For anyone who wants to start investing for the first time or switch from an old-school system to a roboadvisor, there are a lot of options out there.
Betterment, Wealthfront, and smart advisors from major banks all let consumers become serious investors and save for retirement without requiring as much money or time as personal financial advisors. But a major group of investors hasn’t been served by these options.
Wahed Invest wants to be the first roboadvisor to allow American Muslim investors to go digital and at the same time meet Sharia standards for investing.
“While online investing may seem unorthodox to some Muslims across the globe, Muslim millennials in the U.S. have been interested in digital investment services and computer-generated, wealth management advice for some time,” said Wahed CEO Junaid Wahedna in a press release. “To date, they have been forced to use online investment platforms that don’t mirror their beliefs. Wahed offers them a solution to invest online in a way that is both sophisticated and true to their values.”
Sharia law has its own principles for finance, prohibiting earning interest on loans and restricting the levels of debt acceptable for investors. Sharia-compliant investing also must avoid businesses that trade in alcohol, gambling tobacco, firearms, and pork.
In Muslim countries, these ethics of Islamic finance are followed by major banks, so it’s easy for individual investors to comply, too. In the United States, investors who meet minimum financial requirements can go to firms like Iman Fund.
“[Clients] don’t need to sacrifice their beliefs to start investing.”
But no smart advisors follow the rules closely enough to meet Sharia standards. Even if Betterment, for example, were to create a Sharia-compliant portfolio for a customer—which it doesn’t currently offer—Betterment the company has its own finances that probably don’t comply. And if the company doesn’t qualify, the portfolio doesn’t count.
Wahed Invest, as a company, is Sharia-compliant. And all its portfolios will be too.
Instead of putting its users’ money in U.S. bonds, the roboadvisor will invest in Sukuks, or Islamic bonds, U.S. stocks, emerging market stocks, and gold. An ethical review board led by a former Muslim chaplain for Harvard manually reviews all of the roboadvisor’s investments to make sure they’re halal.
“We’ve had some clients come from existing roboadvisors who are excited to see a platform where they don’t need to sacrifice their beliefs to start investing,” Kareem Tabbaa said, Wahed Invest’s head of strategy and growth. “Most users are coming from a background where they didn’t have the chance to invest their savings. It’s word of mouth going on in a tight-knit community.”
Wahed customers need to meet a $500 minimum to start investing and then pay a management fee between 0.29 and 0.99 percent. The firm recently lowered its minimum requirement from $7,500.
The company first launched in 2015 and spent a year building its product before a soft launch for friends and family in September. Earlier this month, the platform raised $5 million in seed funding. U.S. users can now sign up, and Wahed plans to open up to international investors by the end of the year.
So far, most Wahed users are between 25 and 35 years old, although the company expects the average age to rise once it introduces IRA accounts. Right now, it’s all web-based, although Wahed plans to introduce an app in September.
For the 3.3 million Muslims in the United States and the $5 to $6 billion already managed by the major halal investment firms, Wahed represents a big opportunity.
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