Adeeb Ahamed, Managing Director, LuLu Financial Holdings, reveals the mantra behind the brand’s success
Congratulations on winning top honours at the Forbes Top Exchange Houses in the Middle East awards recently. It’s been an excellent growth trajectory for LuLu Exchange in the last five years. What’s your mantra for success?
We founded LuLu Exchange in 2009 with the vision to innovate value and inspire experiences towards improving people’s lives. We owe our rapid growth to the manner in which we have stayed true to this vision, constantly embracing the latest technologies to introduce new products and services that strike a chord with the payment needs of our customers.
As a team, we enjoy pursuing different challenges and are conscious of our responsibility to our customers. We have our heart and mind in the right place, and I believe this has helped us focus on crossing relevant milestones along our journey.
How has the payments industry been affected by the pandemic, what were the global aftereffects and what were the regional ramifications?
According to World Bank, Covid-19 has resulted in weak economic growth and high unemployment levels in migrant-hosting countries, due to which remittance volume is projected to decline in the coming year as well.
Regionally, according to CBUAE, outward personal remittances from the UAE increased in Q1, before registering a fall in subsequent quarters. The effects of such shocks are yet to be fully comprehended, and recovery will take longer than expected.
Despite this, we are happy about the measures taken by the UAE government to lower the cases. The country will be among the fastest economies to recover globally, and we remain hopeful of better days ahead, now that the vaccine has been rolled out for all.
As the head of one of the most influential financial service providers in the regional payments sector, how did you manage to keep your employees motivated during this critical hour?
The circumstances were of course new, but as a leader, I channeled my trust in the resilience of our organization and its people and used this period to extensively connect with all internal and external stakeholders. I made it a point to lead from the front and be with my team every single day, and this helped us develop effective communication channels to introspect and identify solutions to our biggest challenges. There was a rallying call across the organisation to have a renewed focus on our goals, and every team member took it as a challenge to aggressively ramp up our customer service solutions and digital capabilities on a war footing.
The Covid situation was unprecedented for our times. Going forward how do you envisage tackling such challenges on behalf of your firm should they arise?
The pandemic has provided a window to reflect the key role of communication in harmonizing stakeholder relations and engaging employees. I plan to continue focusing on re-visiting our operational and business goals, while making sure that accurate and timely information is communicated at the first stage of the decision making itself, so that various leaders are taken into confidence. It pays to have everyone on the same page especially in moments of crisis, and we are working on staying ready for similar challenges in the future.
For a group as large as LuLu Financial Holdings, with its presence across the Middle East, India and South East Asia, how do you manage to keep in touch with your department heads at all times?
With the world of payments being transformed at a dizzying pace, the biggest challenge for us is not just meeting the demands of the market, but also ensuring we have a well-oiled internal structure. The payments industry is taking on an invisible, borderless form, and it is becoming increasingly important for us to find the right balance to work in sync from different parts of the world. Our system of decentralized operations has matured today, giving me a bird’s eye view of our business landscape, while allowing different country heads to operate in silos and simultaneously remain interconnected to the central leadership team.
LuLu Exchange has been in a state of rapid expansion over the last decade. Do you foresee this momentum continuing at the same pace in the next decade? What are your expansion plans for the next couple of years, which are the strategic markets you plan to tap next?
2020 has been a strong year for our WPS and Lulu Money business. Under WPS, we captured a considerable market share through our network of branches and strong sales team. As a strategic decision, we are going to focus on cross border payments for retail, HNI customers and corporate trade in the near future. We will continue to focus on such innovative products by adopting technology and collaborative partnerships, wherever possible.
We are also looking to make inroads into newer markets in the APAC and GCC regions.
LuLu Exchange has also fronted a lot of CSR initiatives in recent years. How much is giving back to the community a part of the brand’s creed?
We believe in giving back to the communities we operate in, and this philosophy is very much engraved in our organizational values. I am proud of the efforts put in by my team to provide relief and other support to the people of UAE and other countries in GCC, during the height of the pandemic. We also support an array of welfare initiatives around education, healthcare and geriatric support, and aspire to play a bigger role in supporting various communities to recover from the effects of the pandemic in 2021. We believe that as an organization serving over a million people in the UAE alone, we have a responsibility to our communities, and are working towards aligning our CSR activities to our set principles.
Employee satisfaction ranks on the same level as customer satisfaction. Would you agree and what are you doing to achieve this in your organisation?
Absolutely. I always say that we owe the success of our organization to the people who have built it up from Ground Zero. Our practices reflect this thought.
In fact, a recent EY Employee Engagement Survey conducted across our countries of operation, recognized LuLu Exchange as a ‘Best Employer’, with a score of 95% in overall employee engagement level. This is a validation of our practices to support the wellbeing of our people. We are proud to have an inclusive and accommodative work environment, and hope to do more to keep ourselves on par with global standards of employee satisfaction.