An idea that was practically unheard of in Bangladesh, City Alo has hit the ground running with their women friendly financial services like the life insurance that comes with their accounts, the low paperwork and high returns savings accounts they get, the business courses they get at a top business school in Dhaka at a nominal cost and a host of other benefits. We spoke to Mariam Juhi, heading City Alo to find out their plans behind the conception of this novel idea and how this helps women run their own businesses to climb up the ladder in what is essentially, a man’s domain.
City Alo being something of an unprecedented move in a country like Bangladesh, we wondered if the founders had something specific in mind before opting for a service solely for women. “The project started in 2017 when we found out that there is a wholly untapped segment- womens’ banking- in a country where the women population holds a 50% share of the population. Not only that, but women can be credited for a huge chunk of the GDP of this country, and City Bank wanted to be a part of that. We at City Alo target four segments of the women market- the entrepreneurs, the housewives, the students and the professionals.”
City Alo is a brainchild of the The City Bank Ltd that caters solely to women.
One can only wonder what new services were being thought of by the City Alo team for the women’s market. “We consider ourselves to still be in the launching stage as it has only been 9 months to our launch in March. We launched with our non financial services and a first of its kind coffee shop branch in Bangladesh. We wanted the coffee shop branch for the women because we felt that women are somewhat hesitant to go into regular branches due to the number of men who go and also sometimes due to lack of time. We designed the branch in a way that women can come here, let their hair down, enjoy a cup of coffee and do their banking.”
Especially for the female entrepreneurs, City Alo seems to have understood their problem. Women are doing business but they are not doing it in an organized way. That confidence level is not there yet. Of course it was only a matter of time before that confidence came too and in a quest to propel it further, City Alo introduced classes at North South University on how to run businesses in an organized manner at a very nominal cost. “Our classes are offered at Tk20,000, out of which Tk15000 is paid by the City Bank and the rest Tk5000 is paid by the interested student. They learn how to complete their VAT registration, how to get their trade license, etc. Other than that, a lot of savings schemes are in place for service holders because we know that women have a tendency to save for their families and children. We also have SME banking for women in rural areas or smaller cities where they can open City Alo accounts with only 500tk deposits. This is because we do not want to limit our reach to Dhaka but take it deeper into the country too.”
Mariam stated that women even until 5 years ago were only going for home boutique work but recently the diversification is tremendous. She added that they have niche for catering, farming or even doing agro-business. “Some produce homemade skin care products, water purifiers and sound systems- you name it and there is a woman out there doing it. Nothing is male territory anymore. Women are coming up with amazing ideas. In fact we have launched City Alo because these women are doing such great work. They are already doing it- we only wish to be part of their journey.” Juhi shares that women loan holders have 0% default rate- this is how serious they are with their payments. The graph for e-commerce, thanks to women is rising steeply.
WE LAUNCHED WITH OUR NON FINANCIAL SERVICES AND A FIRST OF ITS KIND COFFEE SHOP BRANCH IN BANGLADESH. WE WANTED THE COFFEE SHOP BRANCH FOR THE WOMEN BECAUSE WE FELT THAT WOMEN ARE SOMEWHAT HESITANT TO GO INTO REGULAR BRANCHES DUE TO THE NUMBER OF MEN WHO GO AND ALSO SOMETIMES DUE TO LACK OF TIME.
The entrepreneurial system is still 80-20, leaning towards males. With the way the women are coming up, how long do the market experts feel before women will hold 50% of the statistic? A proud Juhi remarks- “It’s difficult to say but the next 10 years will definitely change the scenario. We are very confident.”
When asked about the impact of City Alo entrepreneurial course at North South University she replied by saying “We recently did an impact survey for the students who started the course in January of this year. Everyone was so positive of their business, their confidence had bloomed, the risk-taking ability had soared. A girl who used to cook two items and sell from her home is now selling twelve. None of them have stopped. If anything, they have diversified, they have created their own brands. They have become more realistic. We also help them gain momentum by putting their wares up on our social media page, or through fairs we hold here at our venue where these women get to know each other and buy and sell among themselves.”
It’s important to boost women up. It doesn’t take much. The talent is there, so is the ability. All that City Alo does is give them some awareness from their page. They host some awareness events at their office that can take up to a 100 guests. It gives them a place to speak, a chance to be heard. It gives them a women’s only queue at the banking lines at all City Alo service points. It gives them some relaxation and some pampering at their outlet here. A little bit of preference and a little bit of convenience is what gives them wings. And that’s all there really is behind the idea of City Alo and the fast rising graph that marks the boom of women’s entrepreneurial boom in this country.