The Habib Bank branch in Al Buhairah that was robbed by five masked and armed men last year. Image Credit: Aghaddir Ali/Gulf News Archives

Karachi: One of Pakistan’s biggest corporate names, Habib Bank has taken a stake in the online lender Finja, making it the first such investment by a bank in the country. Through this investment, HBL joins global funds including BeeNext, Vostok Emerging Finance, Quona Capital, and ICU Ventures in Finja.

HBL’s investment serves two of the bank’s strategic priorities: helping spread financial inclusion and development finance and reinventing the bank to be a “technology company with a banking license”.

Since the beginning of the pandemic in April last year, Finja built its digital lending portfolio by 550 per cent, disbursing over 50,000 loans to micro, small and medium sized enterprises (MSMEs). Small businesses in Pakistan have traditionally struggled to obtain credit to grow.

“Our know-how in digitally scoring undocumented small businesses has resulted in 64 per cent month-on-month portfolio growth since the outbreak of the pandemic,” said Qasif Shahid, CEO of Finja. “HBL’s network will help us support and nurture Pakistan’s most important business segment, the SMEs.”

These loans are critical for Pakistan’s economic growth. Our productive loans result in a 40 per cent increase in SME revenue with less than a 1 per cent default rate,

- Monis Rahman, Chairman of Finja

In a statement, Muhammad Aurangzeb, President and CEO of HBL, said: “We believe that by making this investment we are not only developing the startup ecosystem, but it will also pave the way for Pakistan to play a bigger role in the fintech space globally. SME lending is the future and therefore we are investing in Finja which enjoys a first mover advantage over the market in digitally lending to SMEs in this country.”