The idea for Sarwa – a new low-cost wealth management firm which uses computer-generated algorithms – came to its co-owners after seeing numerous associates in the United Arab Emirates fall victim to fraudulent investment plans which benefited brokers at the expense of investors.
Mark Chahwan, a Canadian entrepreneur born in Lebanon, was working for Accenture as a management consultant when he realized the Middle East has yet to benefit from the start of the “robo-advisory revolution,” which has been reducing fees in both Europe and the U.S. by “using computers to invest in low-fee index tracking funds” based on customers’ appetite for risk.
“A lot of our friends end up in Dubai from the Lebanese community and while we were having access to great solutions, they had no clue what to do with their money,” he said. “Many professionals move to Dubai specifically to better themselves and have better career opportunities but when it came to follow up, there was no idea what to do with it, no education.”
Sarwa was co-founded by Chahwan and Jad Sayegh, a childhood friend, and officially began operations in November 2017 after being admitted alongside ten other startups to a 12-week program provided by the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) in April.
Sarwa’s portfolio models are assigned based on risk-tolerance and use six ETFs, including four stock ETFs and two bond ETFs; the company may eventually add additional ETFs for other asset-classes. While still a startup, Sarwa is currently between seed-funding and Series A funding and has increased its asset-value to $100,000.
The first company to invest in Sarwa was Shorooq Investments, a private equity/venture capital firm based in Abu Dhabi. “We wholeheartedly believe that this business model will disrupt the traditional, expensive investing strategies in the region,” said Shane Sin, a managing partner at Shorooq. “The concept of robo-advisers presents a clear, cost-effective alternative investment strategy and has already improved how millions of individuals invest in the US, Canada, and Europe. We are confident that Sarwa is on-track to become the clear market-leading robo-adviser platform as well as one of the FinTech unicorns in the region.”