SYNERGYZER: You started your career with advertising. Could you tell us how you got involved in the marketing of financial products, as well as a little about the organizations you worked for during your professional journey and the roles you served there?
RAEDA LATIF: Yes, I started my career in advertising. Right after my graduation, I started working at Prestige as an intern. From there – while doing my MBA – I moved to Circuit, where I got the opportunity to work with various brands, especially Tapal, for which I was part of the team at Circuit which revamped the packaging (as back in those days their tea was sold in brown packages). I remember going for meetings and strategic discussions on the brand, the product offering, the target audience, etc. with the packaging perspective with Imran Mir. The brand at that point was facing problems penetrating the north and central regions. So, to understand the reasons behind it, I, along with the Tapal team, visited those regions, met and interviewed the retailers, and discovered that the brand lacked visibility because their packaging was soft, and once placed on the shelf they would fall off. There was a perception that this is hand-packaged tea. That is when we pressed on hard packaging as well as color change immediately to combat the bright yellow of Lipton. We also addressed the perception issue through documentaries that focussed on the north and central regions along with region-wise activities. Other than Tapal, I also worked on LU biscuits and Habib Oil brands in the FMCG sector.
Thereafter, I moved to Cybernet – a technology firm. I liked it because it was challenging to brand technology offerings. Branding of tech products was not common in those days and Cybernet started that in Pakistan in a professional manner.
Back then, I could not understand why the internet was such a luxury and why just for SEC A and not for SEC B and C, and that is where the introduction of Cyberstudent as a flanker brand came about. The cyber student card was my brand and we launched it in all major cities of Pakistan. The Lakson Group distributors were assigned the distribution of the card to make it available at every nook and cranny of the city, whether they were pan shops or chai walas etc. We branded it for students and priced it lower than the main Cybernet offering.
From there I moved to the financial sector and joined Union Bank, where I looked after the mortgages and I just loved it. The mortgage market was a virgin market with vanilla products and there was so much room for value-added specialty product offerings. I was instrumental in introducing interest-only step-up loans, and home construction loans (these are disbursed in phases), and adding modifications to the basic offering. I worked on introducing insurance for the homeowners, balloon payment options twice a year, created a network with Real Estate agents through agreements to increase outreach, and introduced a host of home-related outlets to offer discounted products to our home loan customers. I set up a branch cross-sell channel for lead generation. Union Bank was an advanced bank in terms of technology and customer management. We could see the customer-to-product ratios easily and work on them to build up. There was a BI dashboard where all the leads and calls used to be logged in and we could access it seamlessly. This was an important lead generation tool that I used effectively to onboard new customers. ATL campaigns for home loans helped create awareness and bring in leads. Digital platform in those days was a far cry but I managed to use email marketing and ads in outbound emails as a tried and tested method for me which brought in a lot of leads and queries to build the right conversion funnel.
Though I have done my MBA in Marketing and IT, somehow this all came to me naturally. For my MBA thesis project, I selected to make a report on the business of a brokerage house, which I feel gave me an immersion into the thick of things related to finance and ignited my interest as well. Understanding financial management, branding, and marketing financial products is a different ballgame altogether as compared to FMCG brands.
Following Union Bank, I moved to IGI Financial Services – on the marketing and product management side. The group was at a critical point in transforming into a financial services group. I got a chance, to begin with, research to outline the group branding direction. Managed to bring all four entities, namely Investment bank, Insurance, Securities, and Funds (Asset management arm) all under the IGI financial services brand. This was a major achievement in the industry where, for the first time, a group of financial services were branded under an umbrella brand and thereon company brands followed product brands. In short, a proper well-defined brand architecture was introduced.
Along with Marketing, I received a huge portfolio of offerings; in fact, I set up the entire wealth management unit for the group. The group had everything yet they were not selling it as a package; there were separate teams for auto insurance, mutual funds distribution, stock investments, insurance, etc., but no single offering where you could go to a relationship manager and he could guide you about portfolio investing. As it is, there are no wealth managers in this country, everyone sells their own products or their group offerings. The wealth management teams the banks boast of, mostly sell insurance policies branded as retirement and education products but they are actually insurance coverage products. So, at IGI, I proposed and introduced wealth management for the marketing of financial services as a single offering branded as IGI Wealth.
