In today’s dynamic business environment, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are facing a daunting challenge in the form of social security. From the perspective of employees, this results in a hard-to-swallow deduction from their salaries. However, it is not just about the financial aspect; employees, regardless of their background, want stability and security, as well as access to a diverse range of investment options to build their wealth.
Meanwhile, companies are struggling with the internal retention of employees, losing them due to small increases in salaries. It is clear that this is not just a commercial challenge, but also a social one that businesses need to address. According to a new Boston Consulting Group (BCG) study, approximately 70% of UAE employees are considering changing jobs, with compensation, retirement, and insurance benefits being the “top deal breakers.”
Similar problems in other markets have been addressed with Defined contribution Plans such as the 401k in the US. These challenges, however, are global in scope, and it is the role of exemplary leaders to change not only the market but also thought processes. An example of this is Reem Ikram (Co-Founder, and CEO of ThriftPlan). With her vision and foresight, she is redefining social security by offering an interactive investment platform for both employers and employees in the MENA region.
A Trailblazer’s Journey
Reem has an impressive journey that began in her childhood in Germany, where she discovered the thrill of creating her own enterprise by selling stones. As a child, she was fascinated by the financial aspect of running a business, and this early experience left a lasting impression on her.
After studying entrepreneurship, Reem worked in innovation and took her family’s business from the first to the third generation. She faced the daunting challenge of bringing the company into the digital age and transforming an import/export business into e-commerce. Her experience in managing finances proved to be invaluable during this transformational journey.
Upon moving to Saudi Arabia, Reem encountered a significant challenge during her time working in Private Equity in Saudi Arabia – the complicated pension system for ex-pats and the struggles of a young generation that is not prepared for financial hurdles in the future. As someone who was used to having a deduction from her salary, Reem found it hard to adapt to the new system, and this realization prompted her to address a more widespread problem. This realization sparked the idea for ThriftPlan, a revolutionary platform that offers an interactive investment plan for both employers and employees.
Revolutionizing Financial Security in MENA
Founded in 2019, at Al Yasmeen, Riyadh, ThriftPlan’s goal is to help individuals achieve financial security in a region where social security is a challenging issue. With Vision 2030 addressing the need for saving solutions, Thriftplan is actively highlighting one of the largest sources of saving, the Workplace Saving Plan, which has crossed a market value of more than USD $7 trillion in the United States.
Moreover, it is the thought process of companies and individuals that is changing. One of the core struggles in encouraging individuals to save has been the country’s level of financial literacy, which has proven to be a difficult obstacle in a market with a large young population. However, by automating and encouraging digital learning while investing, Reem and her team are changing the future of a generation. “The secret to evoking change is to have believers; my team was the first to believe. They are the ambassadors of saving,” says Reem.
Investing in Employee Retention
At ThriftPlan, the team helps companies create defined contribution plans that increase internal employee retention. Unlike competitors, the company’s approach involves allowing a direct contribution from the employee’s salary to the savings plan, matched by the employer based on their retention goals. This encourages employees to invest in their future while building loyalty to their employer.
ThriftPlan also empowers employees by giving them the autonomy to decide on their investment portfolio, ensuring that only their discretionary funds are managed by them. Additionally, ThriftPlan offers comprehensive workshops, educational content, and advisory services to help create the most suitable defined contribution plan for each company’s unique hierarchy, objectives, and culture.
Making Things Possible
Reem is a dynamic leader who shoulders the ultimate responsibility for everything at her organization. With her leadership style of leading by example, she ensures that no task is beneath her, regardless of the skill set required. As a leader, she is renowned for her ability to make things possible. She approaches every problem with a contingency plan. “Every problem should have a plan B, a plan C, and if needed all the way to Z,” states Reem.
As an entrepreneur, Reem understands the challenges of keeping herself and her team motivated. However, she considers the impact she has on the community and stakeholders to be the most rewarding and refreshing aspect of her profession. She is a firm believer that businesses must look beyond profitability and address social issues as well.
Reem remembers a time when people told her that what she was doing was impossible. However, she refused to let the naysayers discourage her and instead persevered, making the impossible possible.
Under her leadership, the company has achieved numerous notable awards and achievements. In recent years, ThriftPlan was awarded the prestigious title of the most innovative corporate saving solution in KSA. The company has also received multiple awards for its exceptional education incentive. It participated in Fintech Saudi and won the first prize during Demo Day.
Staying Proactive in a Changing Landscape
“Opportunities come, but they are a gift; as leaders, we need to be able to recognize them and capture them to succeed,” asserts Reem. She opines that being proactive is not only important but also an obligation for leaders to seek out novel ways to evolve. It is not only for the benefit of stockholders, but also for the organization’s employees, the ecosystem that depends on it, and the individuals who have no alternative.
From Boardroom to Barn
Beyond her cabin, Reem indulges in a few hobbies that bring her true peace. She finds solace in training and riding horses, which brings an unparalleled sense of trust and rejuvenation between the animal and the rider. For her, it is a refreshing feeling that helps her unwind from the demands of her busy schedule. In addition to horse riding, Reem also enjoys jogging and reading which helps her release stress and calm her mind.
The Mindset of a Leader
Reem shares invaluable advice for aspiring business leaders who want to excel in their field. Her advice is simple yet profound – “Believe in yourself.” Even when others doubt your abilities or tell you that your ideas are unrealistic or impractical, she advises that you should not give up. Instead, use their skepticism as a motivator to work even harder and prove them wrong.
“Opportunities come, but they are a gift; as leaders, we need to be able to recognize them and capture them to succeed.”