The Muslim community in the UK remains financially underserved. Alternative Islamic digital banking app Rizq aims to disrupt this market, as CEO and Co-Founder Akmal Saleem explains.
Saleem is on a mission to solve the biggest banking problems faced by the majority of UK Muslims. Coming from a non-banking background, he says, has given him a problem-first approach and a fresh perspective. “We position ourselves as more of a technology company – that sets the tone for who we are,” he explains.
Saleem first caught the enterprise bug at University when his flatmates would host parties. Since he didn’t drink alcohol, he saw an opportunity in those who did, and began selling kebabs from his room. “I made a nice little profit margin and people loved it,” he recalls. “It’s always been inside me to see what market opportunities are there.”
Fast forward to the present day and Saleem has gathered a lot of experience in the technology and branding sectors, building startups and working for a time in the Middle East. This was where he began to look at the Islamic finance space and was approached by his Rizq co-founders with the opportunity to create an Islamic banking product for the UK market.
“I saw the market opportunity, where it was and where it could be, and jumped at the chance,” says Saleem. The Rizq team managed to build a bank within six months, and now about eight months into their journey it has already been launched to a select group of customers – with more from the waiting list receiving access every week.
It was clear to Saleem that Rizq was needed in the marketplace, as he explains the banking needs of Muslims in the UK were largely ignored. “People weren’t focusing on the problems the community was having,” he recalls. “Bankers were all trying to solve complex problems, like SME financing and mortgages, from a Sharia compliant perspective. When I looked at the landscape, I saw that 70% of Islamic finance is banking and nobody had tried to address the simple problem of a current account.”
The key to Rizq – an Arabic term that means more than just money; it covers all kinds of livelihood and sustenance indulging health, family and happiness – is simplicity.
“It’s something all Muslims understand when they see it,” Saleem explains. “That communication aspect, how we speak to customers and potential customers, is our differentiating factor. Somebody has suddenly started speaking to the community on a level they want to be spoken to.”
This simplicity is reflected in the product itself, and Rizq is keen to present an easy, seamless experience to its customers. “It gives people confidence and it’s accessible,” says Saleem. “Often, we try to overcomplicate things because we want people to understand we’ve built something really complex. We don’t have to do that. It’s our job – and our responsibility – to take care of the nuts and bolts. The user’s experience should be simple, and that builds loyalty.”
For Rizq, it’s also important to listen to the needs of customers rather than making assumptions. Saleem points to a prominent Islamic bank which decided not to develop online banking and move straight to mobile. “People still want to use online – so we’ve ensured that aspect is there, and is a part of the user experience. It’s another USP for us.”
Saleem says that his background as a Muslim who grew up in the UK affords him an even greater understanding of those Rizq hopes to serve. “I understand the nuances of who we are as people living in a kind of paradox. We have our homes here, but our parents and their generation have their home in another country. It all comes together to become part of a very culturally diverse community here in the UK, with challenges even in terms of food or accessible places of worship.”
This deep understanding adds to Rizq’s aim to support the customer’s entire journey and life goals. “We are in essence the first Muslim lifestyle bank in the world; that’s something we’re really proud of. In the past, a lot of banks have spoken to people in a very clinical manner, which pushes them away - especially with the complexity of the Sharia compliant element added in. We’ve been built from the ground up to be very customer-centric.”
At present Rizq has successfully raised its pre-Seed funding and has brought the Beta product out. “There are hundreds of customers on that, and over 3000 on the waiting list – that has largely been organic, we haven’t really started marketing yet,” Saleem comments.
The challenger bank has also just launched its crowdfunding campaign, which Saleem says was an easy decision to make. “We believe our customers should have a say in how they build their bank, and a great way is letting them own Rizq.” He adds that as the bank challenger looks to the future, features will be “100%” driven by the customer and that Rizq will remain fully aware of its identity and who it was built for.
In fact, this is the advice Saleem would give to any FinTech founder. “Understand where you are and who you are. Sometimes we try to rush to a position we don’t need to be in. Enjoying the journey and process stage by stage is important. The more you understand who you are, the easier it is to build a team around you – as well as a product with a great purpose.”
If you are interested in supporting Rizq, and would like to be updated about the crowdfund, you can submit your interest here.