Along with Life insurance, it is important to have auto insurance but we thought people should have travel insurance too, and though it is a short-term offering, we branded the travel insurance product by introducing a campaign of the frog. This was in the year 2007. The campaign showed a frog with its arm in a sling and leg wrapped in plaster, with the tagline: It could cost you an arm and a leg to travel without insurance. That campaign did extremely well. Also, at IGI, I actively utilized the digital platform; our emails would carry banners of our product offerings because at that time (2007/2008) we did not have social media. Facebook was making its entry and we hopped onto the digital bandwagon. Our websites would have animated headers promoting all offerings. The digital activity helped us a lot in achieving cross-sell as the auto insurance customers would get a discount on travel insurance and vice versa. The same was applied to all offerings for limited durations at times.
From IGI, I then moved on to UBL Funds. Now mutual funds are of all types and people do not know that there is a fixed-income mutual fund for conservative investors and there are equity-based funds for people who are aggressive investors. I began the journey of building mutual funds into brands, came up with tutorials, animated movies on life goals and plans, saving money, starting early, and of course, making the right investments. I worked there for a couple of years and then moved to Faysal Bank, where again there were Islamic and conventional liability and consumer products. There, I worked on corporate as well as product brands. The conversion of the bank into an Islamic one had begun. That same year, 125 Islamic branches were set up.
The idea of ‘one product, six customers’ was missing in the banking sector (and I believe it is still missing to a large extent); a credit card holder usually does not know about other products; hence this was my focus at Faysal Bank. I used the digital medium to launch campaigns for lead generation, cross-sell and upsell conversions. Among other offerings and campaigns of Business Account, Lifeplus account, digital banking app, credit cards, and money line, I worked on the launch of the Faysal Bank titanium credit card. Whilst planning the campaign I looked at the existing gold card customers, reached out to the eligible ones with well-crafted messages over social media as well as directly encouraging them to upgrade to titanium, and those who were interested, put in their request. I created banking customer personas for the purpose of digital marketing. The cardholder personas were used for the campaign and tracked in the digital space as a lookalike and custom TA. We ran targeted digital campaigns for lead generation.
Whoever was interested would share the details through a single click which would be saved on a google sheet owing to the lack of a proper BI / sales management system, which we shared with our sales team. Through this, we generated thousands of leads within a two-week campaign. We had to pause the campaign in the midst as leads were pouring in and our teams had to follow a certain TAT to reach out and connect.
In 2018, I joined the Pakistan Stock Exchange and this place gave me a much wider playground.
SYNERGYZER: How is marketing PSX products different from marketing banking products or other financial services?
RAEDA LATIF: We have a diverse range of investment products and our focus is to create awareness and consideration. We have stocks and ETFs, we have mutual funds based on stocks and shares, we have Islamic product offerings including shariah-compliant equity, shariah-compliant ETFs and sukuks, as well as simple accounts (Sahulat accounts), bonds, and sukuks among other products and offerings.
Our communication is targeted towards investors, who could be laymen, salaried individuals, someone who earns Rs 25,000 a month, high net worth individuals, day traders, and those who want to build their wealth portfolios such as long-term investors. The conversion part is taken care of by the brokers who are also known as TREC-holders. We raise awareness and tell people that they will not make money by saving only, but if they invest, they can multiply their savings.
SYNERGYZER: What changes did you bring to PSX since 2018… did it exist earlier how are you raising awareness and if you could tell us something about the investors… which SEC do they belong to. More individuals’ companies etc.?
RAEDA LATIF: Since I joined PSX, I have worked on diverse areas and target audiences. We have been keen on building a digital footprint for the Exchange. The website revamps, a separate data portal for data and information as well as the social channels of PSX have been the first-year achievements. This was followed by the introduction of the virtual investing tool, knowledge center, blogs, tutorials, and media presence.
There are two broad TGs for the Stock Exchange. One is the corporates including listed and non-listed entities and the second is the investing public which includes individuals, and institutional investors. We work on both levels along with other stakeholder groups.
