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Dunia: Into the World

As Lehman Brothers, the U.S.-based financial services company, collapsed in the fall of 2008, another financial services firm called Dunia1 launched nearly 11,000 km (~7,000 miles) away. Dunia started as a joint venture between Singapore-based Fullerton Financial Holdings (a wholly owned subsidiary of Temasek Holdings in Singapore), Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Development Company, and Waha Capital. The new firm’s business model focused on offering financial services to underserved clients in four customer segments: mass affluent market, affluent customers, mass self-employed clients, and mass salaried customers in small and midsize markets. Customer needs drove product offerings (see Table 2-1 for sub-brands and Exhibit 2-2 for market segment percentage).

Table 2-1 Dunia Sub-Brands and United Arab Emirate (UAE) Banking Population


Customer Segment

% of Total UAE Banking Population


Salaried mass market



Mass affluent






Self-employed mass market


Source: Dunia. Used with permission.

Springing to life in the midst of a global financial meltdown seemed to motivate Dunia executives to create opportunity from crisis. As other financial firms reduced employee numbers, Dunia hired; as others closed branches, Dunia opened offices; as others drew back lending, Dunia sensibly grew.

At its core, Dunia did seem different. The diversity of its staff—25 nationalities and 31 languages represented, with many employees who had worked outside their respective home countries’ banks for extended periods—seemed to promise that Dunia would be more mindful where other institutions had made mistakes. Indeed, Dunia promised a measured approach, with a focus on basic values and sustainable business practices. It would be customer-centric, only without the excessive risk-taking that seemed to have brought about the 2008 economic meltdown.

As the world’s financial structures continued to change and geopolitical events—the tsunami and nuclear reactor crisis in Fukushima, Japan, and the Arab Spring—continued to shape its environment, Dunia became profitable within 30 months. That accomplishment, among others, had Dunia leaders convinced that their business model was working. By 2012, the company had 800 employees, 19 branches, a 24-hour call center, and a sophisticated online service (see Exhibit 2-3 for financials).

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