Rashed Al Ansari, Chief Executive Officer of Al Ansari Exchange, has been influential in overseeing the company’s growth into a leading position in the remittance and foreign exchange industry in the UAE, since joining in 2010.
Has the company transformed over the years? How does the group look at crypto exchanges? We answer this and more in this exclusive interview with Rashed Al Ansari, whom we asked:
1- What excites you most about working in this industry? How has this industry evolved in this region?
What excites me most about the industry is the fundamental and crucial role the remittance business plays in supporting the most fragile economies around the world. Being a financially inclusive company gives us the opportunity to ensure remittance flows reach the last mile even during tough times. These remittances provide a lifeline for many families all over the world, improving their quality of life, and facilitating better education and healthcare.
As COVID-19 devastated the lives and livelihoods of millions, expatriates in the UAE kept sending money to their families back home which in turn helped support them and provide their basic needs for survival.
The overarching driving force behind my decision to join the family business was to add value by modernizing the remittance industry and enhancing customer experience using technology. Thus making sure our customers’ hard-earned money reaches its destination in the safest, most effective, and most convenient way possible.
Over the years, we saw the industry evolving quickly and steadily to meet the needs of UAE residents who were also growing in number and diversity. In the UAE, ex-pats account for 88% of the population.
We were initially established in 1966 to meet the foreign exchange and remittance needs of our founders’ trading partners and customers. At that time, formal banking was yet to be established in the country. The business has then evolved from a complicated and expensive service to a smooth, transparent, and efficient service that is fully inclusive.
2- How has your previous corporate experience with Dubai Holdings, Dubai industrial City, and Dubai Mercantile helped you shape the operations and direction of Al Ansari Exchange?
My expertise and leadership skills are of course the result of a long extensive professional background and the experience that I gained while working with organizations such as Dubai Holdings, Dubai Industrial City, and Dubai Mercantile Exchange, among others.
I took a conscious decision to make it on my own first before joining the family business. I was lucky and grateful to have such a unique opportunity to work for these semi-government organizations and work under leaders who believed in my capabilities and spared no efforts or resources to train and develop me into the person I am today. There was a sense of national pride that united us in being part of Dubai’s growth story and leaving behind a legacy for generations to come.
I was privileged to have the opportunity to work on mega projects and address large-scale challenges. I also got the chance to interact with many leaders, government departments, corporate institutions, and individuals from various levels and backgrounds. This provided a great learning experience that you do not typically experience in a family business environment.
I quickly came to realize that resilience and humility are two traits of great leaders. Humility helps you stay grounded and focus on your company’s vision it also allows you to recognize that you need to surround yourself with a team of experts who can help you succeed. Resilience is what you need to weather any storm.
3- How do you look at the fast-changing digital environment?
The pace of technological changes is accelerating steadily due to the increased rate at which innovations are being adopted. As a result, businesses must consider how digital transformation can keep up with the latest trends. Today’s technological advancements allow companies to serve their customers seven days a week, making digitalization one of the top priorities.
We have worked hard over the past 10 years to become one of the pioneers in implementing intelligent tools relevant to our industry and will continue to keep pace with the latest advancements in the market. The Al Ansari Exchange mobile application is a result of this vision, which facilitates fast and easy online money transfer services and offers the best exchange rates anytime and anywhere.
As the CEO, I am committed to supporting Al Ansari Exchange’s market leadership position and retaining its status as a provider of world-class financial services, using the latest technological innovations as well as focusing on and harnessing the power of these technologies to deliver exceptional services to our customers.
What drives me personally is the passion to be the best in the industry I serve. You can see the same level of passion among the team that I work with.
4- What is your outlook and vision for the company?
Our vision is to remain the customers’ first choice for currency exchange and money transfer services. We aim to provide our services to all sectors of our community based on their own needs and requirements. We believe there is no one size fits all and we focus on providing enhanced and superior customer experience across all our touch points. We continue to invest in enhancing the reach of our physical branch network as well as serving customers digitally through our mobile app and smart counters. We also provide a hybrid model where customers start on the app and complete the transaction in one of our stores which is becoming popular with the unbanked segment of our client base. We aim to be an Omni-channel service provider to cater to our customers’ individual preferences.
5- How do you look at Blockchain and crypto exchanges? Is it a threat or an opportunity?
Blockchain is a promising technology with enhanced security, greater transparency, and instant traceability. Blockchain delivers even more business benefits, including cost savings from increased speed, efficiency, and automation. Blockchain significantly reduces overhead and transaction costs and eliminates the need for third-party intermediaries, shorting the time and reducing the cost of sending money, and making the system even more efficient and effective.
Cryptocurrencies and crypto exchanges, on the other hand, are not considered a direct threat to us as they do not follow our business model. As we can see from the market today, digital currencies are very volatile and can be heavily influenced by speculations about price movements by different media outlets, influencers, opinionated industry moguls, and well-known cryptocurrency fans.
Digital currencies lack an independent regulatory body and the absence of an official entity that can oversee and resolve cases of errors and complaints. Adding to these two factors are the relatively complicated and technical requirements put in place to process the transfers using cryptocurrencies. Not to mention converting them into fiat currencies like the Dollar or the Dirham.
We, however, continue to monitor the market very closely for any changes and developments that might be of interest to our customer base and that are in line with the rules and regulations set by The Central Bank of the UAE.
6- Which areas of your business (exchange, remittances, bill payment, corporate services) are most profitable?
Remittances and foreign currency exchange are the main sources of our revenues, which is typical for exchange companies. However, we don’t look at each vertical of our business separately as our business model allows for cross-selling and multiple services offering on multiple channels. All of our offered services work together to give a unified experience to our customers. As an example, a customer might visit our branch to remit money but finds that he or she can also pay for bills back home or top up a family member’s mobile phone internationally.
7- How is the business least and most susceptible to challenges like COVID-19, inflation, Wars (RUS/UKR), and economic downturns?
All the challenges listed above have a direct impact on currency fluctuations. Inflations, wars, pandemics, and economic downturns can cause the value of specific currencies to fluctuate. We typically see an increase in remittances and foreign exchange transactions when there is a decrease in the value of any currency against the US Dollar which will be automatically reflected in its exchange rate against the UAE Dirham as the UAE currency is pegged to the Dollar. UAE citizens benefit from the strong Dirham and remit money when the value of the exchange is higher. On the other hand, tourists may find it more expensive when they travel to Dubai when the Dirham gains strength. The opposite is true when the exchange rate swings the other way.
8- Do you need a transformation in strategy to cope with changing times?
Strategies have to be agile and flexible to cope with the fast-paced world we are living in today and the new competitive threats, changing market dynamics, technological disruption, and the ever-changing needs of empowered customers.
We believe in constantly looking at our strategies and deploying quick solutions to adapt to change and deliver better products and services to our customers faster than ever before. When the pandemic first hit the UAE in 2020, we were ready with our mobile app that handled thousands of customers who wanted and needed to transfer money but could not leave their homes. In addition to our mobile app, we had to ask our front liners to report to work and help customers remit money as the government saw our sector as an important service that needed to remain open during these difficult times. No one could have predicted these challenges and we had no time for transformational strategies but we were ready because we have the best employees on board who are actively engaged and are ready to drive solutions when faced with any challenge.