Russia’s largest bank invests in Zakat digital platform

Russia’s largest bank by assets has acquired a 25% stake in the nation’s first artificial intelligence (AI)-driven Zakat chatbot, further cementing its commitment to Islamic finance.

State-controlled Sberbank, which provides Islamic banking services, acquired a quarter of the total shares of PayZakat, confirmed Behnam Gurbanzada, the counselor to the deputy chairman of Sberbank’s board as well as CEO and co-founder of PayZakat. PayZakat is a Zakat collection digital platform, the first of its kind in Russia.

The platform, leveraging AI technology, allows its users to calculate their contribution amount and channel it to the charity of their choice. Chatbots integrated into social networks help with the process and provide status updates on the contribution.

The relationship between Sberbank and PayZakat commenced last year when PayZakat became the first corporate accelerator of the bank prior to an accelerator program launched in partnership with US-based 500 Startups.

Sberbank is no stranger to fintech, particularly the AI industry, having been leveraging it to increase its (the bank’s) user experience. In February 2019, Sberbank introduced an AI-based chatbot that will help users of its electronic trading system, Sberbank Markets. The chatbot, created in partnership with ARQA Technologies, uses a natural language processing platform developed by the bank.

As part of its Strategy 2020, the bank pledged to invest in more advanced algorithms including in AI and aspires to build technology labs for verticals including for AI, all by 2020. The bank also regularly organizes AI-related competitions which see participation from start-ups all over the nation.

The acquisition of a stake in PayZakat acts as a platform for Sberbank to push the nation’s AI agenda, where the bank is already at the forefront.

Earlier in February this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the development of a national strategy for the development of AI, expected to be announced on the 15th June. Separately, he also ordered the formulation of additional measures to enhance investment in high-tech projects in the fields of AI, the internet of things, robotics and processing of large data arrays by SME businesses.

Last month, the Russian Direct Investment Fund raised US$2 billion from foreign investors to support domestic companies developing AI solutions, with plans to invest in five to 10 AI projects annually.

With all these in the pipeline, Russia’s AI market size is expected to grow to RUB28 billion (US$432.46 million) by 2020, according to a report by TAdviser.


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