Kamal Quadir – From An Artist To A Fintech Maestro

Kamal Quadir – From An Artist To A Fintech Maestro

In Bangladesh, two decades ago, the notion of conducting financial transactions through mobile phones was considered implausible. At the time, general people were required to endure long wait times in bank or post office lines to process money transfers. However, the advent of mobile financial services (MFS) has dramatically transformed the financial landscape of the country. This transformative shift is largely credited to the visionary efforts of Kamal Quadir. Through his establishment of bKash in 2010, Mr. Quadir has effectively revolutionized the financial sector in Bangladesh, facilitating convenient money exchange for over 50 million citizens through the use of mobile devices. Mr. Quadir’s pioneering work has earned him recognition as a leading figure in the country’s finance sector.

Journey From An Artist To An Entrepreneur

Initially, Kamal Quadir aspired to pursue a career as an artist. To achieve this goal, he sat for the SAT exam and traveled to America where he received education in both art and economics at Oberlin College of Liberal Arts. After graduation, he worked at the New York Chamber of Commerce where he was responsible for collecting funds from corporations for the city’s school development programs. However, his passion for art never faded and he eventually returned to Dhaka where he held two exhibitions at the Alliance Francaise and Shilpakala Academy. At one of these exhibitions, he met the Chief Executive Officer of the Occidental Oil Company, who offered him a job.

Kamal Quadir accepted the offer and served the company for three years before leaving to start his own animation company, GlobeKids, with his elder brother, Khalid Qadeer. Under the guidance of the two brothers, 70 animators were trained and have since gone on to achieve success in various locations. However, Kamal Quadir soon realized that any business venture requires multiple sources of support to be successful and that a standalone animation venture would not be viable without the necessary backward and forward linkages, as there was no local market for this category.

With a heavy heart, Mr. Quadir returned to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States to pursue his MBA. While pursuing his studies, he also worked for a private equity firm named Insight Venture. Upon completing his MBA in August 2005, he returned to his country with the intention of serving it. He then took the initiative to utilize mobile phones as a business tool to address the market demand and supply problem, leading to the creation of Bangladesh’s first online classifieds ad platform, Cell Bazaar.

Sell Bazaar was a platform where individuals could take pictures of their products using their mobile phones and post advertisements. Interested buyers could then purchase the products through the platform. Mr. Quadir started this venture with a team of only 19 individuals and after five years, the company was fully established. In 2007, Grameenphone, and in 2010, Grameenphone’s parent company, Telenor, acquired the platform and rebranded it as Ekhanei.com.

The Rise Of Fintech Maestro

In an interview with Prothom Alo, Kamal Quadir stated that his primary objective is to simplify financial transactions for the general public of the country in order to reduce their expenses. He believes that the citizens of the country should be included in the financial sector and maintain this status. During that time, the government had made a concerted effort to digitize all processes. The digital money transfer system had started to be implemented in most countries worldwide at the end of the last decade.

In 2008 and 2009, Kamal Quadir had the opportunity to observe the process closely while he was in Kenya. During that time, Atiur Rahman became the governor of Bangladesh Bank, who expressed a commitment to serving the poor population of the country. Before that, Kamal Quadir had also spoken to BRAC’s founder, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, who provided encouragement and offered BRAC as a platform for this work. Based on his observations in Kenya, Kamal Quadir understood that the implementation of this system would require certain policies to be in place, such as ensuring the security of customer funds and clear institutional control over the flow of funds.

After these measures were taken, Bangladesh Bank decided to establish a bank as an associate company. Subsequently, a limited liability company called Money in Motion, in partnership with BRAC Bank, established a company called “bKash” and applied for a license in 2010. The name bKash was suggested by Kamal Quadir, who wanted a name with a positive connotation in Bengali, meaning “prosperity” or “progress.” One year and two months after the application, bKash was launched on July 21, 2011. Over the years, bKash has partnered with several organizations such as the World Bank Group’s IFC in 2013, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2014, and Ant Financial from Alibaba Group in 2018.

Kamal Quadir At A Glance

  • 1990 – 2004
    •  Moved to America
    • Completed BA from Oberlin College 
    • Joined New York Chamber of Commerce
    • Worked at Occidental Oil Company
    • Founded GlobeKids
    • Masters of Finance from MIT Sloan School of Management
  • 2005
    • Received MIT Ideas Award
    • Came back to Bangladesh
  • 2006
    • Established Cellbazaar, Bangladesh’s first classified ad platform
  • 2007
    • Received the “Tech Award” based on applying technology to benefit humanity 
  • 2008
    • “Cellbazaar” awarded Social & Economic Development from GSM Congress
    • Received Asia Telecom’s Innovation of the Year Award
  • 2009
    •  Recognized as the Young Global Leader from the World Economic Forum
  • 2010
    • formed “bKash” with 51% ownership of Brac & 49% owned by “Money in Motion”
  • 2011
    • Launched bKash, the country’s leading mobile financial service provider
    • Within a one-decade, the bKash user base reached 56 million. 
  • 2012
    •  Bangladesh Bank gave a license to bKash to operate as a subsidiary of Brac Bank 
  • 2015
    •  Awarded Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2015 from Schwab Foundation
  • 2016
  • 2017
    • Under his tenure bKash ranked 23rd out of the top 50 Companies in Fortune Magazine’s ‘Change the World 2017’ series.
  • 2019, 2020
    • Bkash was recognized as the best brand in Bangladesh consecutively twice in the consumer survey conducted by Bangladesh Brand Forum
    • Became the number one MFS brand Consecutively the Fourth time in the MFS category

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