A U.S.-based app is the latest Shariah-compliant stock screener in the path of recently-launched Islamicly from a UK-based company and the older Finispia from Canada.
Zoya (not to be confused with the nail polish brand!) officially launched on iOS and Android on May 4, according to co-founder and chief executive officer Saad Malik.
“While our parent company name is Investroo Inc., we chose Zoya as our app name to help humanise our brand,” Malik told Salaam Gateway.
The beta version of the app launched in January 2019 and received positive feedback, according to Malik. But he said that while it took a couple of months to build that version it then took another year to get it production-ready.
Other providers like IdealRatings screen the Shariah compliance of equities while terminals from Bloomberg and Refinitiv provide huge lists of Shariah-compliant equities and other asset classes that are accessible to paying clients.
Malik argues the lack of accessibility to Shariah-compliant stocks for the average individual investor has been a blemish on the industry since its inception.
“For decades, the incumbents have kept this data reserved for high net worth individuals and institutional clients with exorbitant fees, large minimum investment requirements, and a general lack of transparency — all of which serves to effectively shut ordinary investors out of the market,” he said. “It’s clear that they remain focused on protecting their balance sheets rather than advancing the industry.”
There have been positive trends in recent years that have pushed Islamic finance towards wider adoption, he said, but there are still key roadblocks in terms of cost, accessibility, and simplicity for the everyday investor.
Similar to Islamicly and Finispia, Zoya is available for free but users need to pay a subscription fee to access additional research and other premium features.
At the core, Zoya screens individual stocks across a wide range of sectors including commercial services, communications, consumer durables, tech, energy, and health. It also provides fundamental data, stats, and news. Through the data and other information Zoya illustrates whether or not a company is Shariah-compliant and why.
Zoya built its own Shariah compliance screening engine using tech and backed it with institutional-grade data, according to Malik.
“We believe technology can handle some things better than people,” he said. “We’ve built a Shariah compliance screening engine using a combination of manual research, sophisticated algorithms, and proprietary data from some of the largest financial data providers.”
The platform sources the data from the company's SEC filings like the 10-K and the 10-Q. It is powered by institutional-grade financial data from some of the largest financial data providers like FactSet and IEX.
The free version of Zoya allows users to see the latest Shariah compliance status of any stock, whether it is compliant, non-compliant, or questionable.
In addition to screening a company’s activities and operations, Zoya’s premium version (Zoya Pro) screens financials like interest-bearing debt, interest-bearing securities, and liquidity.
The app currently supports only the AAOIFI Shariah screening standards, said Malik. He said they are working on expanding to additional methodologies.
At present, Zoya screens over 7,000 U.S. and Canadian stocks but the company is working on expanding to more international markets. It will be releasing UK stocks shortly.
Malik did not disclose specific numbers but said the app has over 10,000 users in over 65 countries. He said the top ten markets in terms of total downloads are U.S., Malaysia, Canada, UK, Russia, India, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Germany, and Singapore. Zoya’s top five markets in terms of revenue so far are the U.S., Canada, UK, Malaysia and the UAE, according to Malik.
KEEPING THINGS SMALL
A two-person operation, Zoya was established by childhood friends Saad Malik and Bilal Quadri, who is the chief technology officer.
Joe Bradford, a well-known American Shariah scholar, is an advisor.
The start-up has yet to spend any money on marketing and advertising and will continue to focus on organic growth for the time being, according to Malik.
He said a few angel investors have reached out but Zoya is not raising any money at the present time.
“Introducing investors this early in our journey can be extremely risky,” said Malik. “Zoya has been entirely bootstrapped so far with our personal savings as well as the revenue we've generated since the launch of Zoya Pro, our premium subscription. This forces us to be creative and efficient, and allows us to make our customers our number one priority.”
He added that their tech stack allows them to keep expenses low.
“We're on track to hit breakeven point before the end of the summer,” he said.
Zoya plans to move far beyond being just a stock screener, said Malik.
“Over the course of the next few months, we’ll be adding more features to support individual investors and also begin our exploration into other areas of personal finance,” he said, adding that this is in line with the company’s mission to “enable Muslims to take control of their financial future and to help return Islamic finance to its true purpose”.
Later this summer, the app will launch a new portfolio feature that will allow users to link their existing brokerage accounts to Zoya so they can monitor all their investments in one place, said Malik.
The start-up is also keen to tap the sustainable investing space.
“We believe there's a strong opportunity to combine elements of sustainable investing with traditional Shariah-based screening methodologies in order to create a new "Islamically responsible" way of investing,” Malik said.
“This will empower Muslims to make more conscious investment decisions by not only avoiding companies involved in impermissible industries but also encourage them to invest their money towards companies that are making a positive societal impact.”
(Reporting by Hassan Jivraj; Editing by Emmy Abdul Alim [email protected])
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