Q&A with Mr. Ali Hussain Muneam CEO of the ISC Group

International Smart Card Group (ISC), initially an electronic payments system for Iraq’s government benefits, has evolved to serve a significant portion of the population, offering digital banking, payroll services and access to loans. By spearheading a drive towards financial inclusion, ISC is reshaping Iraq’s economic landscape.

Our interview with ISC’s CEO, Ali Hussain Muneam, explores this Baghdad-based company’s mission, challenges, and the wider impact of this financial revolution.

Could you please give us an overview of ISC, your clients and the services you offer?

Bahaa Abdul Hadi is the founder and chairman of International Smart Card Group of companies (ISC Group). He has innovated the widely successful QICARD payment scheme and has initiated several other social initiatives to serve all segments of society in Iraq.

ISC, a Semi-government Company started in 2007 (joint venture between the Private and Government sector), is represented by a privately held company (Iraqi Systems for modern technology LLC) and the government sector, represented by the two largest government banks in Iraq, Rafidain and Rasheed Banks. As the leading and premier Fin-Tech company in Iraq, ISC transformed the Iraqi market by providing simple, easy, affordable and efficient means of Financial inclusion, especially through the leading local scheme account and card brand Qi (pronounced “Key”). ISC contributed immensely to financial inclusion in Iraq by enrolling 9M+ citizens, opening their accounts and issuing cards, thus transforming the country from a mere 5% banked to a 34%+ banked population.

Today ISC has more than 1,200 employees who are trained to provide network and channel support, customer service, and to run smooth operations throughout the country. ISC is managed by a Local and International team of dedicated professionals specialising in Banking & Finance, Management and Technology.

Our flagship product is QI Card which is a local payment scheme that uses biometrics as a verification method and is equipped with a cutting-edge multi-biometric deduplication engine with an AI based verification system. It is a smoother, instant enrolment and verification process.Its multi-biometric deduplication engine eliminates ghost entries and prevents identity theft.

In addition to being a local scheme, the QI Card is compatible with international payment schemes like MasterCard and Visa. Our state-of-the art technology allows us to issue a new Qi card to any customer.
The QICARD eco-system has several components to enable businesses and provides value-added services for consumers, merchants and companies, such as

  • Aqsati (Buy Now Pay Later): to facilitate merchant-funded loans
  • Fawri (Loan Management System): to facilitate instant loans, personal loans and other cash loans
  • Payroll System: to calculate and process salaries and cash disbursement through a secure automated process
  • Tasdeed: bill & fine collection services to enable Government & Private institutions to collect their dues & bills
  • Acquiring Omni-Channel to enable merchants in Iraq to accept payments using different channels (POS, QR , Web sites and Biometric payment)
  • Digital Mobile Banking: QICARD digital banking app has more than 4 million active users and provides all kinds of Account Management, Funds Transfer, Bill Payments, Alerts and Notifications , Merchants Locator, Loan and Credit Management and other lifestyle services such as prepaid cards and airtime top-up)

In such a competitive industry, what steps has ISC taken to set itself apart from your competition? What is, essentially, your unique selling point?

The main USP and competitive advantage for ISC is the Biometric technologies and remote biometric verification and authentication that provides enhanced security, convenience, and efficiency.
More specifically, we are enabling Iraqi nationals in a new way, by helping them access the formal banking system in a secure manner.

Iraq is an emerging market where over 70% of the adult population is unbanked. The government is trying to comply with international regulations, creating better transparency and eliminating a lot of overheads from fraudulent/ghost employees and preventing identity theft that used to be common before QICARD technologies.

Given this evidence, the introduction of biometric cards (QICARD) gave the citizens a sense of comfort and security, and in addition, gave them nationwide access to formal financial networks. 10 million+ cards issued and a network of 30,000+ point of sale terminals.

Our technology has helped the government bank to distribute a small-loan scheme (Health, Education) by disbursing over USD 4 billion USD and enabling loan submission via QICARD mobile application with biometric verification to verify the identity of the applicant, benefiting 1,000,000 customers.

Our ‘Qi Aqsati’ (BNPL) scheme that is currently in use by more than 4,000 retailers in all the cities of Iraq has enabled more than 500,000 customers to buy their products and services using biometric verification and provides extremely attractive instalment program (up to 2-year payment plans).

We are working towards making Iraq a cashless economy by providing secure, trustworthy and low-cost services targeted towards the un-banked. In addition to financial inclusion, we have been actively involved in social responsibility activities through our joint initiative between International Smart Card and the Ministry of Migrants to distribute humanitarian aid to internally displaced refugees in Iraq. Due to their lack of identification documents, biometric identity-based enrolment was the only solution for them. Through this initiative, we have created biometric identity for more than 900,000 refugees and distributed USD 1.4 billion in relief funds for these families.

Our efforts were appreciated and recognised for which we were awarded the Sesame award in 2015 from Cartes Paris.

Could you tell us more about the internal culture at your company and how do you ensure that all of your staff are equipped to provide the best possible service to your clients?

We also believe in empowering our employees to make decisions without needing to follow a traditional and strict chain of command. This increases efficiency, provides quicker problem-solving, and a more engaged workforce.

Participative and self-management is the natural way of doing business.

As Qi Card management, we believe in running the organisation with collective knowledge & wisdom, wherein every employee is unique and valuable in one way or another if they are given the right environment. We also give them the freedom to continuously experiment and innovate, which are crucial for success in today’s constantly changing technology and business environment.

We believe that our team is the most valuable asset for QICARD so we make sure to equip them with all tools and knowledge to enable them to deliver quality products and services that demanded by our clients , and as result oriented enterprise we clearly define their objectives and KPI and define the required on-boarding program , training and coaching to enable them meet these objectives.

Our hiring process is based on our company culture, aside from the specific skills required for the position., We want to know whether they will appreciate and enjoy an opportunity to be adaptable, be a team player and utilise their innovative and creative mindset. We believe most people possess these mindsets and abilities if they are well equipped and in the right environment.

What does the future have in store for ISC? Do you have plans for further growth?

To further develop the environment of open innovation and include a wider segment of customers with our offering. We are planning to expose our platform as an online sandbox for entrepreneurs and start-ups to enable them to build their products and services on top of our ecosystem. This sandbox will be equipped with detailed documentation and a dedicated support team to provide all required training and explanations for the developers in the early stage. ISC will certify all approved projects, provide sponsorship, and fund the start-ups till their projects start generating revenue.

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