In the business of consumer education
Meet the founder of Souqalmal - on a mission to make us financially savvy
People who meet or work with entrepreneur Ambareen Musa will know her as an astute businesswoman, an influential disruptor and a slick operator. They will use words like savvy and sharp to describe her. And she is all of those things - but, as Ambareen will tell you herself, her success was born from being caught out by a financial detail she missed.
Her fervent desire to help other people avoid the same trap has been the impetus behind Souqalmal.com, the business she started four-and-a-half years ago and now the UAE’s number one financial comparison website.
“The UAE is over-indebted,” said Ambareen. “And one of the reasons we are over-indebted is a lack of education and awareness about finances.
“I myself was caught out seven years ago.
“I arrived in Dubai and took a car loan. I loved the rate advertised, I took the rate but then I noticed that the payments every month were more than I had calculated.
“I consider myself financially savvy and could not understand why this was. And nobody at the bank could explain it to me either.
“Finally, after chasing the matter, I discovered that the rate I was paying was a flat rate, not a reducing rate. I nearly fell off my chair because, in the other places I have lived, we didn’t use flat rates, we used reducing rates.
“When I converted the rate to a reducing rate, it turned out I did not have a good deal at all.”
It’s her own cautionary tale that led Ambareen to create a resource that all consumers can now use to avoid such pitfalls.
Souqalmal.com is a one-stop shop for financial products from credit cards, to loans and mortgages and, more recently, insurance.
You can compare what is on offer and learn about the relative benefits and, more importantly, relative drawbacks of any given product.
And you can get advice on what you can and can’t afford, as well tricky terminology explained and jargon busted.
In fact, the advisory and educational element of the site is, according to its creator, the most significant factor in its success. “We have a lot of traffic that comes for the content,” Ambareen explains. “The education element is so important and the core business, the comparison part of the site, is run on that consumer education - it is all about transparency.
“What we have managed to grow with Souqalmal, is a completely independent, unbiased resource that allows you to know your options.”
The most recent product you will find on the platform is insurance - you can purchase it through the portal too.
It’s a sector of the business where Ambareen sees real growth potential - again, because of the lack of awareness of just how important it is to protect yourself here.
“We did a survey after one of the recent prominent residential fires,” Ambareen explains, “and despite the fire being widely reported, 70 per cent of customers told us they still were not going to get household insurance.
“There is a mindset here: I’m only here for a couple of years, I’m renting, why do I need it?
“But what people don’t realise is, if something happens in your apartment and it affects the one next to you, you are 100 per cent liable even as a tenant.”
KNOWLEDGE IS KEY
With such a strong educational ethos behind her product, it’s clear that Ambareen and her team are passionate about making a real difference as they build a profitable business.
And in a financially insecure world, knowledge can protect you.
“People have become much stronger about wanting to know and understand what they are getting,” said Ambareen.
“We see a lot more people asking for help and the biggest satisfaction is that people are understanding that they are empowered to question and empowered to demand that someone explains what you are getting into.
“There is no excuse not to take responsibility for yourself. The tools to help are accessible and we constantly tell people to question, question, question what the sales person is telling you.”
‘The education element is so important to the core business.’ Souqalmal.com founder Ambareen Musa
IN THE HOT SEAT: Souqalmal.com founder Ambareen Musa