Sarwa – the first hybrid robo-advisor for young professionals in the Middle East – is changing the face of the wealth industry

Sarwa, the first and fastest growing automated investment advisory platform in the Middle East, launched in 2018 to make investing a democratized product, available to anyone by combining proven investment strategies with technology that drives down costs. The platform’s hybrid model helps Sarwa’s clients prepare for their financial future through an intuitive user experience and dedicated human advisors.

Like many robo-advisors, Sarwa offers a number of portfolios that are assigned to investors based on their risk profile, and appetite. Those portfolios range from Ultra-Conservative to Growth portfolios and are composed of ETFs from Blackrock and Vanguard, the two biggest ETF providers in the world.

The team of 13 passionate young entrepreneurs is working on solving a real problem in the region’s wealth management industry, such as high account minimums and high fees. It caters to a generation of young professionals that are looking to invest their hard earned money and work on bettering their future. 

Mark Chahwan, Co-founder and CEO, started developing the idea in 2016 with Jad Sayegh, a childhood friend and software engineer, while working as a management consultant at Accenture in Canada. They both noticed how the robo-advisory revolution was drastically reducing fees and account minimums in North America and Europe – a service that had not yet arrived to the Middle East. ‘Every time we spoke to our friends and family in the region, it became obvious that they lack access to financial services that allow everyone to invest their hard earned money.’ Said Mark.

Joined by Nadine Mezher who was living in Dubai for the past 12 years and working as a brand strategist, the three co-founded Sarwa and launched out of the Fintech Hive at DIFC, the region’s first accelerator programme launched by the DIFC (Dubai International Financial Center) in partnership with Accenture. “The timing was perfect, it was so much on our side,” Mark Ads. “For a young team to have the support of the FinTech Hive when FinTech was just starting to become a buzzword here.”

 Sarwa became the first company to graduate out of the program and incorporate in the DIFC, and to receive the innovation Testing License by the Dubai Financial Services Authority, the leading regulator in the region – a special financial services licence that allows qualifying Fintech firms to develop and roll out innovative solutions, introduced in 2017. 

The company officially launched its platform in February 2018, onboarding its first clients under the ITL. In September 2018, Sarwa secured $1.3 million in pre-series A round funding from global and regional investors such as Shorooq Investments, MEVP and 500 Startups. With Sarwa executing and delivering on its milestones, and the Dubai Financial Services Authority (DFSA) working closely with the management team, Sarwa celebrated yet another achievement: the firm became the first to graduate from the DFSA Innovation Testing Licence (ITL) and receive a full Dubai Financial Services Authority Licence.

 “We wholeheartedly believe that this business model is disrupting the traditional, expensive investing strategies in the region,” says Shane Sin, managing partner at Shorooq Investments.

 Sarwa presents a cost effective alternative to the current wealth advisory offering in the region. The platform’s algorithms and human advisors help Sarwa’s clients open an account in minutes via facial recognition, track their goals using an easy and intuitive dashboard, and rebalance their portfolios when the market causes their investments to drift from their target.

 “The best way to change the status quo in the region is by bringing a low fee-based model that is honest and transparent. Sometimes, clients here are being charged 2 to 3 per cent with a traditional brokerage firm, or more, ” says Danny Jabbour, Head of Wealth Advisory at Sarwa, “and are locked in for a long period of time, with hefty exit penalties!”.

With a low account minimum requirement and no lock-in period, Sarwa is changing the perception that investing is a luxury in the region and is well set on its way to become the leading robo-advisor platform.

Author: Yash Hirani

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