After much brouhaha on social media regarding shady practices of instant lending apps prevalent across Pakistan’s Play Store, two apps have been taken down from the platform. According to Appfiqures, Sarmaya Microfinance’s Easy Loan was removed from Google Play on July 3. Meanwhile, SeedCred Financial’s Barwaqt is not appearing in searches since last night.
However, there are opposing accounts as to who, and what, was behind their removal. In response to queries to Google last week, its spokesperson said: “Our Google Play Developer Policies are designed to protect users and keep them safe, and we have been expanding our Financial Services policy to help protect people from deceptive and exploitative personal loan terms. When violations are found, we take action.”
This seemed to rule out removal by Google back then. And the company hasn’t yet responded regarding its role, if any, in yesterday’s development. However, one source at the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) said the move was led by Google.
A Google spokesperson on July 15 confirmed its involvement. “After further investigation, we have found them non compliant with our policy and have taken action,” the response said.
On the other hand, the senior leadership of the two companies offered a different account. SeedCred’s CEO Abrar Ameen said Barwaqt is currently down to implement new features in line with the SECP’s directives.
Sarmaya Microfinance’s founder Habib Ur Rahman reiterated a similar claim. “In the meeting, the SECP asked to be upfront with disclaimers and features around complaint resolutions,” he said. “So our team is currently working to roll out those updates on the app,” he added.
Both of them were referring to the meeting held by the regulator on July 6 with NBFCs where it “advised attendees to adopt self-governance and best practices”. The SECP had cautioned digital lending NBFCs of making regulatory intervention in case of failing to give full disclosures.
Barwaqt and Easy Loan were the most popular instant lending platforms operating in the country and the only two (of three) with NBFC license from the SECP. Meanwhile, unregistered players, such as FORI MONEY and AiCash, continue to rank in the Finance Top 10 Charts on Google Play. This highlights the regulatory grey area under which many instant lending platforms currently operate, especially those not registered in Pakistan. The removal of the two platforms further signifies this considering no official confirmation has come from from any authority.