finance experts.

More than eight in 10 savers in the UAE believe it is important to have an emergency fund in place to survive difficult economic times, driven by the financial lessons learnt during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a 2023 study by Dubai-based Sharia-compliant savings and investment company National Bonds.

Sixty-four per cent of respondents to the annual National Bonds Savings Index said they were now working towards establishing an emergency fund to protect their financial futures.

“With this trend in mind and with the availability and tools that technology now offers, we wanted to introduce a mobile app for people to start using it to help them save easily, seamlessly and effortlessly,” says Mr Ibrahim, who has a background in the telecoms sector and has been in the UAE for 12 years.

“Savings are the cornerstone of financial wellness … we want to help people start improving their financial wellness, instead of just spending and accumulating debt.

“Personally speaking, one of the main reasons why I'm doing this is to help people get educated and find the tools needed to circumvent the ‘plague’ called credit cards.”

Based in the Dubai International Financial Centre, the FinWell start-up has developed Maly as a free app that offers users smart saving tools, debt management solutions and spending guidance to build long-term financial stability.

We’re going to have our first seed round as early as this year to drive our expansion to Saudi Arabia
Mo Ibrahim, co-founder and chief executive of Maly

The platform’s automated savings feature and Visa debit card are linked to 18 banks in the UAE and enable users to save by automatically rounding up small amounts from daily purchases through its built-in micro-savings tool.

Customers can also manage their outstanding debts with repayment goals, automate savings deposits and learn about investment techniques, Mr Ibrahim says.

The account can be linked to a UAE bank account “through a secure and regulated link” to allow customers to start saving

“Some savings we do in a fun way, like round-ups … something we do to help people accumulate small savings by rounding up their purchases,” he adds.

“For example, you buy a coffee for Dh12, so we round it up for you and make it Dh15. We take the Dh3 and we save it in your card, so you end up saving money without really putting much effort into it.”

Maly also offers users up to five Visa debit cards – both physical and virtual – which account holders can give to their children or other members of their household instead of giving them cash.

The multiple card option can also be used to set up a budgeting system similar to the envelope method, in which each card is allocated a different purpose, such as paying for subscriptions, saving for a holiday, putting aside money for monthly bills and paying the rent.

“We also allow Maly users to do immediate and free transfers between each other,” Mr Ibrahim says.

“So, you can send money from one bank card to another card instantly without any fees. You don't need a beneficiary; you don't need to know an account number; you just transfer using the mobile number of the person you're sending it to.”

In August, Maly raised $1.6 million in a pre-seed funding round from a group of GCC angel investors.

The co-founders initially bootstrapped the company and spent nine months on the app's development. The pre-seed funding was used to launch Maly last year.

“We’re going to have our first seed round as early as this year to drive our expansion to Saudi Arabia, as well as the product expansion, the marketing, the awareness and the creation,” Mr Ibrahim says.

“But it's still attracting a lot of inquiries and interest from different investors, VCs and some family offices and we hope that we are going to have a successful round soon.”

A premium subscription service that could feature a financial advisory based on the platform’s artificial intelligence model is part of the company's future plans.

However, Mr Ibrahim is adamant that Maly will continue to provide a free version to users, ensuring that there will be no hidden fees or costs for the debit cards or transfers.

“My intent is to keep this going,” he says.

“Imposing fees on cards is, to be honest, unjust and it helps with the mission of financial inclusion that we're driving. And that's why I find it a little bit bizarre that when someone talks about financial inclusion, they want to impose fees.”

Company profile

Name: Maly Tech
Started: 2023
Founder: Mo Ibrahim
Based: Dubai International Financial Centre
Sector: FinTech
Funds raised: $1.6 million
Current number of staff: 15
Investment stage: Pre-seed, planning first seed round
Investors: GCC-based angel investors

Q&A with Mo Ibrahim, co-founder and chief executive of Maly

What other successful start-up do you wish you had started?

While launching and scaling up a successful money management app has always been the goal, and Maly is there to achieve that, I always looked up to past and present successes. PayPal definitely stands out; we follow a similar path, empowering individuals with tools and education to expand their financial horizons and achieve financial wellness.

Who is your role model?

I mentioned PayPal, so naturally you’d think of Elon Musk, and that’s true. I have also always looked up to game changers like Jeff Bezos (Amazon founder) and Fadi Ghandour (chairman of Wamda and founder of Aramex).

What new skills have you learnt since launching your business?

More resilience, agility and adaptability. Since pivoting from the corporate world to a start-up seven years ago, I had to overcome a multitude of challenges, from building products and platforms with minimal resources to funding and cash flow management. Every experience presented an amazing opportunity to continuously learn and do things better.

Where do you want to be in five years?

Making Maly a household name across the GCC and the wider Middle East, North Africa and Turkey region, a one-stop-shop money management platform with frictionless experience, empowering people to achieve financial wellness

If you could do it all differently, what would you change?

Not differently, but perhaps earlier. Of course, I am very proud of the amazing team and capabilities we have and the rapid build and continuous improvement we’re going through.

Updated: April 04, 2024, 11:00 AM
Company profile

Name: Maly Tech
Started: 2023
Founder: Mo Ibrahim
Based: Dubai International Financial Centre
Sector: FinTech
Funds raised: $1.6 million
Current number of staff: 15
Investment stage: Pre-seed, planning first seed round
Investors: GCC-based angel investors