One important aspect is to encourage listed companies to be more open in terms of investor relations. If an investor wants to learn more about the company, they should open their doors to him. We have made it mandatory for companies to have analyst briefings once a year and apprise investors and analysts of the company’s performance and their immediate short-and long-term plans so that it is easier for investors to make decisions. We have also started creating awareness of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and ESG reporting (Environment, Social, and Governance)
Then there are the non-listed companies – the overall corporate sector – who we educate on why they should come on board to list. We tell them to consider listing to raise money and become a strong brand. Listing themselves on the stock exchange will make foreign investors look at them, banks will have more trust as they will be part of a transparent domain, and loans and JVs will be easier. There is more due diligence undertaken by potential partners, investors, and banks for a private company, but if it is a listed company, it is easier.
Moreover, it also builds your legacy; companies become more resilient and transcend generations. They do not close down when the head of the family dies; there is a board and then a CEO and runs like a proper business. Such companies in the long run can also form conglomerates. We have seen many strong brands in Pakistan die as there was a lack of succession planning and the brands split and disintegrated.
Next is the target audience group of investors, whom we educate to build their wealth through one on one sessions, tutorials, webinars, etc. on digital platforms. We started holding webinars back in 2018/19. Yes, Covid-19 made zoom common but we had webinars even before that and a good number of people have been attending them. We educate them to save and invest, we talk about the economic aspects and how inflation is impacting the value of our savings and investing or what should be the investment lifestyle journey, etc. We’ve worked a lot with women, a case in point being Jinnah University for Women, where we talked to the girls and after the first and second visits to the university, they sent a team for the CFA society research competition participation as well. Webinars give us access to a large audience but we simultaneously have our feet on the street. In 2019 alone, we held sessions in over 200 institutions on simple things such as how to open your brokerage account, the difference between saving and investment, and what to look for while investing, etc. This year the number is also over 180 in-person sessions with educational institutions, associations, chambers, etc.
We also created a separate website for stock market information which at the time was the only one offered by a stock exchange in Asia. When we launched that data portal, I received congratulatory calls and emails from international investors and fund managers that this was a great resource. You see, when it comes to marketing investment products, which are complex, we just cannot make an ad and publish it.
We also introduced the Sahulat Account which you can open with your CNIC. It is targeted towards women, students or non-salaried persons, and those who want to begin small and simple.
As a result of all our activities, we have seen an increase in the number of overall investors and women investors as well. I am an active member of the Facebook group for Women Investment. I have also held workshops independently from the PSX platform and also in collaboration with other groups including the British Council WOW among others. Although men also attend such workshops, we do have focused training for women, professionals, and housewives as well.
SYNERGYZER: 2022 has been a very volatile year for the stock exchange. How are you managing to maintain the robustness of the market?
RAEDA LATIF: Volatility is everywhere, it is there in crypto, in international stock markets, and in the local stock market as well. This whole volatility and the stock market environment are linked to the global and local macroeconomics and, secondly, the political stability of the country. Today, inflation is a global phenomenon. In countries like the US and UK, inflation is at historic highs i.e. 9.1% and 9.9% respectively. The UK has seen such high inflation after a 40-year period. As inflation increases, interest rates tend to rise. This encourages money flow into the fixed-income debt instruments. Whilst that is the case, the companies listed on the stock exchange have also given out strong dividends to the investors. Pakistani companies have on average offered a 40% return in the current year. In the year 2020, the Pakistan stock exchange was the best-performing exchange in the region and the 5th best-performing in the world.
One has to know how these corporates work, whether listed or non-listed. When costs of inputs go up (e.g. shipping etc.) the companies increase the prices of their product offering. They are not an NGO, hence, if it costs them Rs 100, they will charge you Rs 120 or Rs 130. They will keep their bottom lines intact. However, the corporates do at times reinvest or do not make too much money and consequently do not give out dividends.
But, it is important for them to give out dividends because their demand increases by doing this, i.e. their shareholder value. Many investors look for dividend income when they buy stocks while others look for price gain ie. capital gain. Together, capital gain and dividends from shareholder value.
