Fostering Financial Empowerment: Baraka Founder And CEO Feras Jalbout Baraka founder and CEO Feras Jalbout is shaking up the world of investment in the UAE with his user-friendly investment platform based out of the Dubai International Financial Centre.

By Tamara Pupic

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Baraka founder and CEO Feras Jalbout

It was in July 2021 that Feras Jalbout secured regulatory approval from the Dubai Financial Services Authority to operate Baraka - a platform for low commission fee investing in the US stocks and exchange traded funds (ETFs)- with an aim to respond to the high demand for online trading in the UAE in the post COVID-19 pandemic times.

It was a time when retail investors around the world sought technologies that could give them direct access to markets, but in retrospect, Jalbout says that responding to a high demand was not the only reason for the success the Baraka app has since seen across the GCC. "The key lies in specializing and delving deep into your core product offering to deliver a winning customer experience over the long term," Jalbout says. "Furthermore, the emphasis on local relevance cannot be overstated. Arabic language, content, and a community-driven mission play a pivotal role in shaping outcomes in an otherwise globally commoditized offering. The significance of fostering a sense of community is a distinctive factor in navigating the competitive fintech space."

These factors indicate how Baraka has earned the trust of retail investors in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, and Qatar to invest in more than 6,000 US stocks and ETFs. There is also a premium paid subscription that provides additional stock analysis from its equity research partner, Refinitiv, a global provider of financial market data and infrastructure. "At Baraka, our mission to foster financial empowerment with trust and integrity drives the direction in which we grow and evolve the company, from the region and for the region," Jalbout says. "We recognize that investing may be intimidating to some, but our commitment to creating awareness around the benefit of short- and long-term investing as a path to financial independence dictates where we invest our time, capital, and resources. Our promise to our customers, since our launch in 2020, has always been to create a suite of products and experiences that removes the anxiety out of investing, and, therefore, we spend large parts of our day obsessing over the right product mix to build, committed to customer-centric solutions."

Related: The Recap: The Impact Investment Panel Co-Hosted By Baraka, VentureSouq, and StartAD

An important factor for the rise of non-professional traders, not just in the GCC, but also around the world with Baraka's global competitors like California-based Robinhood, lies in amateur traders gaining the necessary knowledge to operate as quickly as possible. Baraka is not only an investment app, but also a content-driven platform that offers access to daily and complimentary financial news that keeps readers up to date with market movements in order to promote financial literacy. That is why Baraka features a simplified dashboard for investors to monitor and track their portfolios, a content hub that includes daily market news, as well as an investment academy for users to build and test their trading knowledge. "Making investing a seamless part of someone's day-to-day routine requires an innovative approach beyond the traditional investment application, and so, we introduced engaging content strategies such as daily newsletters and financial literacy material," Jalbout says. "People here were curious about what's happening globally, but also very invested in what's happening in the local arena, equally if not more. And so, we launched our newsletter, and to this day we have over 40,000 active readers, who receive daily and free financial content about local and international financial markets."

Source: Baraka

Another key differentiator, Jalbout continues, is that Baraka users have always had an option to access the app in Arabic, and use local currencies. "We also offer products for Islamic investing, like Shariah filter or dividend purifier," he says. "These are some of the things that matter to the local market, and so, we will continue to develop localized solutions that address people's needs over time."

Related: Primed For Growth: The Impact Investment Mindset

In developing all these features and services, Jalbout's aim was thus to not only provide valuable information to users, but also to create a sense of community around financial empowerment. Baraka aims to localize solution-driven investment products to the growing number of investors in the region, by providing tools and knowledge they need to make well-informed decisions. Its commitment to innovation is evident through features like auto-invest and Shariah screener, catering to individual preferences and making investing comfortable and compliant. "Every aspect of Baraka is meticulously crafted to ensure that more people not only invest, but also enjoy the benefits of long-term compound returns," he says. "Our growth figures reflect not just numerical success, but are also a testament to our dedication to empowering individuals with the right tools."

The startup was initially founded with funding of US$1 million pre-seed round, and an additional $5 million seed round raised in August 2021 from Y Combinator, Global Founders Capital, FJ Labs, Nuwa Capital, VentureSouq, and Class 5 Global. Then, in November 2022, it closed a $20 million Series A round led by Valar Ventures, which was the first investment in the region made by this US-based venture capital fund founded by Peter Thiel. The company is part of the prestigious American startup accelerator Y-Combinator after being accepted into its summer 2021 batch, and today, it is also a part of Abu Dhabi's tech ecosystem, Hub71, and has a registered office in the DIFC. Looking back on his entrepreneurial journey, Jalbout says that building Baraka taught him the importance of being well organized on a daily basis, as well as being adaptable and resilient. "To manage time efficiently, especially in an industry where demands are high and innovation is constant, we implemented effective time management strategies, prioritizing tasks, and fostering a culture of productivity, ensuring that each aspect of Baraka's development received the attention it deserved," he says. "At the same time, as an entrepreneur, I discovered the need to be flexible in my approach, readily adapting to the evolving needs of the business in a dynamic industry. This experience has strengthened my ability to bounce back from setbacks, viewing challenges as opportunities for growth."

Related: "We Got Funded!" UAE-Based Baraka's US$20 Million Series A Round Marks Peter Thiel-Backed Valar Ventures' First Middle East Investment

According to Jalbout, the future looks bright for the fintech sector in the region, and especially so in the UAE. "In the UAE, the imminent launch of the government- backed open banking initiative, Aani, akin to India's Unified Payments Interface, will give rise to new opportunities in the UAE. Reflecting on the global landscape, we've witnessed the substantial impact open banking has had in other countries."

As for trends Jalbout envisages for the fintech sector in 2024, he believes that the biggest impact will be made by enhanced integration of artificial intelligence (AI) for personalized investment journeys. "This deeper integration of AI aims to revolutionize personalized financial services, aligning seamlessly with our commitment to curated financial education," he says. "By harnessing the power of AI, we envision offering users a tailored investment experience, enhancing their financial journey through intelligent and personalized solutions."

Jalbout also expects the new year to see the rise of embed- ded finance that is aligned with financial empowerment principles. "A noteworthy trend that we foresee in 2024 is the continued convergence of traditional finance and technology, giving rise to embedded finance," he says. "This trend involves busi- nesses integrating financial services directly into their products, simplifying and streamlining financial transactions." All of this can be expected to further support Baraka's mission of financial empowerment, and so, Jalbout concludes, "It will further enable individuals to access financial services seamlessly within various aspects of their daily lives."

Related: Dubai-Based Fintech Startup Baraka Is On A Mission To Help Everyone In MENA To Invest

'TREP TALK Tips for fintech entrepreneurs from Baraka founder and CEO Feras Jalbout

BUILD A GREAT NETWORK

"Networking is key to staying informed, forging strategic partnerships, and navigating challenges collaboratively. Building a robust network opens doors to valuable insights,potential collaborations, and industry support."

DON'T RUSH, AND DON'T CUT CORNERS ON REGULATION
"Patience is crucial in fintech. Rushing can lead to oversight, and cutting corners on regulatory compliance may jeopardize long-term success. Prioritize meticulous adherence to regulations to build trust with stakeholders, ensure legal compliance, and foster a stable foundation for your fintech venture."

FOCUS ON YOUR CUSTOMER
"The heart of fintech success lies in understanding and meeting customer needs. By placing the customer at the center of your operations, you can tailor your products and services to address real-market demands, building loyalty, and establishing a strong foundation for sustained growth."

Tamara Pupic

Entrepreneur Staff

Managing Editor, Entrepreneur Middle East

Tamara Pupic is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Middle East.

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