New digital exchange seeks to host Islamic finance startups

Business and financial district of Levent, which comprises of leading Turkish banks' and companies' headquarters, is seen behind a residential neighborhood in Istanbul, Turkey, November 30, 2017. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

(Reuters) - A new digital exchange aims to attract listings from sharia compliant financial technology startups, its chief executive said on Monday, part of a growing number of firms looking to modernize Islamic finance.

The exchange, known as Huulk, has applied for a digital exchange license in Malta and hopes to partner with several European exchanges in the coming weeks, Huulk chief executive Ibrahim Mohammed said in a telephone interview from Dubai.

This would allow the exchange, part of the OneGram Group of companies, to host trades of digital assets as well as stocks and commodities. Malta’s Bianchi Holdings Limited would be an equity partner in the exchange, Mohammed said.

Cryptocurrency firms are increasingly teaming up with traditional exchanges to attract more business, but Huulk is also trying to tap into religiously-sensitive Muslim investors.

The exchange is aiming to list around 20 Islamic fintech firms, some of which operate in Muslim-majority countries like Turkey and Malaysia, Mohammed said.

OneGram also plans to list its own sharia-compliant cryptocurrency on the exchange by mid-September. OneGram has sold around $400 million in gold-backed tokens over the past year.

Several financial technology firms, or fintechs, have developed sharia-compliant products to help broaden their footprint to include growth markets in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

Last year, New York-based Wahed Invest launched a sharia compliant robo-advisor and in July California-based Stellar received certification from Islamic scholars for its blockchain platform and related cryptocurrency.

Reporting by Bernardo Vizcaino; Editing by Darren Schuettler