|Bnooki.com: Search engine for banking products
|If you need a car loan or a mortgage in Lebanon , you will either have to look on bank websites or call each bank to see which one offers you the best terms. Search engine Bnooki — Arabic for banks — aims at bringing this time-consuming exercise to an end by providing a platform to compare consumer and business banking products of all the country’s banks.
“If you want to go and visit the website of each bank, probably you won’t find the information, and if it’s there, you’ll spend the whole day on the sites. This is one factor that drove me to this idea,” says Bnooki founder Elie Bou Jaoude. Working as an investment manager for Lebanese incubator Berytech’s fund, Bou Jaoude began developing his idea and partnered with French company Ebizproduction for their knowledge in content management system technology.
Eventually a team of six, working out of Berytech offices, was formed and started proactively contacting all the local banks in Lebanon on a monthly basis to update a database of product offerings. Bnooki also gives banks access to the website to update their offerings. The search engine also shows when the last update was made and by whom — the bank or Bnooki.
Consumers can shop for banking products including but not limited to current accounts, savings accounts, home loans and car loans. Businesses can shop for products such as Kafalat loans, small and medium enterprise loans and venture capital funds. By clicking on a particular banking product, Bnooki links to the bank’s site and if the bank does not offer online services, there are options to send the bank a question or callback request.
The information, whether collected by Bnooki or provided by the bank, is included at no fee. Revenues are raised through three different avenues: advertising, fees for leads — every time an application form is submitted or a call is requested — and through the sale of information reports. Bou Jaoude did not disclose the revenues raised or his expectations for this year as he is in the process of raising funds.
Having invested $200,000 so far in the startup, partly through a Kafalat loan and partly in equity (the exact breakdown was not disclosed), Bou Jaoude is now seeking capital to pursue the expansion of Bnooki and intends to raise equity in the next two quarters from a venture capital firm.
The biggest challenge he faced when setting up his product was to convince banks that other banks would be transparent, provide complete information and allow such a product to be on the market. “We hired a very senior research team [and] working together with our team, we got all the information of the banks in Lebanon. It was a huge job, from mystery shopping, to checking online, to going to bank X, meeting retail and marketing managers, giving them back-end access to go online and check if everything is correct before we publish,” says Bou Jaoude.
For now, his focus is on expanding the distribution by providing Bnooki applications on smartphones and making the platform available in Arabic. In the next two to three years, Bou Jaoude has bigger goals as he plans on taking this venture to most countries in the Middle East and “possibly outside the Arab world; we want to be the reference. Whenever you want something from banks, you think Bnooki.com,” he says.