October 24, 2018 / 1:09 PM / 23 days ago

Islamic robo-adviser to expand in Gulf, Southeast Asia by 2019

(Reuters) - New York-based Wahed Invest plans to offer its automated investment service in the Middle East and Southeast Asia by early next year, after the robo-adviser closed its latest round of fund raising, its chief executive said on Wednesday.

The sharia-compliant firm made its international foray in August, launching its services in Britain, aiming to tap into Muslim investors seeking religiously permissible investments.

The firm is now working with the financial regulator in Malaysia and anticipates a three-month timeline for a launch in the Muslim-majority country, said Chief Executive Junaid Wahedna.

“We are also specifically working on registering in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, and hope to have them all live by March 2019.”

The firm has raised $8 million in capital this year, giving the company a valuation of $100 million, he added.

The firm is backed by Gulf investors and venture firms including Boston-based Cue Ball Capital and Dubai-based BECO Capital.

Robo-advisers automatically create and manage portfolios made up of exchange-traded funds for customers with as little as a few hundred dollars to invest.

The market was initially developed by startups such as Wealthfront and Betterment, but a growing number of entrants has put pressure on them to diversify their offerings.

Wahed has seen healthy growth in Britain with client adoption rates that are twice as high as in the United States, where it now has over 5,000 registered clients.

The company estimates that by March next year it could be adding 500 clients per day across its geographies, Wahedna said.

Last month, the firm launched two index-tracking funds which follow indices that are screened by Standard & Poor’s.

Islamic financial products follow religious principles such as bans on investing in gambling and tobacco, in much the same way as socially responsible funds.

Reporting by Bernardo Vizcaino; Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips

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