“We’re trying to become one of the largest financial institutions in the world, which is values-based. What sets us apart is that we have that unique approach to what we do, and our primary aim is to be ethical.”
In this edition of our spotlight series, we sat with Abul Fazal Salah Uddin, Head of Private Clients Services UK at Wahed in London. He gave us insights into his role, the evolution of the fintech ecosystem and shared his favourite place to eat in the capital.
Tell us what you do at Wahed.
Predominantly, it’s managing and looking after client relationships and stakeholder relationships within the business. I get involved with all of our third-party partners, whether for pensions or our custodian that we use for our brokerage service. I also talk regularly to our high-net-worth clients on how their investments are performing, what they should be thinking about, and outside of the portfolios, just general finances. They tend to ask for my opinion on certain things, and that’s what I’m here to help with.
How did you get where you are today? Tell us about your career journey.
Sheer luck is the short answer. When I was at university over twenty years ago, I started working as a cashier in a bank and worked my way up into management. Then I got offered a position with another bank to become a financial advisor; then, I got into high-net-worth wealth management. But I got into the banking world before I started taking my religion seriously. That changed only after having children. I went on a pilgrimage in 2015, and my lifestyle as a private banker didn’t seem to fit anymore. But it took me a few years to make the change.
I really wanted to use my twenty years of knowledge and experience to help Muslims save and invest. But at that time, there was hardly anything. And one morning, after my dawn prayers, I sat down and made a prayer telling God my intentions, asking him for guidance. Literally, within five minutes of finishing up prayer, I got an email to say that Wahed was looking for someone with my skillset. Would I like to apply for the job? Almost three years later, here I am.
What do you like most about your job at Wahed?
The variety of things that I get involved in. It’s also having that knowledge that I’m trying to help change a system that levels the playing field for people looking to invest according to their values and beliefs. The most fulfilling part is knowing that I’m making a difference. Instead of just helping to make a rich person richer or something like that, we are genuinely trying to help change a system to make it benefit all, rather than just some.
What’s it like being part of a fintech like Wahed in a financial ecosystem like London?
What’s great about what we are doing here is that we are part of a growing industry, which is going from strength to strength. A few years ago, nobody had really heard of Wahed, and there was no other institution out there which was Islamic finance. One recruitment guy in 2019 actually laughed at me and said, “Good luck finding that needle in the haystack.”
And now, in 2022, only a few years later, how many financial Islamic finance-focused or values-focused institutions are there in the UK? Absolutely huge amounts. It’s exciting to be part of this growing, constantly changing industry. We have to learn and adapt quickly, but everybody’s intention is the same: to help others, in line with our beliefs and values. We all want to help a wider community.
Do you see a lot of competition for Wahed in the market?
In terms of direct competition, there aren’t many who are value-based investment providers or on our scale globally. But we get compared to the likes of Vanguard, Hargreaves Lansdown, AJ Bell. Some of those comparisons are unwarranted when you compare us to a stockbroker like AJ Bell.
But when we get compared to portfolio managers such as Vanguard or Hargreaves Lansdown, it means that we must be doing something right. We are not being compared to another small startup. We’re trying to become one of the largest financial institutions in the world, which is values-based. What sets us apart is that we have that unique approach to what we do, and our primary aim is to be ethical.
How was working in private banking different from your current role in a company that promotes financial inclusion?
In private banking, if you have the money, there is no challenge. You can build anything you want, and people are willing to do it. The challenge came when I used to persuade a business to take on somebody who didn’t have ten million; maybe they only had three or four. And they’d be like, “Okay, fine, we’ll take this person on.”
Whereas here, financial inclusion means that irrespective of where you are in the world and your financial status, the service you’re getting is exactly the same. We offer the same investment service to everyone, whether you live in a village in Bangladesh, Pakistan or Nigeria. The same service comprises the same investment management and funds as those who have got millions of pounds in an account with Wahed living in London or New York.
For me, it is the fact that we can do this, and we’re able to include anybody and everybody without needing to throw money at it in that traditional sense, that makes it phenomenal. Technology is now enabling us to offer something which is just as effective whether you have fifty pounds in your account or five million. That’s really exciting.
What’s the one thing that could help improve the future of financial services for the everyday consumer?
Financial literacy: it’s the way to empower anybody. As the old saying goes, “You can give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day, or you can teach a man to fish, and he’ll feed himself forever.” That’s exactly what we are trying to do. Financial literacy enables people to educate and empower themselves to make the right decisions without paying for advisors and the cost burden that involves. It also means understanding your tax benefits and allowances. Those things alone can make such a difference.
When you are not helping to grow one of the most successful fintech in the world, what do you like to do in your spare time?
I’ve got two kids in secondary school, so in our spare time, we try to do as much as we can as a family, whether watching a movie or helping the kids with their studies. It’s that family time that I value the most. During the waking day, most of my time is spent at work. So, the few hours I get with my family over dinner and in the evenings is precious.
In your opinion, where is the best place to eat in London?
I’m a simple guy, so anywhere with a street food market with a variety of places is best. When I was working in the West End, I went to Street Food Union that had about a dozen different options every day. The majority of them had halal options. For me, it’s great having that variety.
If a tourist had only one hour to spend in London, what would you recommend them to see and why?
A boat cruise down the Thames is a fantastic way to see the city. If you want culture and history, there’s no better place than the British Museum. If you want the best of both worlds, the old history of London and the new, go to the Shard and have a view from the viewing platforms. The London Eye is great too.