Robo-advisory Sarwa sets eyes on Abu Dhabi as it raises $8.4m in new financing

The funding round was led by Kuwait Projects Company, which has consolidated assets of more than $30bn

Sarwa's co-founders (left to right) Nadine Mezher, Jad Sayegh and Mark Chahwan. Sarwa is among a new wave of digital investment platforms for young professionals that offer investors transparency and low fees. Photo: courtesy of Sarwa
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Sarwa, a Dubai-based low-cost robo-advisory platform, will open a second office in Abu Dhabi as part of a wider GCC expansion, after securing $8.4 million (Dh31m) in Series A funding from investors.

The funding round was led by Kuwait Projects Company, also known as Kipco, which has consolidated assets of more than $30 billion, with other leading investors including the Dubai International Financial Centre, Abu Dhabi Investment Office, Vision Ventures from Saudi Arabia and Hambro Perks from the UK.

Sarwa said the latest funding, which will fund its market expansion to Abu Dhabi and the wider GCC along with the growth of its tech and advisory teams and regulatory upgrades, is a “meaningful milestone” for the FinTech sector, as it is the first time a regional investment group has collaborated with a regional FinTech.

“The coming together of a large institution that understands how to build leading asset managers, with the first licensed FinTech out here sets a great example for the region,” said Mark Chahwan, chief executive and co-founder of Sarwa.

Sarwa is among a new wave of low-cost digital investment platforms for young professionals that gauge an investor’s risk tolerance and assigns them a tailored investment portfolio of exchange traded funds (ETFs) while charging lower fees than traditional financial advisers and wealth managers.

Founded in December of 2017 by co-founders Mr Chahwan, Jad Sayegh and Nadine Mezher, Sarwa was one of the first players to enter the UAE market and now has 10,000 registered users, following a monthly growth of over 20 per cent since the company launched. It received a full operating licence in November 2018 following a phase in the DIFC’s Fintech Hive accelerator programme.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 28 NOVEMBER 2018. A Practical Guide to Financial Independence event, Zach Holz. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Alice Haine. Section: Business.
The funding will help Mark Chahwan of Sarwa reach a bigger audience and develop the company's product offering. Antonie Robertson/The National

Its latest funding round takes the company’s total funding to date to over $10m and follows previous rounds, including a 2017 seed round of $250,000 and the $1.3m raised in a Pre-Series A round in September 2018, led by Shorooq Partners, the Emirati-founded, seed stage venture capital company based out of Abu Dhabi.

“All our partners believe in what we are trying to achieve: making investing as smart and simple as can be and allowing anyone to grow their wealth and build for a better future,” said Mr Chawan.

With Abu Dhabi Investment Office joining the funding round, Sarwa opened its second base in Abu Dhabi's tech start-up space, Hub71, in Abu Dhabi Global Market this month, where the company plans to grow its tech team. This is part of a wider proposed expansion across the GCC, with Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain next on its list. The company is also expanding its team to 20 staff members in the next two months from 13.

“Sarwa is among a new wave of tech start-ups that are thriving in the UAE as our FinTech sector continues to flourish,” said Tariq Bin Hendi, director general of Adio. “Adio’s funding will enable Sarwa to expand its UAE operations, creating new opportunities for employment in Abu Dhabi’s tech sector.”

Sarwa, whose management fees range from around 0.85 per cent per annum for account balances under Dh183,659 to 0.5 per cent for balances over Dh367,319, describes itself as a hybrid robo-advisory, with wealth advisers available to help over the phone or in person if a customer needs financial planning for specific goals.

Sarwa said that Kipco’s interest confirms “it is the right time for the market to move towards affordable, accessible investing”.

“Kipco is delighted to be making its first FinTech investment in Sarwa, which shares our belief in the need to encourage more people in the region to save by making available more accessible and reliable investment platforms,” said Osama Al Ghoussein, Kipco senior vice president banking and Sarwa board member. “Our investment will give Sarwa access to Kipco’s network of businesses and clients across the region, thus enabling the FinTech company to benefit from our regional presence as we strive together to grow the business and expand its reach.”