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Editor's PickWorld Islamic Fintech Awards 2019: Strength in diversity

World Islamic Fintech Awards 2019: Strength in diversity

After a global call for nominations and a lengthy deliberation process, IFN Fintech is pleased to reveal the winners of the prestigious World Islamic Fintech Awards for the year 2019. The nominations-based independent awards received 135 nominations from start-ups in varying stages of growth across nine verticals.

This round of nominations portrayed greater geographical diversity, reflecting the expansion of Islamic fintech across the globe. With start-ups from top Islamic finance markets such as Malaysia, the UK, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, 2019 nominees also hailed from jurisdictions that were not represented last year such as Mauritius, Australia and Jordan.

With new start-ups and as more companies become even more established as they find their footing in the industry, the competition for the best has indeed intensified.

Malaysia still accounted for the lion’s share of the nominations, followed by the UK and the UAE, Indonesia and Iran. Breaking it down by region, there is a more balanced representation with Africa and the Americas grabbing a larger market share as compared to 2018.

Unfortunately, the absence of Takatech start-ups continued in 2019 while the category of Best Digital Islamic Bank did not yield enough qualifying nominations.
Apart from two defending champions, the rest of the winners are fresh faces, again demonstrating the exciting dynamics of the ever-growing Islamic fintech sector.

Our heartiest congratulations to all winners on your well-deserved victories!

Geographical distribution of nominations by country in 2019

Geographical distribution of nominations by region in 2019

Geographical distribution of nominations by region in 2018

Best Alternative Finance Fintech Provider
This award recognizes non-mainstream digital platforms offering financing to individuals, SMEs and/or corporates.

Winner: Ovamba Finance (Cameroon)
Honorable mention: Sakook (Iran)

Right off the bat, the World Islamic Fintech Awards are off to a competitive start. The Best Alternative Finance Fintech Provider category fielded strong nominations from vastly different operating environments.

The alternative finance category, which has traditionally been dominated by digital mortgage providers, saw a variety of interesting business models this time around. From Asia, start-ups with a proven buy-now-pay-later model are also eyeing the Shariah market with their Riba-free systems. Singapore-headquartered hoolah is one example. Recently expanded into Malaysia, hoolah has onboarded over 250 merchants across the two markets it is currently operating in, providing retail customers with interest-free instalments through their debit cards, a service not provided by existing banks in Malaysia nor Singapore.

From the Middle East, Iran’s Sakook left a deep impression; the young start-up, operating in the supply chain finance space, provides an alternative means of financing to the overbanked population. In line with the Republic’s Shariah compliant financial system, Sakook serves the business-to-business (B2B) market with Islamic financial instruments, particularly bill of exchanges enabling factoring and reverse factoring. In the span of two years, the start-up has built a customer base of some 6,500 SMEs – a promising start to its ambitious goal of financing up to 3% of the Iranian financial market in the near future as per its five-year plan.

However, it was Ovamba Finance from Cameroon which took home the Best Alternative Finance Fintech Provider crown. Like Sakook, Ovamba provides trade finance and supply chain finance solutions. But unlike the Iranian start-up, which is largely confined to its domestic market due to unforgiving sanctions, this African start-up shows greater geographical mobility and promising regional expansion trajectory, giving it higher chances of meeting the region’s MSME financing gap of US$331 billion (according to World Bank figures). The firm took the strategic decision to have its Murabahah solution certified Shariah compliant by Bahrain’s Shariyah Review Bureau instead of local scholars, therefore securing itself international recognition for its Shariah integrity, which makes its solution more palatable cross-border. Apart from Cameroon, Ovamba has also forayed into Ivory Coast.

2019 was a big year for Ovamba. Embodying and exemplifying the collaborative instead of the disruptive spirit of fintech, the start-up partnered with two banks in its home country: UBA and Union Bank of Cameroon. Thanks to its ability to provide capital, its access to global suppliers and warehousing along with other logistical infrastructure offerings, Ovamba processed over 1,000 transactions and originated over US$129 million of demand over the last three years.

But it is not stopping there. Ovamba is working on building partnerships with several monetary financial institutions across emerging markets. It will also continue to expand into new markets including Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Uganda, Ethiopia, Senegal, Togo and North Africa, as it keeps its eyes on the 400 million SMEs across Africa.

