Who watches out for Pakistan’s poor? National Savings

A graduate of the Institute of Business Administration (IBA), Karachi,  Zafar Masud has held top positions throughout his career. His most recent appointment was as Director General of National Savings, an institution whose legacy dates back over decades.

Today, National Savings has a portfolio of over Rs3.6 trillion, with more than seven million accounts and certificates. It focuses on financial inclusion of people from lower to middle income backgrounds – segments that most other financial and savings institutions seem to completely bypass.

National Savings, which falls under the Ministry of Finance of the Government of Pakistan, has 376 branches across Pakistan. Its most popular products are prize bonds that take up 26% of their portfolio and long-term saving certificates, among them the Behbood Saving Certificates a source of income for many senior citizens.

In the past two years, during Masud’s tenure, which was from August 2016 –  2018, a number of new certificates have been launched. This includes certificates for people with disabilities and the Shuhada Family Welfare Account designed to promise financial security to families of people killed in terrorist attacks.  In addition, high-valued saving certificates for Overseas Pakistanis and Shariah compliant savings accounts have also started.

Among the first things that Masud did when he came into office was to get all employees on Whatsapp groups. This instantly made him reachable to anyone and everyone who may have earlier feared to approach the Director General and made them tech savvy, connecting them to the future National Savings plans to take – as a digitised institution. An app was also launched earlier this year called the ‘Qaumi Bachat Digital’ that allows consumers to check on prize bonds and account balances on their phone.

Masud is best described as a career banker. His first job was with American Express, a prestigious organisation to work with right out of university. It was this job that gave him the rigorous values of banking and where he worked for four and a half years. His longest association was with the Citibank in Pakistan where as the Head of Islamabad Operations he spearheaded the launch of the inaugural Sovereign Islamic Sukuk bond for the Government of Pakistan.  After Citibank, he joined the Dubai Islamic Bank as part of its inaugural team that started the UAE-based bank in Pakistan. Working between Karachi and Dubai, he set up the corporate investment banking business at Dubai Islamic. The team managed to breakeven in 18 months.

In 2007, he got an offer from Barclays Bank to head its operations in Zambia. This was a good opportunity in many ways for him. “It gave me the opportunity to work on the ground in another territory. Africa is a growing market and above all, it was a CEO job,” he recalls.

Soon after he started working in Zambia, there was restructuring at the bank and he was made the regional head, now having the responsibility of Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. This was a crucial position; the three countries combined had a $3 billion balance sheet and $120 million in net profit after tax.

Following this, Masud along with his former boss and colleagues in CitiBank and Dubai Islamic setup Burj Capital that worked well on both the private equity and investment banking side. Burj was part of some important projects. They were responsible for what was Pakistan’s largest private sector restructuring of Dewan group at $500 million. Burj also launched Mobilink’s first-ever service based tijara, a sukuk bond with the support of GuarantCo of UK. Sukuk bonds are financial certificates that are compliant with Sharia regulations. In 2015, Burj Capital Projects were sold off to be part of the Abraaj group, among Middle East’s biggest private equity firms at the time.

There are also other personal achievements of note. In 2013, Masud was appointed on the board of the State Bank of Pakistan, where he was the youngest member.  He has also served on the board of the Oil and Gas Development Corporation Limited (OGDCL) – the largest public listed entity in Pakistan – and remains chairperson of OGDCL’s Human Resources Sub-Committee.

What you will hear in this interview, then, is insight from a well-rounded professional whose journey may be inspiring for both young and old. Watch it to restore your faith in the public sector and learn more about the legacy of National Savings (00:01), how digitization of its various branches was carried out (02:07), why Pakistanis just don’t save enough (02:44), what products are available to help financially vulnerable groups (04:36), and what Pakistan needs to change (05:52).

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