The Silicon Review
“Qarar’s analytics solutions generate over one million decisions a day.”
Zaid Kamhawi, CEO of Qarar, is a financial services professional with over 20 years of experience in the financial services, analytics, credit management, and consulting industries across the Gulf Cooperation Council. He has held leadership roles at multinational and startup companies before being called on by SIMAH, the Saudi Credit Information Company, in 2013 to set up Qarar, a leading data science company. Zaid is recognised as a knowledge leader and industry expert in the area of credit risk management, consumer banking, and data analytics and is regularly invited to speak at key industry events and media.
Qarar offers data-driven decisioning solutions for the leading sectors in the Middle East and Pakistan. It serves clients in banking, insurance and telcos across the region and helps solve business challenges and achieve sustainable outcomes through decision science.
The company has recently expanded its presence into Saudi Arabia by opening a regional office there, in addition to its headquarters in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
The Silicon Review contacted Zaid Kamhawi, CEO of Qarar, who spoke about how the company is making a difference in this segment and plans to stay at the forefront. Below is an excerpt.
Q. How would you describe your career journey so far? And tell us what motivated you to establish Qarar?
My career has taken me through a journey that has naturally paved the way for Qarar. I started my career in 1998 with HSBC bank where I spent five years rising through the ranks and learning the operation of different divisions. I soon realised that I have a passion for working with banks rather than in them. Therefore, I moved to Dubai and into the consulting world starting with a focus on customer contact management and process reengineering. Then I progressed into customer relationship management strategies with Peppers & Rogers, a management consulting firm that preaches customer focus and advises its clients on managing customer relationships by gathering information about them and tailoring communications to their needs. The resulting consulting engagement presented the opportunity for me to be part of establishing the first credit information company in the UAE back in 2006, and introduce the concept of credit report and credit scoring to the UAE market with an initiative called Emcredit. The project was hailed as a major part of the financial services infrastructure and has helped banks start embedding external data as part of their decision-making process. This journey culminated in combining my financial services and customer segmentation experience with credit reporting knowledge to play a key role in establishing Qarar — a decision analytics company that provides data science and decision automation solutions to support financial services and other industries by applying advanced predictive algorithms to help predict customer behaviour and drive business in real-time.
Q. Trust is one of the most important currencies of leadership that requires authenticity and consistency to maintain. What’s your take on this?
‘Relationships above transactions’ is our sales motto. Clients are so pleased with this approach that they become Qarar’s ambassadors, making a word of mouth and business referrals our largest revenue source. Part of Qarar’s urban legend tells a story of how the company outperformed all its global competitors in securing one of the biggest contracts on the basis that “Qarar is the most honest and the easiest to deal with.”
Our philosophy is not just applied to our clients but at home as well. Qarar is a family that also treats employees like family. Our culture is focused on business and personal growth — to grow as professionals and grow the company. Everyone constantly strives to self-develop, learn and then share that learning with the rest. So, we have created a culture where everyone can be vulnerable with each other and comfortably share fears, weaknesses, desires, and goals.
Q. Who do you look up to and why?
My mother has always been my biggest inspiration. She has always been a person that believed every problem in life has a solution, no matter how big. She was able to start her own business when times were tough, and she beat cancer while staying positive and strong throughout the entire journey. Having her as my mentor has helped me solve business and personal problems pragmatically and objectively!
Q. How does Qarar help its clients solve business challenges and achieve sustainable business outcomes?
The banking and lending sector in our region is highly competitive and undergoing a huge digital transformation — more apps, more mobile banking, and less reliance on visiting branches. What Qarar offers is software, services, and advisory solutions, including developing models that predict credit risk, improve portfolio management, integrate compliance, manage collections, and identify cross-sell opportunities. We combine advanced tools and analytics techniques with financial services industry expertise and digital transformation to help clients optimise their loan underwriting decisions, risk exposures, improve performance, and accelerate growth.
Primarily, Qarar focuses on decision analytics, so our clients can make insight-driven real-time decisions, which in turn, will improve their business efficiency, drive profitability, and improve their customer satisfaction. Simply put, we consider ourselves a catalyst to re-energise businesses in the lending sector through the power of advanced analytics.
Q. What’s Qarar’s point of differentiation?
Qarar is the leading regionally-focused and locally-based credit risk analytics company, and the only one with direct links to a credit bureau. We believe in the power of specialisation and focus on serving a limited number of industries. Unlike our competitors, we are headquartered in the Middle East, with offices in Dubai and Riyadh, which also increases response time and allows us to be present throughout the customer journey. We are also committed to building long-term client partnerships, rather than one-off projects and we regard our relationships as a continuous cycle of improvement and service. Needless to say, Qarar’s analytics solutions generate over one million decisions a day.
Q. How responsive is Qarar to the changing needs of its clients?
As the CEO, I feel it is vital to continually see the ‘big picture’ and respond to market changes swiftly. We pride ourselves on being very agile — that is one of Qarar’s core strengths. For example, we were quick to launch services specifically focused to help banks to prepare as much as possible for the economic storm of the past couple of years, including giving guidance on portfolio assessment services, identifying vulnerable customer segments, and running scenario analysis and a set of health maintenance services around scorecard validation, and recalibration to capture changing default trends.
Furthermore, we are acutely aware of the rapid changes in our region, such as Saudi Vision 2030, assisting lenders to capture the huge youth market, the rapid adoption of BNPL products, and ongoing migration to cloud-based software service — all of which are fantastic opportunities for Qarar to shine, and be of value to lenders. That said, we are proactively developing new products and software bundles to meet that anticipated demand across new business sectors, including insurance, telco, retail and government.
Q. How skilled is the Qarar team of experts? And how do they bring value to the company?
Although Qarar’s products and services are technology-based, human expertise, most importantly, is our crowning glory. We have a highly skilled team working diligently across several countries. Many of them have vast experience of working for banks, financial institutions, and credit bureaus. They bring many decades of know-how on how to succeed in business in the Middle East. Therefore, Qarar continues to focus on skills and ongoing training so that our clients will reap the benefits.
Besides, we have set up a fully inclusive HR strategy, including opportunities for fresh graduates, and our team grew by 25 percent this past year.
Q. Is there anything else you want us to highlight that we might have missed?
As the CEO, I spend a big part of my day reaching out to existing and new clients and supporting the company’s sales effort. When I am not talking with clients, I spend time with the management team going over their plans and challenges. We work in such a rapidly evolving industry where new technologies such as AI, machine learning, and alternative data scoring solutions are consistently presenting new and improved ways of building more powerful and predictive models. I dedicate at least 20 percent of my time reading, staying in line with market trends, and finding new partners that we can collaborate with.