Best Data and Analytics Platform for Islamic Finance
This award recognizes providers of technology allowing Islamic financial institutions to improve performance and make better decisions using data analytics. It also includes regtech firms which provide technology to help firms working in the financial services industry meet financial compliance rules.

Winner: MyFinB (Malaysia)
Honorable mention: Islamicly (the UK)

Data is king. And the nominated firms in the category of Best Data and Analytics Platform for Islamic Finance are kings in their own rights. From the largest investment consulting firm in Iran with its own proprietary data and analytics software to award-winning solutions providers from Switzerland, Lebanon and Bangladesh, one Malaysian firm stood out with its artificial intelligence (AI)-driven platform which is currently being used across 28 countries to make impactful business decisions.

With data points from at least two million enterprises and 40,000 publicly listed companies across over 30 industry groups, MyFinB’s AI technology cuts across eight major sectors: financial institutions, corporates, government agencies, accounting/auditing firms, credit bureaus, stock exchanges, universities and trade associations.

Like most data and analytics platforms, MyFinB’s technology enables users to evaluate risks and returns. However, the company has the advantage of also providing analysis beyond descriptive and diagnostic – using qualitative and quantitative information, its proprietary AI machines are able to predict outcomes and map out scenarios while producing recommendations to address issues. In other words, it provides predictive and prescriptive action plans. In addition to that, the AI platform is integrated with marketplace features, connecting any potential financing seekers with the right partners, advisors, specialists and financiers to achieve their objectives.

The firm has come a long way since its establishment in 2016. It faced market resistance due to perceived complexities with AI technologies, as companies often associated AI adoption with issues of high capital expenditure costs, intellectual property ownership and lack of expertise to execute. But a change in mindset and business strategy catapulted the firm forward. Initially viewing itself as a disruptive force in the traditional banking and finance space, it is now gravitating toward a collaborative model, evident through its Digital AI Labs (DIAL) program, an arrangement helping organizations build and own AI experts systems to solve a specific issue with a commercial goal in mind. With a collaborative mindset, the company decided in 2018 to incorporate win-win ownership models into its business framework such as Musharakah Mutanaqisah, and that changed the game for MyFinB.

Thanks to its new approach, revenues skyrocketed by 87 times in 2019, way above its 10-fold growth targets. By the end of the year, the firm ran 21 DIAL projects. It now has physical presence in 20 countries, and will commence operations in Vietnam by June 2020 while pursuing expansion in OIC countries.

Special mention needs to be given to Islamicly, a mobile app democratizing information on Shariah compliance of listed companies worldwide. The app, developed out of the UK, is a Shariah-certified mobile platform allowing retail investors access to real-time, researched Shariah compliance status of over 30,000 stocks globally. In addition to receiving updates on the Shariah integrity of these companies, users are also able to create portfolios of stocks of their choice and calculate the level of purification needed to maintain Shariah compliance, as well as have access to community forums and blogs on Islamic investment options. Providing such access to the retail community, Islamicly creates an opportunity for the average Joe to gain exposure to the global equities market in a more informed manner.

Best Islamic Crowdfunding Finance Platform
This award recognizes the most outstanding Islamic crowdfunding finance platform. It covers donation-based platforms, reward-based crowdfunding and equity crowdfunding.

Winner: Ethis Fintek Indonesia

As one of the most crowded Islamic fintech verticals, it is no surprise that the Best Islamic Crowdfunding Finance Platform category was one of the most contested categories of WIFA 2019.

Ethis Fintek Indonesia, a platform under the formidable global Ethis brand, takes home the title. A familiar name in the crowdfunding and P2P space, the property investment crowdfunding platform had a stellar 2019, largely in the form of regulatory recognition, which opened new doors for the four-year-old start-up.

The Indonesian Financial Services Authority granted Ethis Indonesia with a fintech license, enabling the platform, which until then was only mobilizing foreign investments into the Indonesian housing market, to tap local retail investors. Since the regulatory approval, the company has received support from the Ministry of Public Housing and is looking to secure regulatory licenses in other jurisdictions including Dubai, Kazakhstan, Bahrain and Morocco while also considering replicating its business model in Pakistan and Bangladesh. It is also worth noting that the platform received a grant in 2019 from Expo Live 2020 and will be showcasing its solution at the Dubai Expo 2020.

These affirmations from the Indonesian and Emirati governments are a testament to its proven track record and Shariah compliant business proposition. Over US$8 million in investment has been channeled into the development of 7,430 affordable houses through the Ethis Indonesia platform since its founding in 2016, and this is an example of how Islamic finance can deliver positive social impact.

