Empowering millions in digital transactions

bKash chief executive Kamal QuadirSazid Hossain

Kamal Quadir has transformed the mobile financial service (MFS) provider ’bKash’ into a leading corporate organisation in just a decade. bKash and Kamal Quadir have become complementary to each other over time. The journey of the MFS sector and bKash has been parallel. As a result, ‘send me money’ has become ‘bKash me’ to the masses.

His journey as an entrepreneur wasn't easy. According to Kamal Quadir, his life is an open book like any youth or middle-aged person of the post-independence generation. He has learned by making mistakes, taking initiatives and risks in every chapter of his life, becoming enriched with experience.

Kamal Quadir’s story of becoming an entrepreneur is similar to any individual who started business in the post-independence period. They each flourished in their own unique way. Although he lost his father in his childhood, the philosophy left behind by his father as an active lawyer in Bangladesh’s freedom movement of the 60s inspired him. He grew up with the ambition to do something in an independent nation. So he came back to the country for his first solo painting exhibition after studying art and economics abroad.

Working as a senior official at an international energy company presented him with the opportunity to observe the country's economy closely. After that, he took the initiative of building an animation studio with his elder brother. Unsuccessful in that venture, he went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for higher studies. Then he again returned to Bangladesh to start a business from scratch.

Kamal Quadir says, he received proper guidance from the right mentors in every step of his journey. He was aware of the importance of corporate governance from his experience of working with corporates in the US. Returning to Bangladesh, he launched a platform named ‘Cell Bazaar’ – a mobile-based digital marketplace – to buy and sell goods online. Besides getting introduced to a diverse work environment on this new journey, he encountered different types of people, risk management, digitalisation, and constant innovation.

While operating Cell Bazaar, Kamal Quadir realised that adequate means of digital payment was missing. The MFS sector had just started in Kenya back then. He went there to gain first-hand understanding about the emerging industry. Prior to that, he spoke about it with Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, the founder of BRAC. Sir Fazle encouraged him to use BRAC as a platform. By then, the vision from the government on how to build a digital Bangladesh also started becoming clearer.

bKash started its journey in 2011 after getting a licence from Bangladesh Bank in 2010. Since its inception, bKash has introduced the very idea of mobile financial services (MFS) to the people of Bangladesh. In this journey of a decade, more than 56 million users have joined the bKash family.

bKash at a glance

License received: 12 April 2010

Commencement of service: 21 July 2011

Employees: 2000+

Number of Accounts (personal)

2019: Around 38 million

2020: 50 million

2021: 56 million (till September 2021)

Number of Merchant Accounts

2019: 100 thousand

2020: 180 thousand

2021: 265 thousand

Peak transaction hours in the day:

6 PM to 8 PM

Transaction Hotspots (District)

Dhaka, Chittagong, Rangpur

The journey of a decade that started with essential services like ‘Send Money’, ‘Cash Out’, and ‘Cash In’ has now been enriched with new services like Mobile Recharge, Payment, bank to bKash money transfer (Add Money, Transfer Money), disbursements of banks’ digital micro-loan, remittance, payment of utility bills, and monthly Savings schemes of financial organization. bKash is continuously widening its capability by using technological innovation and creativity to diversify and expand its services. Even though 29 MFS providers were given licenses to operate in the last ten years, bKash still leads the way in both quality and availability.

What is the secret of this success? “First of all, there was a clear vision from the government on financial inclusion. There was political foresight to bring everything under digitalization as well. Then comes the crucial role of the central bank. The process has become much easier as Bangladesh Bank has continuously developed and expanded the necessary policy framework,” said Kamal Quadir.

The continuity of private sector initiatives often gets stifled due to the sporadic interventions, and control, enforced by various government entities. But according to Kamal Quadir, the role of the central bank was always positive regarding MFS. He added, “It was also essential for us to adopt innovation and accept advice with a positive mindset.”

Kamal Quadir thinks that even after a decade of bKash, it is still at the midway point of its journey. There is still a long way to go. There are still a lot more services to provide. He feels that focusing on one thing at a time rather than trying to do many things at once will bring better results.

bKash’s Board of Directors has representation from many countries including Bangladesh, the USA and China. Local and international organizations such as BRAC Bank, Money in Motion LLC, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, IFC of World Bank, and Ant Group (formerly ‘Ant Financial’) of Alibaba group are connected with bKash through strategic partnerships. They have not only contributed with investment but also new strategy and technology to help bKash grow further.

Kamal Quadir has immense trust in the talent of Bangladesh. It is this belief that has led him to consistently recruit local technologists and professionals in the company. A recent study by the international market research organization Nielsen shows that bKash has emerged as the number 1 ‘Employer of Choice’ among university students of Bangladesh. In terms of success, bKash is well ahead of the other MFS providers in the country. According to Kamal Quadir, focus on a single business type is one of the biggest strengths of bKash. From the very inception, bKash’s sole objective has been to provide mobile financial services. In addition, other factors that helped bKash grow exponentially include proper and long-term investment, building a country-wide robust agent network, ensuring quality customer service, maintaining compliance with regulatory bodies, practicing accountability, and proper utilization of human resources and technology.

In any industry, the leading player usually tends to leverage its dominant position in its favor. As a result, there can be concerns that the competitive environment in the market may be hampered. Kamal Quadir says, they are aware of this. They never engage in any initiative that might create an unfair competitive space for others. As an example, he says, bKash has created an agent network for MFS, and trained hundreds of thousands of agents. Yet, bKash has kept their agent network open. As a result of such a readymade network, competitors can also work with those bKash agents.

How will bKash look like in the future? Kamal Quadir says, emphasis must be put on the foundation of the present and the needs of the future along with the initiatives that are yet to been taken. A research cell in bKash is currently working to find out future possibilities. Kamal wants bKash to cater it services to the people who still don't have access to the most necessary services. People from anywhere in the country can now find a bKash agent within walking distance. He aspires to make bKash a platform for all types of transactions in the future. He wants to expand the bridge between banks and service receivers, something that his team has already started working on.

Kamal Quadir thinks that even after a decade of bKash, it is still at the midway point of its journey. There is still a long way to go. There are still a lot more services to provide. He feels that focusing on one thing at a time rather than trying to do many things at once will bring better results. Kamal wishes to continue working on the growth of bKash, and take it even further to the fields, villages, cities and bazaars of Bangladesh. He is happy with the life he leads. He is interested in working on the environment in the future.

My intuition says, success will surely follow any path Kamal Quadir takes.

Khondaker Golam Moazzem, Research Director, Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD)