Cyber Village: Collaborators in digital transformation
Cyber Village was ahead of the curve when it launched a raft of ecommerce products in the early 1990s dot com boom - perhaps even a little too far ahead at the time, admits CEO Yee Bing Shieh. When the dot com bubble burst, the company was forced to pivot its digital ecommerce technologies, a move that spurred its expansion into providing solutions for the insurance and financial services sector.
Since then, Cyber Village has grown to be a leader in what Shieh terms “digital engagement tech” for various customer transformation journeys across the ASEAN region. Shieh has helmed the company - now part of the Silverlake Axis group – for almost 15 years through waves of technological advancement, yet none as exciting as the shifts facing the business today.
Despite its current incumbent status, the pioneer spirit of Cyber Village’s dot com startup days has clearly anchored deep into the firm’s DNA: “We are very conscious of the need to change all the time,” says Shieh. For Shieh, algorithms and apps are blunt instruments without a guiding, human touch, and a collaborative vision. She sees these as catalysts for agility in Cyber Village’s digital innovation processes. “We look at digital tech as our core bread and butter, but in the end, tech can’t be an offering unless it is married to business. We work backwards with our customers through ‘design thinking’ processes; taking the business reasons and incorporating that into our tech R&D to inform the kinds of products we roll out.”
Growth in COVID-19
Has the recent pandemic changed things? COVID-19 has certainly spurred growth opportunities for digital tech companies like Cyber Village. Shieh highlights one of the company’s recent innovations, a video engagement platform: “Our Insurance clients use it to assist in their claims processing. For example, automotive workshops, property loss adjusters and insurance claims ops are able to use the platform to assess and process damage claims without face-to-face interactions.” With the pandemic, the customer mindset to digitise has increased by leaps and bounds. Cyber Village saw not only an accelerated subscription demand for its video engagement platform, but also an expansion in the range of its use cases to sales management, customer onboarding, and even to adjacent industries such as health and financial services.
With the ongoing acceleration towards digitisation, industries are also seeing a paradigm shift towards blurring of boundaries. Shieh opines that clients are moving towards what they call ‘Tech As a Business’ rather than ‘Tech As Ops’, embedding into changing digital lifestyles and social ecosystems - and at times becoming tech platform players themselves. She sees this as enriching opportunities for Cyber Village’s partnership model. “We have aggressively moved our business models and technologies to SaaS and cloud tech; we see ourselves working as digital business partners with our clients. We put our skin in the game, so to speak. This also ramps up our tech innovations with business needs and market validations.” The company’s focus on technologies and capabilities, such as micro-services, embedded plug-ins, white labels and machine learning, is “playing a big role here for our clients to move quickly, helping them create digital products and services from minimum viable products to large scale ecosystem platforms and collaborations”.
Pioneering Islamic insurance
Most recently, this philosophy has underpinned Cyber Village’s seven-year partnership with leading Islamic insurance provider PruBSN.
“PruBSN is a very positive, customer-focused organisation with clear business goals,” she says. “Having said that, they are also open to experimentation in terms of new technology, as well as how we can actually come together with them to co-create new ideas.”
The latest upshot of this collaborative approach is the launch of an industry-first Takaful Islamic peer-to-peer family insurance application to the market. Here, the PruBSN team worked closely with Cyber Village on the product, leveraging one of Cyber Village’s new tech innovations – a P2P platform, with peer group sharing features developed on a ledger architecture, complete with digital wallet capabilities.
“It's a major social innovation in terms of how it can allow the participants to join the Islamic insurance programme and actually understand what it means to have shared insurance, or mutual protection in a peer group or community, all via an end-to-end digital experience,” Shieh explains. “There are no physical, manual processes here; it's all delivered through a mobile app”.