Best Islamic Peer-to-Peer Finance Platform
This award recognizes the most outstanding peer-to-peer financing platform complying with Shariah financing principles.

Winner: Investree Radhika Jaya (Indonesia)
Honorable mentions: Alami Sharia (Indonesia), Beehive (the UAE)

Competition is fierce in the P2P category, particularly from Indonesian platforms. Ambitious and aggressive, those nominated demonstrated phenomenal growth stories.

From Dubai, pioneer Beehive, the first Shariah compliant P2P platform to be regulated by the Dubai Financial Services Authority, continues its impressive momentum. In 2019, the start-up anchored its roots in Asia with its first international branch in Thailand. Beehive Asia forged a partnership with one of Thailand’s largest banks, Thanachart Bank, to launch an SME value chain financing program. Beehive, in collaboration with the Economic Development Board of Bahrain, also expanded into Bahrain and facilitated funding for its first Bahrain-based SME. The platform, which mobilized AED500 million (US$136.11 million) of SME funding in 2019, is currently working on establishing a physical footprint in Saudi Arabia, with new Islamic solutions in the pipeline.

But it isn’t just well-established pioneers which had a good 2019. Newcomers such as Alami Sharia from Indonesia also made its mark. Established in 2018, the start-up received two regulatory licenses in the following year: an Islamic P2P license and another to operate an aggregator platform. In just six months since it was licensed, Alami distributed about US$5 million in funding, and onboarded approximately 2,000 retail investors, as well as achieved 0% non-performing financing for the year. It also secured VC funding. These are indeed impressive milestones that deserve to be commended.

It was indeed difficult to single out a clear winner from such a pool of caliber. Neck and neck, it was Investree which edged out all its competitors to be crowned Best Islamic P2P Financing Platform of 2019.

A force to be reckoned with in the fintech lending space of Indonesia, the firm – co-founded by Islamic banking veteran Adrian Gunaidi – is also making an impact outside of the Republic. Already operating in Indonesia and Vietnam, in 2019, the firm expanded into Thailand and plans are underway to enter the Philippines.

Investree has the distinction of being the only lending platform which has gained an authorized business license for fintech lending from the regulator, operating in both the conventional and Shariah space. The start-up, which has originated over 5,100 loans to the tune of close to IDR3 trillion (US$219.88 million), disbursed IDR250 billion (US$18.32 million) in Shariah financing in 2019. It also closed the year with its first partnership with an Islamic bank – BRI Syariah. Under the agreement, BRI Syariah will distribute financing to SMEs through Investree, starting with an initial IDR50 billion (US$3.66 million).

As the first fintech platform to act as an official distributor of the government’s retail savings Sukuk program, Investree continues to build its rapport with the government: it has formed a collaboration with several strategic partners including the National Public Procurement Agency to enhance its supply chain financing schemes.

The successful working relationship Investree has built with traditional incumbents (banks) and the government is an exemplary model of a collaborative fintech model for financial inclusion. Coupled with the growth of its Shariah business, it has all the merits of being the Best Islamic P2P Finance Platform of 2019. Investree’s next phase of growth will involve an exploration of further integration with other ecosystems including e-commerce, digital procurement and other value chain ecosystems.

Most Innovative Use of Blockchain in Islamic Finance
This award recognizes the most innovative adoption of blockchain technology in the Islamic financial sector.

Winner: Finterra (Malaysia)
Honorable mention: MenaPay (the UAE)

The potential for blockchain/distributed ledger technology in the financial services is seemingly limitless. And over the past year, we have seen blockchain technology being applied more in the Islamic financial world, including in the capital markets and banking sector. From offerings of Sukuk to execution of cross-border remittance and payments and e-voting, Islamic financial institutions and fintech entrepreneurs are embracing the technology and putting it to good use to optimize their offerings and maximize impact.

One project deserving of an honorable mention is MenaPay, which is supporting the digital transformation of the MENA region with a blockchain-based non-bank mobile payment gateway. The Dubai-based start-up is one of the earliest bank-independent institutions to utilize blockchain technology to digitalize cash for the unbanked population. The platform takes advantage of two different blockchain infrastructures – data infrastructure and cryptocurrency – to address two different areas. Its design idea includes offline reseller points where users can buy MenaCash with fiat currencies (cash). This enables users to buy MenaCash and use it for peer-to-peer transactions or payments to merchants without banks.

In a tight race for Most Innovative Use of Blockchain in Islamic Finance, Finterra pipped MenaPay to the post. With its work in the space of Islamic endowments and charity, Finterra’s solution embodies both these themes – optimal efficiency and maximum impact.

Finterra’s WAQF Chain platform is designed with the core objective of unlocking the potential of Islamic endowment assets in a transparent, secure and efficient environment. The smart contract ecosystem allows Waqf institutions and other stakeholders to submit and raise donations to develop projects utilizing Waqf assets.

2019 saw the deployment of the first phase of the Shariah-certified platform, allowing users to trace their donations using a smart contract, thereby bringing in the much-needed elements of accountability and transparency. Users are also provided with impact reports detailing the impact of their contributions. In the last year, Finterra successfully ran pilots of their platform across six countries: Malaysia, South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya, Turkey and Oman.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg. The next phase of development, which is currently ongoing, is to integrate an investment component into its ecosystem by introducing a Waqf fund management platform. The idea is to utilize Islamic financial instruments such as Mudarabah, Musharakah and Tawarruq, among others, to enable investments into social ventures. There are also plans to roll out two new non-Waqf blockchain products: ZakatChain and WassiyyahChain.

Best Islamic Wealth Management Fintech Company
This award recognizes the best digital applications facilitating financial planning, budgeting and/or savings and/or investments based on Islamic principles.

Winner: HelloGold (Malaysia)
Honorable mention: Bondsmart (UK)

2019’s nominations of Best Islamic Wealth Management Fintech Company were indeed an eclectic mix.

Worthy to highlight is Bondsmart, one of the earliest to pioneer a co-ownership bond platform. Bondsmart allows financial institutions to offer bite-sized fixed-term investment products such as Sukuk to individual investors. In other words, it allows individual investors access to the institutional Sukuk and bond market through fractionalized ownership of such assets; this is an important development as the global Sukuk market is largely an institutional play. While the concept may be straightforward, the execution is rather complex, but Bondsmart has managed to do so through smart engineering without using blockchain technology. The software is already deployed in two markets – Jordan and the UAE – and there are plans to enter new jurisdictions in 2020. The UK firm is also working on establishing a base in the UAE. This is certainly a noteworthy platform.

But winning Best Islamic Wealth Management Fintech Company, and for the second year in a row, is Malaysia’s HelloGold. The digital savings platform continues to democratize financial services through the digitalization of savings and lending products, starting first with gold.

Continuing its impressive momentum from the year before – expansion into Thailand, acquisition of new customers, launching of tokenized assets – the Kuala Lumpur-headquartered start-up achieved tremendous milestones in 2019.

It gained access to nine African countries through its partnership with regional credit operator Baobab, recorded a 400% year-on-year growth in its Malaysian user base which now counts over 100,000, its newly-launched Thai unit onboarded 16,000 users, and the gross value transacted on its platform skyrocketed by 455% year-on-year to US$7.24 million.

The start-up is currently working on expanding into new markets including Indonesia, the GCC, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Best Shariah Compliant Payment, Remittance and FX Platform
This award recognizes companies offering alternative Shariah compliant payment solutions such as mobile payment, e-wallets, payment gateways, the transfer of money in real-time between individuals and the exchange of currency.

Winner: PayHalal (Malaysia)

The Best Shariah Compliant Payment, Remittance and FX Platform goes to Malaysia’s PayHalal. Under the leadership of Islamic banking veteran Badlisyah Abdul Ghani as CEO, the payment platform has grown by leaps and bounds in 2019 with new partnerships and services.

As the world’s first payment gateway to be certified Shariah compliant by Islamic scholars, PayHalal is the missing cog in an end-to-end Shariah compliant digital payment ecosystem. Its payment system is insulated from Riba elements through the utilization of Islamic trust/deposit account, and the distribution of Hibah to merchants being derived from Halal investments.

Over the last year, the payment gateway has expanded its retail payment service to include the facilitation of Sadaqah donations, the payment of Zakat and remittances for education. The start-up strategically aligned itself with Zakat authorities in 2019, including Malaysia’s Federal Territories Islamic Religious Council Zakat Collection Center as well as Islamic financial institutions such as Zurich Takaful Malaysia, the National Co-operative Movement of Malaysia and even Islamic fintech peers such as venture builder Ethis Ventures, which operates the charity crowdfunding platform Global Sadaqah. PayHalal also managed to expand its partnership network abroad through agreements with Brunei’s Multipro Resources, to whom PayHalal will provide Islamic e-commerce services, and Indonesia’s Kirana Investama Nusantara.

PayHalal expects to grow its user base to three million and facilitate over RM480 million (US$115.68 million)-worth of transactions by September 2020.

Best Islamic Financial Software Provider
This award recognizes the best technology company offering technical solutions for financial services providers such as banking software, trading software and accounting software.

Winner: Infopro (Malaysia)
Honorable mention: Codebase Technologies (UAE)

The Best Islamic Financial Software Provider received one of the most diverse mix of nominations, with nominees hailing from a wide variety of geographies: Iran, Lebanon, Bahrain, Kuwait, Malaysia and Indonesia among others.

As diverse as they may be, one commonality is observed among the nominees: they all have long-standing track records, spanning decades, providing cutting-edge Islamic banking tech solutions.

From award-winning Path Solutions to last year’s winner Codebase Technologies, to Lebanon’s Capital Banking Solutions and Iran’s Datx Company, the latest round of nominees demonstrated impressive growth over the last year.

Codebase Technologies for example delivered 13 enterprise systems including a regtech solution, digital payments platform as well as digital banking experience. It also partnered with international financial center Abu Dhabi Global Market to support the UAE’s first fintech digital lab.

Taking home 2019’s Best Islamic Financial Software Provider title however, is a Malaysian homegrown firm which has built a reputable and reliable business over the last 32 years. Maintaining a 100% successful track record in all projects undertaken, Infopro has implemented its technologies in over 91 client sites across 30 countries globally, including in three new markets last year.

More notably, the firm, which prioritizes research and development, has successfully developed, in-house, AI-based algorithms enhancing product intelligence and workflow efficiencies in the areas of anti-money laundering, credit scoring, customer onboarding, visual analytics, customer segmentation, smart mobile banking and customer profiling, among others. Each solution is modular, allowing users flexibility to scale up. Since 1987, Infopro has invested more than RM330 million (US$79.53 million) to develop and enhance its flagship eIBCA System which is being used by both Islamic and conventional financial institutions. To-date, the firm boasts a catalogue of over 50 product modules catered to financial institutions of any size and growth stage.

As with many tech firms, Infopro faced the challenge of recruiting the right talent to develop its AI banking solutions. This was circumvented by it initiating and executing a joint collaboration with researchers from Malaysia’s Multimedia University, where the dean of faculty of computing and informatics led Infopro’s team of data scientists in building various AI models over 12 months. The outcome, an AI-driven digital banking product equipped with AI analytics and robo-advisory, was launched in the presence of Malaysia’s deputy minister of international trade and industry.

The CMMI (Capability Maturity Model Integration) Level 5-appraised tech company and certified partner of IBM, Oracle and Microsoft is also building a partnership on a blockchain-based Waqf solution in a bid to complete its Islamic banking offerings to align itself with the fourth industrial revolution, as it eyes expanding its footprint to Indonesia, Brunei, Philippines, Portugal, the Middle East and Africa.

Best Islamic Robo-Advisory Platform
This award recognizes the best digital portfolio management system providing algorithm-based and largely automated Islamic financial investment advice and decisions.

Winner: Wahed Invest (the US)

Maintaining its dominance in the Shariah compliant digital investment management space, Wahed Invest is crowned the Best Islamic Robo-Advisory Platform for the second consecutive year. Since winning the title in 2018, the US firm has continued its phenomenal momentum, growing from strength-to-strength, and is now accessible in over 130 markets. It became the first licensed Islamic digital investment manager in the world in 2019 when the Securities Commission Malaysia awarded it with a Shariah digital investment license. In the same year, Wahed started operations in Bahrain as well; it is now licensed in the US, the UK, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Malaysia and Mauritius. Central Asia, India, Nigeria and Indonesia are among the countries it is looking to foray into in the near future.

In addition to that, the start-up broke new ground in 2019 with the launch of an Islamic exchange-traded fund on NASDAQ, allowing Shariah-conscious investors worldwide access to over 222 Islamic US stocks. The internationalization of affordable value-based Shariah compliant investment options is important in democratizing financial services, especially to the world’s vulnerable population.

Best Social Impact Islamic Fintech Firm
This award recognizes the most innovative use of Islamic fintech to deliver social good.

