Waqas Mirza MD of Avanza: talks about city wide Blockchain payments platform
Avanza a 16 year old company, which has been in the MENA region for the past 12 years, is not your typical Pakistani home grown company. Most employees at Avanza own shares in the company, and its board of directors is from the employee base itself. Avanza has been serving the financial sector In MENA, South East Asia, West Africa. Unlock BC interviewed Waqas Mirza, Managing Director and Chief Marketing Officer of Avanza to talk about their transformation into a Blockchain financial solutions provider and their new project with Smart Dubai.
Mirza is proud to concede, “We work with a majority of the banks in the region, and we equip more than 80 percent of NCR ATMs with our middleware and CRM solutions among other solutions we have. So we are very strong and experience in the financial sector.”
However Avanza with its startup mentality decided three years back that it should venture into new areas of innovation particularly Blockchain and Artificial Intelligence. Mirza states, “We entered into collaboration with IBM on Watson and today built a mortgage Bot for banks that will answer the first 20 questions that anyone looking to get a mortgage would ask. We also used AI so that banks can see if they are being discussed on social media and provide a fit initial response. We are also developing solutions based on AI in several other areas.”
He adds, “With Blockchain we realized that we could save so much on code writing if we used Blockchain because the platform has an inherent second eye. So taking into account our experience in financial sector we created a product called Cipher using Hyperledger and Ethereum depending on client needs and requirements.”
Today Avanza’s Cipher is the platform that will be used by Smart Dubai to implement a citywide payments platform across all existing 38 government entities and financial institutions. This was announced in April when an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) was signed between Avanza and Smart Dubai in the presence of Hamdan Bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai. The platform has already been tried and tested with Emirates NBD which conducted an international remittance trail with an Indian partner last year. As Mirza explains, “it all started when Smart Dubai approached us to consult last year on Blockchain and although we are not a consulting company we took on the challenge. They were impressed that we had a mature Blockchain product. We were then requested to do a proof of concept to upgrade DubaiPay platform which settles payments of government entities with the Ministry of Finance. The settlement plumbing was old and it usually took 45 days to settle, but since it was between government entities it was not a huge issue, however if they wanted to open it the private sector it would become one.” Mirza goes on to explain, “It was a very smart project to choose because it was a low cost low fruit low risk item. So we prepared to connect Emirates NBD bank with one government entity, simulatd transactions with government entity, as a proof of concept.”
Now Avanza will take on a bigger challenge which is to come up with blueprint for the payment ecosystem on Blockchain for the entire city of Dubai be it B2B B2C. As Mirza explained, “Our job will be to install the Cipher Blockchain payment system across all the applicable processes that IBM has tagged that will be used for the Blockchain ecosystem. IBM will develop the foundation or Identities on the Blockchain or what we call the digital briefcase in alignment with which processes can be put on the Blockchain, and we will plug in a universal payment system. In the future I believe a lot of players will become involved specifically the central bank of UAE to create a shadow currency.”
Mirza is very excited about Smart Dubai’s Blockchain vision, “they are the only government in the world that is embracing Blockchain in this magnitude. Dubai will be the first government in the world to execute all applicable transactions on the Blockchain by 2020. In six months time we will have had to integrate 38 government entities and banks onto the payment ecosystem. It is a time of great collaboration between technology companies, and we are ready for this challenge that will push our boundaries of imagination and competence.”