"These are the kinds of co-creation projects that we live for. These are things that we actually look forward to because it then lifts us beyond just doing tech or delivering tech capabilities by actually becoming a digital business partner for our clients, such as PruBSN.” This collaboration is an example of how Cyber Village sees itself providing business value through its technologies. “The path becomes a more symbiotic and synergistic relationship,” Shieh concludes.
Islamic fintech Wahed plans UK expansion: Hires expert GM
Wahed Inc has hired a leading industry expert to take Islamic finance forward in the UK marketplace.
Umer Suleman has been appointed as General Manager of UK operations for Wahed Inc.. His role will include overseeing Wahed Invest’s nationwide growth strategy and strengthening the firm’s position as a leading provider of ethically focused investment services.
Suleman’s track record includes over 15 years of regulatory, risk, and strategy consultancy roles, as well as advisory positions across a variety of businesses and sectors including positions at UKIFC, Daiwa Capital Management, and Ernst & Young (EY).
He also spent seven years at HSBC as Head of KYC Risk globally within their Global Banking and Markets business, Head of Business and Conduct Risk for MENA within Retail Banking, and headed up the CCO function for Digital (GLCM) within the UK with a global remit.
Wahed and the growing role of Islamic finance
The startup fintech was founded in 2017 and is an American company based in New York City. Since its inception, it has grown from strength to strength and in July 2019, launched the first exchange-traded fund in the US that was compliant with Sharia law.
Islamic finance typically refers to the way businesses and individuals raise capital in accordance with Sharia, or Islamic law. It also refers to the types of investments that are permissible under Islam.
Wahed currently operates in 130 countries and has offices in Washington D.C, New York, London and Dubai. It has also developed an easily accessible digital platform that balances ethical finance with modern investments, attracting over 200,000 active clients from around the world with features such as free portfolio recommendations and no hidden fees.
Wahed UK expansion plans
According to reports, the UK is highly receptive to services in the Islamic finance sector and is also one of the fastest-growing markets globally. It has a three million-strong Muslim population and one of the most developed Islamic finance sectors outside of the traditional Muslim regions, with global population figures projected to double over the next forty years.
It is hoped Suleman’s leadership of Wahed will address the underbanked needs of the Muslim community while also serving the increasing number of retail investors currently seeking ethical alternatives to wealth creation.
Speaking about the new role, Wahed CEO, Junaid Wahedna, explained “Mr. Suleman’s appointment reaffirms our commitment to providing innovative and outstanding ethically driven financial services to a market that, historically, has been underserved.
“We’re delighted to welcome Umer to the team and firmly believe that with him at the helm, our operations in the UK will continue to go from strength to strength and provide customers seeking ethical investments with accessible, trustworthy and innovative solutions.”
The appointment follows on from Wahed’s recent investment round and its acquisition of the UK-based fintech Niyah.
These events will support the company in its plans to build an Islamic marketplace that meets growing demand for socially conscious investors – and not just those of Islamic faith.
The fintech firm also plans to utilise the UK’s position as a leading hub for Islamic finance as a springboard into other European cities, and believes it has a central role to play in providing Shariah-compliant services that address inclusion and inequality.
The Islamic finance industry is currently valued at around US$2.4trn and is expected to grow steadily by 10-12% over 2021 and 2022, having experienced rapid growth in recent years.
THREE reasons why Islamic finance is a growing sector
- The UK Muslim population is growing - and has been traditionally underserved by incumbent banks. The Muslim population is growing twice as fast the world’s non-Muslim population and Islamic finance address this group’s needfor Shariah compliant financial products.
- It encourages financial inclusion. According to the World Bank, financial inclusion is defined as individuals and businesses having access to useful and affordable financial products and services that meet their needs – transactions, payments, savings, credit and insurance – delivered in a responsible and sustainable way.
- It supports Sharia compliant products. Transactions that work with industries forbidden in Islam (gambling, usury and speculation) are forbidden. Islamic banking only works with businesses that adhere to their ethical and moral standards.
Image credit: Wahed Inc team