EY - Exceptional, February - June 2016

Growth Driver: Customer

Bulent Tekmen, Ininal: Banking for the unbanked

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With Ininal, Bulent Tekmen has found a way of giving people without bank accounts access to financial services. Keeping customers satisfied is at the heart of the company’s growth.

After graduating from Yıldız Technical University with a degree in Industrial Engineering in 1997, Bulent Tekmen started as a consultant in a technology services company in Turkey before deciding to “do my own thing.” In the following years, he cofounded several start–ups.

While on a business trip in the US, he wanted to use a debit card but didn’t have a US bank account. Then he discovered the prepaid cards that were widely used across the country and realized that this form of payment would be useful to some 430 million people who lived in Turkey and the wider Middle East and North Africa region — many of whom did not use banks. He received capital from angel investors in Turkey and launched Ininal in 2012.

What inspired you to set up Ininal?

Given the large numbers of unbanked people and businesses in the region, we hoped that Ininal would become the preferred banking platform for mobile wallet solutions. We believe everything can be digitized, but digitizing money through the banking system is hard and expensive. So we were confident that we could create a better, secure and convenient way.

What have you learned from interactions with your customers?

The biggest lesson from our customers was that if you are transparent with them, they will support you. At Ininal, our customer services stayed open 24/7 and will always be open. To become a trusted partner, we must be very clear about our services and how they work. Customers expect open platforms on which they can provide their feedback, and the efficiency of these platforms will have a key impact on the success of financial services providers in the future.

Why was putting the needs and desires of your customers first so important in unlocking growth?

We believe that the most reliable route to success is to convince people through your users. If you make something that users love enough to tell their friends about, you will grow exponentially, and that will convince any investor. To do this, however, you need to understand the customers’ ever–changing behavior and needs and accustom yourself to these so that you can succeed in the market. For Ininal, this means that the customer experience simply must be embedded into our operations.

What challenges did you encounter as you tried to grow the company?

The biggest was regulation. Ininal needed a payment systems and electronic money license from the Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency of Turkey. As a financial services provider, we need to build our business around a very strong frame that combines regulatory compliance, technology and operations. Fraud prevention is also among the key priorities in this business.

We established our own IT infrastructure that was compliant with Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS) by migrating some services from MasterCard to the Ininal infrastructure in order to gain speed and elasticity for further product development and new business lines. We are only the fifth PCI DSS–certified service provider in Turkey.

What other factors have been key to Ininal’s growth?

We wanted to provide simple financial products to unbanked and underbanked customers by leveraging physical retail networks and technology. So far, we have enjoyed strong and sustainable growth.
We have also built a strong network among merchants, retailers, consumers and traditional financial services providers. The Ininal physical card is now being sold and topped up at 15,000 locations — 10 times more than the number of branches run by the biggest bank in Turkey — while our virtual card can be downloaded from the Ininal wallet application and used across borders.

Finally, we have made significant investments in infrastructure, as well as regulatory compliance and new products, to produce the building blocks that enable us to dominate the Turkish prepaid card market.

What will be the next step in Ininal’s development?

We are expanding our marketing efforts and increasing the number of users: Ininal is still growing virally. Starting with all the big players as preferred merchants, we hope the network–effect business model will drive growth.

Then there is the issue of increasing online spending and the Ininal merchant ecosystem: our merchant commissions will grow as the number of online shoppers grows — indeed, it is thought that the growth in online shopping will outperform internet usage growth in the coming years.