Islamic fintech Waheed opens physical bank branch in London

Islamic fintech startup Waheed has opened its first physical branch on Baker Street in London. The glossy retail space is designed to look like an Apple Store.

Waheed

An investment platform backed by the likes of oil giant Saudi Aramco and French footballer Paul Pogba is launching a novel proposition in the UK: a physical branch and bank accounts backed by gold.

New York-based Waheed, which describes itself as a “halal investment platform”, has opened a branch in the UK with a Sharia-compliant investment management and advisory service targeting the country’s 3.9 million Muslims.

The glossy retail space has a design similar to an Apple Store, with a digital display inside and a bright sign displaying its logo outside. It is located on Baker Street in central London, opposite a branch of UK banking giant HSBC.

Khabib Nurmagomedov, the Russian former professional mixed martial artist, is the firm’s promoter and will be among those opening the branch on Tuesday.

Waheed is also launching a debit card that lets users deposit funds with an exchange-traded commodity that tracks the price of gold, meaning they can effectively pay for everyday goods through gold. can do.

Investors will be able to redeem gold in their account for physical bars. Junaid Waheedna, CEO and co-founder of Waheed, said it is a way for Muslim as well as non-Muslim consumers to beat currency fluctuations and rising cost of living.

,[Muslims are] “It’s a minority community, there’s a lack of financial literacy,” Waheedna said in an interview with CNBC, referring to the market opportunity for digital Islamic finance.

Banking startups such as Monzo and Revolut have flourished in the UK without physical bank branches, offering smartphone apps that help users manage all their finances. But Wahidna cautioned that this risks leaving Muslim consumers behind.

“in the United Kingdom, [the Muslim community is] in fact one of the lowest socio-economic areas in the country,” Waheed’s boss said, with “low income or financial literacy”.

“He has trust issues,” he said. “And so they want to see a physical presence before trusting you with money.”

Waheed’s service aims to help clients adhere to the Islamic faith’s strict tenets on financial services: Sharia law forbids its followers from charging or earning interest on loans, or investing in firms that spend most of their money Earn from the sale of things like liquor and gambling. ,

Waheed prohibits investing in companies that earn money from lending, gambling, alcohol and tobacco. An account with Waheed also does not offer interest on savings, nor does it claim wild returns on risky crypto tokens. Instead, the value of users’ deposits tracks the value of gold, with the price of the precious metal fluctuating based on supply and demand.

Wahidna said, “I think it’s really in line with the Muslim community and their needs.” “Because otherwise, what happens to the Muslim community, because they’re underserved, they keep their money in cash under their mattress, or in something that’s very insecure, and they lose their money every few years because There is a scam in the community or someone takes advantage of them. And the cycle of poverty goes on and on.”

CEO criticizes fintech focused on lending

Junaid criticized the state of modern fintech companies, suggesting that the industry is too focused on consumer lending with the rise of Klarna and other promoted “buy now, pay later” services.

Wahidna said, “All their business plans are built around lending revenue, right? Even the digital bank, it sounds like, well, I’ll start out as a new bank, but in the end, I am about to get a banking license.”

Waheed is launching a debit card linked to a gold-backed spending account. The startup is backed by French soccer star Paul Pogba.

Waheed

He added that Waheed Wealth Management is focused on making money by charging fees, which it charges users a percentage of their total asset holdings. He said the startup, which was founded in 2017, is still loss-making, but has scaled up operations in Malaysia and the US.

“I think fintech, like most of the finance industry, is very open to lending,” Wahidna said. “In fact, I would say, it’s making a cost-of-living crisis, a debt crisis, worse with a lot of products.”

“If you look at the buy now, pay later companies, people are struggling – this is the worst kind of innovation, you are making it easier for people to get into debt,” he said.

Wahidna stressed that the company is not just for Muslims and aims to serve followers of other Abrahamic religions, including Judaism and Christianity.

Staff at its London branch will help clients open accounts, make investments and guide them on wills and estate planning.

Wahidna said the firm is targeting high net worth individuals as well as less affluent consumers.

Wahid has raised a total of $75 million from investors including Saudi Aramco Entrepreneurship Capital, the venture capital arm of Saudi state-backed oil firm Saudi Aramco, as well as French footballer Paul Pogba, who is a practicing Muslim.

According to Refinitiv’s Islamic Finance Development Indicator, Islamic finance has achieved significant growth over the past decade and is expected to reach $4.9 trillion in value by 2025. Several other fintech players are looking to tap into the halal money space, including Zoya and Niyah.

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