Dubai-based Sarwa raises $1.3 million to help average user invest their savings

Sarwa, a Dubai-based investment advisory platform has raised $1.3 million in pre-Series A investment, the startup announced today.

The investment came from UAE’s Shorooq Investments and Women’s Angel Investor Network, 500 Startups, Hala Ventures from Saudi, Saned Partners from Lebanon and some individual investors David Gibson-Moore, who is a former chairman of Chase Manhattan’s (now JP Morgan Chase) Swiss operations and a former executive director of investment banking at Al Rajhi Bank in Riyadh, who is joining the company’s advisory board. The round takes total money raised so far by Sarwa to $1.5 million.

Founded in December last year by Mark Chahwan, Jad Sayegh, and Nadine Mezher, Sarwa is the first platform to have received Innovation Testing License by Dubai Financial Services Authority (DFSA) that allows it to offer its services to UAE residents. The startup plans to pursue a full license that would allow it to sell its services all across the region.

The startup is dubbed as a hybrid robo-advisor that helps people make investments through both its automated investment platform and with access to expert human advice from financial advisors.

Any UAE resident who is 18 year old or above can sign up on the platform in less than minutes and Sarwa takes care of the rest. To make an investment, users are asked with few questions after which they receive a recommended portfolio. Once approved, they have to upload some documents and fund the account.

The minimum amount that a user can invest is $2,500 but the platform offers completely liquidity without penalties, which means the user can withdraw the amount whenever they like with 3-4 days of processing time.

According to Sarwa’s website, it charges users with a fee of 0.85% of their account per year.

“This fee is partially charged at the end of every month on the average account value for the month. So let’s say you started investing $10,000, you will pay us around $7 per month for our service! the price of a cup of coffee,” states their website.

Since launching their services in February earlier this year, the startup claims to have registered 1,000 users already with a monthly growth rate of over 20%.

Before raising their Series A, the startup wants to extend their services from individuals to companies. Sarwa’s co-founder and CEO Mark Chahwan said that the idea to target companies was “to encourage employees to save as well, since there’s no formal pension to take on that role and (to) help employees really save, given that it’s a tax-free environment – to pay yourself first, to save up 10-15 percent every month”.

He said that they’ve already had initial exercise with staff of Dubai-based logistics startup Fetchr where they held a session to explain basic rules of investing.

“We’ve tested it a bit to see if there’s some interest from corporates to help their employees, and now we want to come up with a value proposition that gives employers preferential rates and allows their employees to feel like they are getting a better deal from their employer caring about their investment,” said Mark.

The startup also plans to expand its team which currently has seven full-time members.

Majority of the population in the region knows very little about investing their savings or building a diversified portfolio. Sarwa is going after this audience with a cost effective user-friendly and digitized experience to bring expert level investing to the masses.

In their own words, their mission is to change the “region’s perception that investing is a luxury and aims to make expert investing easy, secure and affordable by using the best tools available: automatic rebalancing, algorithms combined with personalized human advice, account opening in a few minutes via facial recognition, and more.”

Last year, Wahed, a similar US-based platform that is Shariah-compliant had also raised $7 million in funding and one of their investors was Dubai-based BECO Capital.

Zubair Naeem Paracha
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