Women are traditionally and culturally undervalued in our economy. They always face difficulties when it comes to access to financing, which is vital to entrepreneurship. Now-a-days women are becoming more enterprising and risk takers and are able to manage their own business. If provided with easy and smooth financing support and guidance, Bangladeshi women can fulfill their entrepreneurial dreams and become successful in business frontiers. TARA is a segment of BRAC Bank that seeks to address the financing issue affairs and enhance the role of women in our society and economy. Through its efforts, TARA has been continuously empowering women by helping them realize their true potential and ICE Today had the pleasure of conversing with one of the instrumental figures who is in the forefront of this inspiring initiative, Mehruba Reza, Vice President of BRAC Bank, who looks after the bank’s women banking segment. She gave us an insight on her journey and the feats she has achieved with TARA.

The desire to grow and let others grow

Mehruba Reza, Head of BRAC Bank’s Women’s Banking Proposition

Mehruba was always keen on pursuing a career in banking. It was her father who encouraged her and the prospect of door-to-door banking greatly excited her. So after graduating from North South University, she immediately began her career as a banker. Mehruba spent five years in HSBC and then in Standard Chartered Bank where she was one of the youngest and fastest employees to achieve growth in her career. However, Mehruba wanted more than just accolades in her career. She wanted her passion to bring about a positive impact into the society. So, when she was approached by BRAC Bank to spearhead TARA initiative, she had very little doubt on what the next step of her career was going to be. “I had a vision of doing something that will empower women and I felt that TARA would provide me with the opportunity to do exactly that. After learning all about the design proposition of the product, I was really interested in playing a major role in it,” Mehruba explained. It wasn’t an easy process but then again building something great never is.

For women entrepreneurs,
under TARA Propsition women clients can avail loan facility free of collateral upto 50 lacs without any processing free only at 9% rate.

TARA started as a female employee forum at BRAC Bank, which employs the largest number of female staff among the private commercial banks in the country. Female employees of BRAC Bank were the first individuals who got to experience the benefits of TARA and their feedbacks were used to improve the final product before launch. “Our employees got familiarized with all the little details when it comes to dealing with women customers. We wanted to focus more on providing quality service rather than the product we had,” she stated. Thus began the journey of TARA. Today, each of BRAC Bank’s 187 branches have dedicated TARA desk.

Touching lives all across the country

BRAC Bank is the first bank in Bangladesh to launch the most comprehensive women’s banking solutions providing financial needs of individual and business women with tailor-made solutions.

TARA’s goal is to empower women with better savings plans and easy lending access. It guides women to plan their financing better, achieve economic freedom and eventually, reach their goals. TARA is not merely a financial product – rather, it is a solution to realize the potential of every woman.

The 360-degree proposition also features trainings and workshops for professional competency development and capacity building of its women customers. The customers also avail privileges and loyalty benefits with TARA partners including TARA-Tonic and Telenor Health.

TARA offers special saving schemes and loan products with favorable and incomparable interest rates, facilities exclusively for women. Not only that but all of their loans have a 50% less processing fee than any other products. On top of that, customers can avail a platinum credit card with an unmatched minimum salary of only BDT 20,000 at an annual card fee that is the lowest in the industry. Customers are also entitled to 12 months of free health insurance with each TARA loan. For women entrepreneurs, under TARA Proposition women clients can avail loan facility free of collateral upto 50 lacs without any processing fee only at 9% rate, also they have recently started financing women clients who are doing business through Facebook Page can also avail financing under BRAC Bank TARA. BRAC has also partnered with training institutes and various International Associations to provide Entrepreneur Development training and at the same time financing. BRAC Bank will be holding a large Women SME Loan portfolio with a base of 3,000+ Women Entrepreneurs.

But TARA goes beyond just making banking easier for women. They partnered up with Yamaha to provide motorbike riding training to customers applying for motorbike loans. They also conduct various workshops that cover topics ranging from business to health to even parenting. In addition to that they have also collaborated with Metlife insurance to provide health cards to elderly customers. “Often times, it is seen that the medical needs of older women are neglected. We wanted to address that and propose a solution that ensures that women are receiving the proper care that they rightly deserve. These health cards cover a wide range of hospitals across countries like India, Singapore and Thailand,” Mehruba added. In short, TARA goes above and beyond to ensure that women across Bangladesh are being empowered. “You will notice how TARA doesn’t have any separate/flagship branch. We didn’t want to isolate it and create an impression that women can’t blend in with the rest of the society and need special treatment. Obviously they enjoy certain perks through TARA but the main aim was to cater to the needs of women and show that given the same opportunities, women can do just as men in our society do,” she said.

The next generation of banking

Mehruba explained how women’s banking is one of the potential sectors that will flourish exponentially. She stated how TARA currently manages the largest female portfolio in the country and how it keeps growing at a staggering rate. “Now-a-days you will hardly find a household where the wife doesn’t work. Women are contributing more to our economy and banking is one of the best indicators of that,” she added.

TARA leaves no stone unturned when it comes to helping women settle into their growing roles. BRAC Bank is the country’s first bank to initiate a partnership with the Financial Alliance for women to allow their customers to gain access to international expertise and opportunities as well.

As Bangladesh graduates to become a middle income country from least developed country (LDC), BRAC Bank’s TARA will play a facilitating role in bringing women within the mainstream financial system and work towards their economic emancipation.
TARA in essence, embodies women banking and the fact that a handful of competing banks are preparing to launch their own segments in 2020 following TARA’s success is testament to how they have ushered in a new era of banking in Bangladesh.

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