Necessity is the mother of invention - this old proverb holds true in the case of Dalal Alrayes and Saurabh Shah, co-founders of a FinTech start-up Spare, a micro-savings application designed to improve customers’ spending habits and help them grow their savings.
“We have a solid financial background and worked with multinationals, building their financial projections and facilitating them in growing their savings. But when it comes to our own personal finances, we found that we were not that good at spending as well as saving,” said Ms Alrayes, a Kuwaiti and an alumnus of London Business School.
“When we started looking at deeper levels, we discovered that we were not the only ones facing this issue of financial planning and, particularly, ‘saving’. It is a huge problem in our region where people really like to spend.”
Almost 85 per cent of consumers in the UAE are not stashing enough for their future, according to the National Bonds Corporation, a UAE-based investment company, in its Savings Index, launched in June 2011, which has been regularly surveying GCC residents to monitor savings patterns and habits. This startling figure came at a time when the country's residents are struggling with the rising cost of living. Dubai, for example, was billed as the third most expensive expatriate destination in the world, according to a study released by UBS in May this year.
“In our interviews of young people, it was revealed that they ran out of money before their next salary comes. A review of their accounts showed that they spent even the last fils before the arrival of the next salary,” said Ms Alrayes (35), who is passionate about female empowerment in the corporate sector.
It was from insights such as these that the idea for Spare came about.
To avail of the service, users need to have a valid bank account and a debit card. The app automatically supports debit cards but, if desired, a credit card can also be linked to it.
“Users can link their debit card with Spare and start saving immediately. On every purchase, this app will round off the amount to the nearest whole number, for example if a consumer buys a coffee for Dh15.10 then Dh16 will be debited from his account and Dh0.90 will go to his saving,” said Ms Alrayes.
“Users can also set targets, like saving Dh1,000 to purchase a camera [for example]. In that case, regular alerts will be sent to the user suggesting they boost their savings. Users can also fix an amount like Dh2 or Dh10 that can be saved per transaction.”
Ms Alrayes and Mr Shah, both MBA graduates, came in contact with each other during one of the peers’ get-togethers in London and the idea of setting up a platform to promote a saving culture in Arab region came about after talking about the issue.
The founding duo started working on a plan in December 2017 and developed the first model of the app in March this year and have since been modifying the app based on customer feedback. Spare was also shortlisted among top 10 start-ups by Dubai International Financial Centre’s FinTech Hive programme this year.
“We started with a soft launch and I can say that we are still building different blocks around [it] … currently we are doing trials among the selected group of customers in different parts of this region. Results are encouraging and we have planned a big-scale launch in January next year in Dubai,” said Mr Shah (31), an Indian and an alumnus of Insead Business School.
Based on simulations and trials so far, the Spare founders said on average a user of the service can save up to Dh550 a month, resulting into an annual saving of up to Dh6,500.
“Saving percentage usually differs due to fragmented use-cases. Some users are from higher income groups while some come from lower income groups. In the beginning, we are targeting consumers in the age-group of 18 to 45 years,” said Mr Shah.
“We are looking at college students, who don’t have a lot of money to invest; the professionals, who may have money but no time to plan savings; and housewives, who don’t have the knowledge but they have some saving … either you don’t have time or money or knowledge.”
So far, Ms Alrayes and Ms Shah have invested their own money in the business but they said they will be pitching for a first round of capital raising in March 2019.
“So far money is spent on the development of the project … now the next two key expenditures will be on marketing and growing our team in the next few months. Things will be certainly on a fast-track in 2019,” said Mr Shah.
Spare could prove particularly useful in countries like the UAE where individual debt levels are quite high and the saving culture is not very pervasive.
Payfort, a payment gateway that caters to Middle East and North Africa region, said individual debt levels here are the third-highest in the region - after Egypt and Saudi Arabia - in its October 2017 report. It also revealed that almost three in 10 (27.8 per cent) UAE residents did not save any money.
To help make its users more financially responsible, Spare allows them to boost savings as per their needs by using embedded algorithms. Besides saving money, Spare helps consumers to understand where they spend their money every month.
“There is a live stream of your transactions that are also categorised in different segments such as eating out, entertainment, fuel and clothing. So consumers can easily detect if they are going wrong anywhere with their purchasing pattern,” said Ms Alrayes, who previously established a successful education start-up in Kuwait but is now concentrating full time on Spare.
From the UAE, the duo plans to expand the business into Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain next year.
“We are deliberately going slow. Currently we are spending more time in collecting feedback from initial users and clearing out any last-minute bugs,” said Mr Shah, whose areas of interest include data analytics and investment banking.
Spare comes with free initial trials but its founders are planning to introduce a subscription fee by next year. They see huge opportunities in 2019 as GCC region advances in the field of FinTech.
“It will be very nominal and [the subscription fee] will be charged once users start seeing good results in terms of savings,” said Mr Shah.
Spare’s co-founders Dalal Alrayes and Saurabh Shah talk further about their FinTech venture:
What is the core idea behind Spare?
Ms Alrayes: The idea is to change financial habits and bring in a culture of saving, without burdening people. It will build their savings automatically while they spend money.
What are your goals as entrepreneur?
Mr Shah: It is important that we can contribute in solving some of the societal problems. As we are focusing on the financial sector, I feel there are so many problems that we are facing today. We will be working on solving them over the next few years.
Ms Alrayes: My long-term goal is to serve the ones who are not being served properly by our financial institutions. To bring more financial inclusiveness, where user experience is always prioritised over everything else.
What is the initial feedback about Spare from consumers?
Mr Shah: People have claimed that the app is acting as a guide as they now know where their money is going and to save big.
Are you looking for investors?
Ms Alrayes: We started Spare by pooling money from our own savings. But we will be going for first round capital raising in March 2019.
What age groups are you targeting?
Mr Shah: We are looking at people between 18 to 45 years. It is for people who want to start saving and make it a routine. It is more of a behavioural change thing.
How has your journey been so far?
Mr Shah: It has been a great experience. We were lucky to identify one of the perennial issues in the financial sector and were able to create a solution around it. Our experience at DIFC FinTech Hive has been very helpful as it put us in front of right people and the right financial bodies, who understand our product and marketing strategy.
What are the challenges that fintech sector is facing?
Mr Shah: This sector [FinTech] comes with many challenges as there are many regulations and you have to find right ways to navigate through them. But we have overcome previous challenges with perseverance and hard work and aim to continue the momentum in the coming years.
What is your inspiration:
Ms Alrayes: I am inspired by people who constantly think we can do better. I am always listening to podcasts like ‘How I built this’ or ‘How I overcame challenges’. They lift the curtains from the struggles of big enterprises and give us a dose of motivation and, sometimes, winning ideas as well.
Company name: Spare
Started: March 2018
Co-founders: Dalal Alrayes and Saurabh Shah
Investment: Own savings. Going for first round of fund-raising in March 2019