Winner: HelloGold (Malaysia)
Honorable mention: Global Sadaqah (Malaysia)

Global Sadaqah continues its impactful work in the area of Sadaqah and Zakat by leveraging its first mover advantage as a charity crowdfunding platform engaging Islamic banks to maximize social impact. In 2019, RM250,000 (US$60,302.2) was crowdfunded for the benefit of charities and individuals, while over RM120,000 (US$28,945) was raised from its corporate partners such as Alliance Islamic Bank and Kuwait Finance House Malaysia. Widely regarded as a pioneer in Islamic fintech for social good, Global Sadaqah’s contribution to the society and Islamic fintech space is most valuable.

The 2019 winner illustrates that the common good also covers financial inclusion, which contributes to financial independence and autonomy.
Staying true to its goal of financial inclusion, HelloGold, which won the Best Islamic Wealth Management Fintech Company of 2019 award, is recognized for the social impact it generated with its Shariah compliant gold savings platform in 2019.

The platform addresses two UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – end poverty in all its forms anywhere (SDG 1) as the eradication of poverty is near impossible without fair access to sound savings, and reduce inequality within and among countries (SDG 10) as the most vulnerable of society are often those with the worst access to financial services.

HelloGold’s mobile platform, which enables users to purchase gold for as low as 25 US cents, removes barriers – financial and physical – for the underserved to be included in the financial system. This is proven by the fact that an overwhelming majority (70%) of its 140,000 (approximately) users are first-time gold investors. Over US$675,000-worth of gold were transacted by women on the HelloGold app, out of which 81% were from the low to moderate income bracket, earning less than US$1,200 a month.

The social impact delivered by HelloGold has been recognized internationally as it was one of a few globally selected to present at the UN Secretary General’s Task Force on Digital Finance of the Sustainable Development Goals during the 74th UN General Assembly in New York. It was also selected to participate in the UN Capital Development Fund Innovation Lab as well as Dubai International Financial Center’s Fintech Hive program.

Most Promising Islamic Fintech Start-up of the Year
This award recognizes a fintech start-up that may not have a minimum viable product yet but whose idea demonstrates ingenuity, an ability to deliver sustainable impact to the community/Islamic financial sector, and viability.

Winner: Manzil (Canada)
Honorable mentions: Challenger Pay (Australia), Nester (the UK)

What is notable (and encouraging) about the nominees for Most Promising Islamic Fintech Start-up of the Year is the visibility of start-ups from non-Muslim-majority markets such as the UK, Canada, Australia and Singapore.

The different fintech verticals are also well-represented, with nominees operating in the areas of alternative finance, payment, investment, banking, peer-to-peer and crowdfunding as well as data and analytics.

From the pool of promising start-ups, a couple stood out for their ingenuity, potential impact and strides made in coming to market.

In the UK, Nester is among the outstanding select few. The young start-up has laid the groundwork to become the UK’s first Islamic peer-to-peer financing platform. By becoming a digital platform facilitating real estate-backed Islamic financing, Nester would expand the limited universe of Shariah compliant retail finance instruments and therefore empower both Muslim and non-Muslim consumers alike with alternative value-based financing options. Led by Islamic finance veterans, Nester’s business model and vision have been well-received by Shariah scholars, and work is underway for an official Fatwa. Supported by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA)’s Innovate Hub, Nester has applied for FCA authorization and is expected to deploy the platform before the second quarter of 2020.

“Our vision is to create an ecosystem that is empowering for all, not just for a certain community. Nester is presented agnostically with the vision to impact all communities. It is an ecosystem that shall organically grow and service the changing needs of its members, with knowledge-sharing and transparency as core value. Nester’s product therefore is far beyond the financing arrangements, which in themselves are innovative, but rather encompasses the ecosystem being developed by Nester in-house,” the start-up elaborated.

Another start-up worthy to highlight is Challenger Pay. Incorporated in Australia and Cayman Islands, the payment service provider will commence operations in Abu Dhabi Global Market in the first quarter of 2020. The plan is to enter five regions by 2021 (the UAE, Australia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Pakistan and Indonesia) reaching a population in excess of 762 million.

Using a fintech-as-a-service approach, Challenger Pay is a platform providing the payment rails and infrastructure that enable business-to-customer and business-to-business recurring payments and bills. The solution allows a Payer1 to have a holistic view and manage all their financial accounts under one smart finance aggregation app. The goal is to make it simple, smart and secure to accept and reconcile recurring payments online while delivering a seamless, innovative payment experience for the customer.

