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  • In May 2021, HBL signed a strategic partnership agreement with Katalyst Labs for start-up acceleration and women leadership enablement in Pakistan.
    AKDN / Christopher Wilton-Steer
Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development
HBL reinventing itself as a tech company with a banking licence

Habib Bank Limited (HBL), Pakistan’s largest and oldest private sector bank – and a project company of the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development – is taking measured steps to shape the future through a paradigm shift towards a “technology company with a banking licence”.  

In May 2021, the company signed a strategic partnership agreement with Katalyst Labs for start-up acceleration and women leadership enablement. Katalyst Labs is a technology accelerator and innovation hub founded by Jehan Ara who along with her team has played a key role in building the entrepreneurship ecosystem of Pakistan.

As part of the partnership, Katalyst Labs will develop and run a cohort-based fellowship programme for women entrepreneurs, professionals and upcoming business leaders with the purpose of training them and helping them develop into a high-powered network of women leaders across the country.

An acceleration programme will also be run to have an increased focus on facilitating collaboration between start-ups and corporates for knowledge sharing and market exploration with special focus on Fintech, Food & Agri Tech, mCommerce, EdTech, Health Tech and other verticals.

“When ecosystem builders like ourselves want to continue to support and enable dreamers and innovators who are out to conquer the world through the use of tech, we look to partners who can help us realise our vision. And we have never had to look far because HBL has always been the first to understand what we are trying to do and provide their full support. This partnership with Katalyst Labs is further proof of this unflinching and continuing support,” said Jehan Ara, Founder and CEO of Katalyst Labs.

During the same month, HBL became the first bank in Pakistan to invest in a digital fintech start-up with its Rs. 176 million (US$ 1.15 million) participation in the last tranche of Finja’s Rs. 1.56 billion (US$ 10.15 million) Series A1 round.  The Bank joined an impressive list of leading global fintech funds that have invested in Finja including BeeNext, Vostok Emerging Finance, Quona Capital and ICU Ventures.

The investment in Finja reflects HBL’s commitment to strengthening digital financial inclusion and development finance companies, especially ones making an impact in agriculture and SMEs as these are the backbone of the economy.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in April last year, Finja has scaled its digital lending portfolio by 550 percent, disbursing over 50,000 digital loans to Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises. Despite being the backbone of the economy, small businesses in Pakistan have traditionally not been able to obtain credit to grow.

“Undoubtedly, HBL’s financial clout, massive network and progressive leadership will help us elevate the country’s most important segment, the SMEs,” said Qasif Shahid, CEO and Co-Founder of Finja.

Muhammad Aurangzeb, President and CEO of HBL, remarked:  “Pakistan’s fintech landscape has immense opportunities. At HBL we believe that by making this investment we are not only developing the start-up ecosystem, but it will also pave the way for Pakistan to play a bigger role in the fintech space globally. SME lending is the future and therefore we are investing in Finja which enjoys a first mover advantage over the market in digitally lending to SMEs in this country.”