Neem Launches Payment Infrastructure for Businesses: Is Fintech’s Promise Within Reach?

Neem, a prominent fintech and embedded finance platform in Pakistan, has launched a comprehensive payments infrastructure aimed at empowering digital enterprises and brands in the country. This initiative is designed to provide digital platforms with the tools they need to offer customized financial services to their customers.

The development of this infrastructure follows Neem’s recent announcement of a $1 million strategic investment partnership with the South African enterprise DNI Group. This partnership is focused on promoting comprehensive financial well-being among underserved communities and businesses across emerging markets.

Neem’s co-founders, Nadeem Shaikh and Naeem Zamindar, have expressed their goal to address the existing financial wellness gap in Pakistan by enabling digital businesses to harness the capabilities of embedded finance. This approach aims to streamline financial services and make them accessible through a single platform, simplifying banking and financial transactions for businesses and consumers alike.

Embedded finance is a growing trend globally, where non-financial companies integrate financial services into their offerings, creating a seamless and convenient experience for their customers. Neem’s initiative appears to be in line with this trend, as they work to enhance financial accessibility and services in Pakistan.

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He emphasized that Neem’s payment infrastructure empowers businesses and platforms to reach underserved communities, innovate revenue streams centered on financial services, and streamline operational costs.

Neem’s embedded payments solution, developed in collaboration with financial industry leaders like BPC, Mastercard, Idemia, Unikrew, PayFast, and JS Bank, now serves a diverse range of sectors, including agriculture, utilities, e-commerce, MSMEs, and gaming. This solution has the potential to enhance financial well-being for approximately 120 million underserved Pakistanis, as stated in Neem’s press release.

Neem’s Banking-as-a-Service (BaaS) solution enables digital platforms to seamlessly integrate financial services such as accounts, cards, payment gateways, and more through APIs and SDKs. Neem takes on the complexities of compliance and partnerships, allowing digital businesses to prioritize their customers.

In the past decade, Pakistan has undergone a substantial digital transformation across various sectors, including retail, logistics, agriculture, mobility, and more. This digitization trend continues to gain momentum, with new digital enterprises emerging daily. However, Pakistan’s payment landscape remains fragmented.

Over recent years, the digitization of businesses in Pakistan has surged, primarily driven by technology adoption and the cost-effectiveness of digital operations compared to traditional brick-and-mortar setups. Despite this progress, digital businesses in Pakistan face significant challenges and costs in providing financial services to their users. This is largely due to the fragmented nature of the payment system, particularly in revenue collection.

Established in 2019 by Naeem Zamindar, Vladimira Briestenska, and Nadeem Shaikh, Neem has cumulatively raised $3.5 million since its inception.

Vladimira Briestenska, co-founder of Neem, highlighted that the existing infrastructure requires digital businesses to become payment experts, diverting their focus from their core operations. Many digital businesses also lack embedded solutions for payment collection and disbursement. This often leads to a suboptimal user experience where users must leave the platform to make payments through third-party services. Such practices result in poor user experiences, abandoned transactions, reconciliation challenges across multiple payment methods, integration and maintenance costs for multiple solutions, and higher overall business expenses.

Digital businesses in Pakistan have the potential to expand their user bases, reduce operational costs, and increase revenue by offering and monetizing financial services. Realizing this potential requires a plug-and-play embedded payments solution that benefits both financially underserved communities and digital businesses in Pakistan, creating a win-win scenario for all stakeholders involved.

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As part of its embedded payments services, Neem has introduced a unique feature known as Neem ID. This feature provides users on any digital platform with exclusive access to the Neem ecosystem, enabling them to establish or connect their bank accounts, wallets, and cards. This integration results in a more seamless payment experience across multiple digital businesses.

Once a customer creates a Neem ID with one digital platform, they can utilize this same ID with other digital businesses within the Neem ecosystem. Vladimira emphasized that Neem places a strong emphasis on security, with PCI DSS compliance, multi-layer firewalls, Auth 2.0 tokenization, and third-party penetration testing certification, all of which ensure the safeguarding of user data.

In response to the global fintech downturn, Neem has adapted to the changing landscape. Fintech companies worldwide have faced challenges due to rising global interest rates and limited product offerings, especially when compared to traditional financial institutions that generate income from various sources such as deposits, insurance, credit cards, and mortgages.

According to S&P Global Market Intelligence, global venture funding for fintech companies decreased significantly, falling by over half to $23 billion during the first half of 2023, compared to $49 billion during the same period in 2022. The decline in deal count was even more substantial, with a 64% decrease. The situation was further exacerbated by the mid-March collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, resulting in only 522 funding rounds in Q2 2023, marking it as the slowest quarter in over 2.5 years.

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Although the number of deals continues to decrease, there has been a rebound in the total investment value during Q2 2023. This resurgence can be largely attributed to venture capitalists expressing increased confidence in emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence, which contribute significantly to the overall ecosystem’s value.

Pakistan’s startup funding experienced its most challenging quarter from April to June 2023 since the first quarter of 2020, with just $5.2 million raised. Additionally, fintech funding has witnessed a substantial decline of nearly 90 percent, dropping from $89 million in January to September 2022 to a mere $13 million during the same period in 2023.

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The era of abundant low-interest money from the last decade and the recent period of the pandemic has come to a close, with record-high interest rates and indications from the Federal Reserve that this situation may persist longer than anticipated. Experts have wasted no time in emphasizing that the more pressing challenge for fintech companies to address is not just funding but the limited range of services and revenue streams they offer.

Both globally and locally, fintech firms must swiftly adapt to these changing circumstances by re-establishing technology as the core of their operations and diversifying their product offerings to prosper. The positive aspect for fintech companies is that their demand and value propositions remain robust. In fact, fintech can be considered one of the most essential sectors, second only to artificial intelligence, due to its extensive applications across almost all other industries.

The future of fintech lies in the integration of financial services into websites and applications that are not traditionally associated with financial activities. This concept is at the heart of all-embedded finance. For example, users can utilize their ride-sharing app not only for transportation but also for hassle-free in-app financial transactions, such as deposits and withdrawals of their earnings.

E-learning platforms can expand their services to include convenient payment options for courses, educational financing, and child savings accounts. Similarly, marketplace apps can provide secure payment processing, escrow services, and seller financing, transforming into comprehensive platforms for buying and selling. This not only generates additional revenue streams for fintech companies but also extends access to tailored financial services, ultimately contributing to financial inclusion.

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Vladimira explained, “We’re building Neem with a deep understanding of the financial services sector, taking into account the unique dynamics of emerging markets and their macroeconomics. Consequently, our revenue model is multifaceted.”

When asked to elaborate on Neem’s sources of revenue, she mentioned several components. These include interchange fees, float income, and a percentage of payment transaction fees. She further noted that they generate revenue through platform-related sources, which encompass subscription fees and integration charges. Additionally, they earn a share of revenue through partnerships with specialized fintech firms, particularly those in lending, insurance, and other financial services.

Discussing the expected applications of Neem’s offerings in digital businesses, she mentioned that they have successfully completed pilot programs and are now in the final stages of launching with multiple businesses. She indicated that more details about these partnerships and implementations will be unveiled in due course.

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