(Reuters) - New York-based Wahed Invest has launched an automated investment service in Britain to tap into Muslim investors seeking religiously permissible investments, the sharia compliant robo-advisor said on Monday.
The firm has received approval from Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority, marking its first international foray since it raised $5 million (3.92 million pounds)in seed capital last year.
Digital wealth management firms, known as robo-advisors, create and manage portfolios made up of low cost funds catering to affluent but not necessarily very wealthy customers.
The market was developed by startups such as Wealthfront and Betterment, which in recent months have added new features such as financial planning tools and human advice to lure in more customers.
Wahed aims to appeal to a Muslim community in Britain estimated at around 2.6 million, in particular young professionals in their late 20s and early 30s, said Kareem Tabbaa, Wahed’s chief product officer.
“We are focusing on young families and household that are looking for easy-to-use financial products,” Tabbaa said. “Customers can open an account with as little as 100 pounds and there is no lock-in period.”
The firm plans to add a recurring-deposit option and develop a mobile app, while it is considering future expansion in markets in the Middle East region, Tabbaa added.
Islamic funds follow religious principles such as bans on investing in gambling and tobacco stocks, similar to socially responsible funds.
Such products are common in Muslim-majority countries like Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, but they can be scarce and costly in Western markets.
An added benefit of an Islamic robo-advisor is that clients can invest in sharia-compliant funds that are typically only available to wealthy individuals or institutional investors, Tabbaa said.
For instance, the firm offers portfolios that include Islamic investment products such as a sukuk fund from Franklin Templeton, a global equity fund from HSBC and a physical gold exchange traded fund.
Reporting by Bernardo Vizcaino; Editing by Sam Holmes