When I first walked into City Alo, I was simply taken aback by what I was witnessing. I didn’t see any long queues or the chaos that you’d expect to see in a bank but rather a calm and relaxed environment. I didn’t see individuals rushing to fill out forms but rather I saw women sipping on Gloria Jeans coffee, having a laugh and enjoy conversations. The only difference being that, this wasn’t an ordinary day out at a coffee shop but actually banking. Yep, City Alo has ushered in a new generation of personalised banking for women.

The Gist

Coffee, conversation, banking, these are the words that City Alo’s flagship outlet lives by. About 25% of the customer base of Bangladesh’s banking sector is women and there are no separate banks for them and although City Bank’s City Alo program has been around for a while, there were never any branches dedicated to it. The market was totally untapped and this is where City Bank stepped in. “The bank took inspiration from coffee shop banking branches which are in operation abroad.

The bank’s management was intrigued by how their business model focused on making customers feel welcome and they wanted to introduce this concept in Bangladesh,” explained Mariam Javed, Head of City Alo. And thus, after months of research and preparation, City Alo was launched at the heart of Gulshan Avenue in March 2019 and it is unlike anything the capital has seen. The chic decor, the books, the casual environment would make anyone feel as if they are in a cafe. “You come to the bank, enjoy a cup of coffee, maybe even a pastry and one of our associates will come join you and take care of your banking needs in the form a delightful conversation,” Mariam stated. The best thing is, the structure of City Alo also allows it to be a co-working space so their services are not only limited to banking, people can just come here to get their work done or hold meetings. In short, it’s a networking hub. Of course men are also welcome to experience City Alo and enjoy the nuances of their services. However, they will need to be accompanied by a woman in order to do so.

The world made easier for women

City Alo offers a plethora of exciting services that have been tailored specifically to cater to the needs of women. And it is so simple to open an account! All you need is a thousand taka, a filled out form, a valid ID, a photograph of you and a nominee and voila! You are now a proud member of this amazing initiative. Their services include loans that are offered at a lower interest rate, savings account where the interest rate is adjusted daily rather than annually and specialised debit cards for women that allows them to avail cash back at various shops. They also offer free insurance to women with High Value or Savings Delight Accounts. At City Alo Center, which is located on the 1st floor of the Flagship Branch, they have a kid’s play area for the mothers who are being accompanied by their little ones. Locker facility is also available in this branch. The City Alo American Express Credit Card made its debut at City Alo last month and Bangladesh became a part of history by being the first country to introduce a American Express Credit Card made only for women. However, the feature which stood out the most for me was their goal based DPS. Now traditionally, you can only retrieve the money you have saved in this scheme after a certain period of time which is usually around five to ten years but City Alo is completely changing the game. “Our clients can withdraw the money at any period after six months but the aim of this scheme is to help them achieve their goals. Hence the name. Suppose a girl wants to go on a Euro trip on December 2020, we will help her save up according to her budget and allow her to withdraw that money before her trip. It is a tool for them to reach their dreams be it a trip or a new cell phone or even getting married!”, exclaimed Mariam.

More than just a bank

City Alo’s services go beyond the banking realms. They have a conference hall on the 1st floor of City Alo Center (Shanta Skymark, 18 Gulshan Avenue, Gulshan 1) where workshops, trainings, skill development sessions and fairs are held regularly. These sessions are related to skill development, stress management and even mental health and all women are welcome to participate. On top of that they regularly post blogs on their website which are dedicated to helping women manage their finances better their lives in general. They are also working to develop a platform where clients will be able to create profiles, share their banking experience and even provide advice to each other. City Alo also has also launched an Entrepreneurship Certification Program in collaboration with North South University where aspiring and future entrepreneurs can enroll to sharpen their skills and gain valuable insights by learning from experienced faculties and prominent individuals. “Classes are held on weekends for 10-weeks. Students have to pay only BDT 5,000 for registration whereas City Bank contributes the majority of the course fee so that women can have easy access. At the end of August 2019, 2nd batch has completed their classes. City Alo will host an exhibition on the 28th & 29th of September showcasing products and services of the women entrepreneurs who have completed this program,” added Mariam.

Irfan Aziz

Irfan Aziz is a Sub Editor of ICE Today magazine. He is a pug enthusiast who loves looking at memes, writing and sketching.