Marketing and creating awareness of the opportunities that the Stock Exchange can offer for investors, whether local or international, is one of the methods to keep our volumes and activity ongoing. Our brokerage firms play an important role in opening accounts, offering investment advice through research, and increasing activity through introducing digital apps for customer convenience.
SYNERGYZER: Is the investment climate still attractive? What is the current sentiment?
RAEDA LATIF: Business is doing well. You see, whenever there is some political noise, people get into the ‘wait and see’ mode, and this begins a domino effect (I am not selling, I am not buying). Lesser people will be active in the market as they wait and see, and so the volumes shrink, as there is not much activity. But when there is a positive trigger in the economic environment, that positive sentiment then trickles down to the general public and the investors and they get into buying mode. Smart people buy when the market is down and prices attractive, during the bear period, and when the market is bullish, they reap the dividends and capital gains. In short, there is buying and selling activity going on all the time; some people run houses for daily income; others are long-term investors. Right now, I’d say the investor sentiment is neutral as the country is going through a critical phase.
SYNERGYZER: What in your opinion are some of the challenges involved in marketing stock market products?
RAEDA LATIF: The major challenge is budget; we do not have the kind of marketing or educational budget that I would ideally like to have to raise more awareness. With our current budgets, we may be able to reach out to a million people, perhaps between two to five million, but then there is a population of two hundred million out there, hence with a shoestring budget, we have to manage. We need more to reach out to more people. We go to educational institutions every year because there is a new batch every year. We target a minimum of 100 sessions every year across Pakistan. We go to women’s chambers and associations etc. along with educational institutions. Another challenge is that investments being a complex subject, they cannot be communicated or marketed through an advertisement on radio, print, or TV. The marketing for financial products is different from an FMCG offering.
Brokerage houses are also working on limited marketing budgets hence they have traditionally not focussed on brand building. Strong brands induce investor confidence and we encourage our brokerage houses to focus on smart marketing and branding techniques.
The time is ripe for this market to have digital disruption and apps with seamless UI and UX. This is the need of the hour. Customers who are investors need to see their investment portfolios on their smartphones. There is a lot of work happening on these lines.
SYNERGYZER: What are PSX’s plans for the future?
RAEDA LATIF: We intend to have more engagement from our target audience, that is, people who are looking to build wealth whether they are businessmen, salaried professionals, students, or housewives. The sooner they start, the better for them as compounding requires longer tenures to take effect. We are also targeting matured salaried classes as they are getting tax deducted at source and are already in the documented domain. Since these people do not have much time on their hands, they put their money in the bancassurance retirement plans which in the first 5 or so years are loss-making avenues. So, we would like to educate them on the benefits of investing in stocks, ETFs equity and fixed income, and mutual funds.
To introduce Experiential Marketing for trial generation, we have introduced short courses on investing and a virtual portfolio tool. We plan to introduce competitions where participants will build a virtual portfolio, give themselves virtual money and build stock portfolios in their accounts.
Our focus will remain on building trust by creating a strong brand strengthening brand equity, strengthening our regulatory arm, digitizing more, and better customer service. We believe that when these ambits are strong, trust will automatically follow and people will know their money is safe. Yes, the markets will have ups and downs as well as risks and we communicate those risks through our education. So, when someone makes an entry, they are making informed decisions to buy, sell, invest and/or hold.
We are also upgrading our brokerages, and this is one major area. We are helping them market, holding digital marketing sessions for them, and inviting experts to train them.
Right now, the perception is that investors enter the stock market to make a quick buck in the short term. We don’t want that anymore. We want people to come in with a long-term view, and get shareholder value rather than go in and out.
Pakistan Stock Exchange has shariah-compliant investment options also. About 50% of our companies are shariah-compliant, which are acknowledged and endorsed by Meezan shariah scholars.
Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) is one area that we want investors to look at because, overall, it helps the economy and our people. When our corporates are compliant with the ESG practices and reporting, then there is more transparency, and more capital flow to the market and into these companies.
All in all, a lot of work is required and it is ongoing. I am geared to continue building the PSX brand and the Pakistan Story for Investments.