Outward VC led the £3m seed funding round joined by B&Y Venture Partners and leading angel investors, including the co-founders of fintech unicorns Onfido and Acorns, and senior executives from Facebook, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Credit Suisse.
We at Outward are strong believers in the power that fintechs can have in empowering and emboldening communities, with a particular interest in those on a mission to service large, global communities sharing significant problems. Whilst fintech continues to make great strides in addressing the needs of certain communities, others still appear to have been left well behind. One community in particular, despite being almost 6 times the size of the US and forecast to grow at more than double the rate of global population growth, continues to be one of the most grossly underserved and increasingly marginalised groups globally.
There are approximately 1.9 billion individuals identifying as Muslim around the world. The Islamic community of the UK comprise just over 6% of the population – though this is forecast to grow to almost 17% by 2050 (Source: Pew Research Centre) – and are on average one of the most deprived segments of society, whether its education, employment, housing, healthcare, access to justice.
- 46% of the UK Muslim population reside in the 10% most deprived local authority districts (Source: Muslim Council of Britain)
- 21% of employed Muslims are in high skilled work compared to an average of 34% across all other non-Muslims (Source: ONS)
- Muslim’s comprise 16% of UK’s prison population despite only accounting for 6% of UK population (Source: Official UK Prison Statistics)
- 35% of people in the UK believe that Islam is a threat to the British way of life (Source: Hope Not Hate)
Improving financial wellbeing can be an essential lever in helping to break cycles such as these, which is part of the reason why billions of VC dollars each year are pumped into fintechs that are seeking to improve financial wellbeing in a variety of ways. Whilst many of these fintechs we rightly celebrate are transforming the way in which people can better manage their finances, access fairer credit and more easily invest to create wealth, the vast majority of them are unfortunately less suited for the Muslim community, as they do not comply with the moral principles of their religious beliefs, otherwise known as Islamic or Sharia Finance.
Sharia Finance is based on a number of religious principles which often prohibit or restrict the use of many commonly used mainstream and disruptive financial products. This includes the earning of interest (e.g. savings account, bond, P2P lending, etc.) or paying of interest (e.g. traditional mortgage, personal loan, leveraged trading, etc.), investing in areas that are deemed to cause harm (alcohol, tobacco, gambling, defence, etc.), instruments with excess uncertainty (e.g. derivatives) and unequal sharing of risk (certain traditional forms of insurance).
Now, it is very important to note that I a) am NOT a Sharia scholar, and b) have hugely oversimplified this explanation for the purpose of this article. In actual fact, principles of Sharia finance are extensive and can be both complex and highly nuanced. It is a big part of the reason why the Muslim community may experience greater challenges and anxiety than most when interacting with financial products and services. It is also a big part of the reason why mainstream financial firms and fintechs have chosen to steer clear of this market, leading to the other main issue plaguing the community – a lack of choice, quality, accessibility, and certainty over the compliance of Sharia finance products. Add to that low levels of financial literacy – a problem experienced by Muslims and non-Muslims alike – and it is easy to see how this would result in financial exclusion.
For instance, a recent study suggests that as many as one-third of the working Muslim population do not have a pension, which is unsurprising given that most if not all traditional workplace pension providers we have analysed as part of our research have either one or zero Sharia-compliant funds. This is just one of many examples we have come across where Muslims feel forced to make a choice between their religious beliefs or participating in society and its financial system.
Fortunately, two good friends from Oxford University – Ibrahim Khan and Mohsin Patel – set out to address this problem in 2015 whilst pursuing corporate law careers at top-tier firms. As a passionate side hobby, the two started a blog called Islamic Finance Guru with one simple goal: use clear, engaging and jargon-free content to empower the Muslim community to make confident financial decisions without having to compromise their religious beliefs. In the years to come, they organically amassed a loyal and exponentially growing audience, built trust amongst their community, and most importantly, began to witness the true impact it was beginning have on Muslims not just in the UK, but globally. By the end of 2019, Mohsin and Ibrahim quit their day jobs to focus on IFG full-time, and the rest is history!
IFG has since evolved from a blog into a trusted online hub visited by over 120k people each month, offering a comparison engine to discover and compare high-quality Sharia-compliant investment products, as well as developing its own proprietary products – such as IFG Fund Replicator and IFG Wills. Staying true to its foundations, IFG also produces its own digestible and informative multi-channel content in order to help Muslims simplify the complexities of Sharia-finance and help them make confident financial decisions. This synergistic offering provides the foundations for IFG to pursue a bigger, bolder and more impactful long-term vision – to create THE go-to Islamic finance platform for the global Muslim community, providing everything needed to confidently and effectively manage their personal finance, investment and entrepreneurial journeys, and in doing so, well and truly levelling the playing field.
From the moment we heard this vision from Ibrahim and Mohsin, we almost instantly knew that this was a pair we had to partner with. Exceptionally mission-driven, smart, scrappy and with a unique combination of skills – spanning across mainstream and sharia finance and law, content marketing and commercial strategy – we can’t think of anyone better equipped to solve the problems facing this market. More importantly however, Ibrahim and Mohsin share a genuine passion and sense of responsibility for helping Muslims improve their financial lives. We are incredibly grateful that IFG have chosen Outward VC as their long term partners and are excited to help them build a world class team and product capable of changing the lives of 1.9bn people.