“Challenger Pay’s objective is to disrupt the way payments are made and collected for recurring payments, with emphasis on opportunities in developing economies. Areas of future development include products to help businesses boost cash flow via ‘instant settlement’, and smarter payment features to increase transaction success rates. The latter could include using open banking to check if funds are available before trying to process a direct debit, or to automatically set the most appropriate payment date,” explained the start-up.

After great deliberation, the Most Promising Islamic Fintech Start-up of the Year 2019 goes to Canada’s Manzil.

Operating in a largely underserved market, the emergence of an alternative finance provider is significant as Manzil could meet the pressing need of Muslims and non-Muslims alike for Shariah compliant, ethical, usury-free financial products. Set to double over the next decade, Canadian Muslims – currently at 1.3 million – are the fastest-growing demographic in the country, creating a US$50 billion market opportunity for Islamic financial service providers.

Opened to all Canadians irrespective of religious background and ethnicities, Manzil commenced operations with its first product, a Halal mortgage product, which is certified by AAOIFI. The zero-interest mortgage structure also complies with the Bank Act of Canada, Mortgage Act of Canada and Disclosure of Interest (banks) Regulations.

Manzil’s mortgage structure is asset-backed and based on a credit sale model and a shared risk system resulting in a fairer transaction, as opposed to lending with interest and compound interest. It introduced the very first non-conditional mortgage system where, during the entire mortgage period, the client is the official owner of the property.
The AI-enabled back-end technology interface allows clients to onboard themselves easily and receive approval for funding within days.

A passionate advocate for Islamic finance, CEO Mohamad Sawaf’s vision of serving an untapped market and making Toronto an Islamic finance hub has won many over. In a span of six months, Manzil garnered demand and raised over CA$250 million (US$188.42 million) in required mortgage funds, growing at a rate of CA$3 million (US$2.26 million) per week. It was accepted into the Holt Fintech AI Accelerator and in November 2019, it listed its mortgage fund on the NEO Connect exchange.

“Manzil’s vision is to make Toronto a hub for the Islamic finance industry in Canada and North America. It has aggressive, ambitious plans to introduce Islamic finance to Canada and the US and is doing so by branching out into a subset of finance and thus creating a new industry altogether,” the start-up said.

Now in Toronto, Manzil will expand into French-speaking Canada and the provinces of Quebec and Alberta this year, with an eye on crossing into the US in 2021. The plan is to expand its product offerings to include a wide range of financing, investment and Takaful products. There are also plans to establish a charitable entity through which a Waqf fund will be set up.

Based on the momentum gathered thus far, backed by strong leadership and vision and its ambitious plans for the future, Manzil is the Most Promising Islamic Fintech Start-up of the Year 2019.

Islamic Fintech Company of the Year
This award honors an Islamic fintech company for its outstanding overall performance in product innovation, market reach and delivery of significant impact on society.

Winner: Wahed Invest (the US)

The winner of 2019’s Islamic Fintech Company of the Year award needs no introduction. A pioneer with humble beginnings, Wahed Invest has grown to become a global force to be reckoned with. Now officially regulated in six different jurisdictions and accessible in over 130 markets, the robo-advisor shows no sign of slowing down.

Exploring different asset classes and having expanded its remit last year with the launch of an Islamic ETF – the only one listed on NASDAQ, Wahed demonstrates its ability to manage both modern and traditional investment activities.

As an early starter in the Islamic robo-advisory space, Wahed has been working closely with regulators in different countries to shape regulatory framework for digital investment management. While global in ambitions, the start-up manages to localize its messaging in the markets it operates in, which is key to its phenomenal expansion, geographically as well as customer-wise.

Its business model, growth story, compelling vision and work ethics have won investor confidence: on the retail front, its customer base has expanded tens of thousands, and on the institutional front, it has secured funding from Dubai’s Cultiv8, a technology fund owned by Mohammed Bin Rashid Fund for SMEs, bringing the value of venture investments received to US$20 million.


  1. We are really excited and want to thank everyone involved in our recent win! Congratulations our industry peers here who also won. It is such a huge honour and we wish everyone a successful year. 2020 will prove that Islamic Finance is a force for good, ethical business and an engine for growth!! Viola Llewellyn, Co-Founder, Ovamba


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