Acclimating to the work from home environment
It’s been a little over a year since the world came to a halt with the COVID-19 pandemic. Lockdowns resulted in businesses having to change how they function on a day to day basis to remain operational. While many industries were forced to shut their doors completely, those that were lucky to stay open, had to quickly adapt to the new reality of the ‘work from home’ environment.
Due to the economic uncertainty, those in the wealth management and financial planning space had to transform on the fly to continue providing their clients with the level of service they had grown accustomed to while navigating the added stress and logistical challenges of the pandemic. Like many firms in the financial services industry, Bleakley Financial needed to meet these expectations and remain a fully operational firm.
Bleakley Financial is a boutique financial planning and investment advisory firm based out of Fairfield, NJ with offices across 12 states – servicing over US$7.5bn in client brokerage and advisory assets.
In spite of all the challenges COVID brought, we felt confident in our ability to address client concerns and what steps the firm needed to take in order to make it through this unprecedented time in their lives. Our process has been refined over 30 years with a central goal of having a financial plan in place for our clients – that is designed to prepare for even the most unforeseen events. Looking back a year later, we now see that our major concern was could our team of 50 advisors and over 100 employees operate efficiently on a day to day basis while working under quarantine restrictions. The big question was did we make the necessary technology enhancements to our platform to be able to weather this storm?
Back in 2019, Bleakley initiated several simultaneous projects to enhance our technology infrastructure with an emphasis on system integration to improve our service offering for advisors and their staff. At the time, we had no unified method to share and store important operational information at a firm level. We lacked the ability to build out robust training or provide access to important resources and have them easily accessible from anywhere in an organized manner. We did not have an efficient client database that could automate most of our services and house the information in a way that made sense specifically to our business. All client documents were stored locally and were not easily accessible if a team member wasn’t physically located in the office. The options we did have available at the time lacked the necessary integration with other platform solutions to allow advisors to run their business with maximum efficiency.
With these concerns in mind, we undertook a number of projects to provide the tools our advisors needed to be successful including the build-out of an internal firm intranet, converted to a new Client Relationship Management (CRM) system, and added a cloud-based storage solution to our platform. These three improvements became critical in our ability to remain fully operational during a time when many businesses, regardless of industry, struggled to maintain their pre-COVID efficiency. While these enhancements improved the effectiveness of our advisor teams at the time they were implemented, we had no idea on how impactful they would be when we were hit with the complications COVID would bring in early March of 2020.
Once we began to work from home, the firm intranet enabled our advisors and staff to easily access our multiple applications, access resources to service for their clients and provide in-depth training for new employees.
While many firms were faced with hard decisions and headcount reductions, we increased our staff with full-time employees and interns throughout 2020, despite the pandemic. Having a robust training platform to bring them up to speed with our processes and systems was critical in getting them off to a good start in their roles while not being in the actual office. All this information was accessible web-based, eliminating the need for VPN which can become slow and inefficient with such high levels of usage. Next, our goal was to improve our CRM and cloud-based storage solutions.
Find out more about Bleakley Financial Group by visiting its website
Islamic fintech Waheb plans UK expansion: Hires expert GM
Wahed Inc has hired a leading industry expert to take Islamic finance forward in the UK marketplace.
Umer Suleman has been appointed as General Manager of UK operations for Wahed Inc.. His role will include overseeing Wahed Invest’s nationwide growth strategy and strengthening the firm’s position as a leading provider of ethically focused investment services.
Suleman’s track record includes over 15 years of regulatory, risk, and strategy consultancy roles, as well as advisory positions across a variety of businesses and sectors including positions at UKIFC, Daiwa Capital Management, and Ernst & Young (EY).
He also spent seven years at HSBC as Head of KYC Risk globally within their Global Banking and Markets business, Head of Business and Conduct Risk for MENA within Retail Banking, and headed up the CCO function for Digital (GLCM) within the UK with a global remit.
Wahed and the growing role of Islamic finance
The startup fintech was founded in 2017 and is an American company based in New York City. Since its inception, it has grown from strength to strength and in July 2019, launched the first exchange-traded fund in the US that was compliant with Sharia law.
Islamic finance typically refers to the way businesses and individuals raise capital in accordance with Sharia, or Islamic law. It also refers to the types of investments that are permissible under Islam.
Wahed currently operates in 130 countries and has offices in Washington D.C, New York, London and Dubai. It has also developed an easily accessible digital platform that balances ethical finance with modern investments, attracting over 200,000 active clients from around the world with features such as free portfolio recommendations and no hidden fees.
Wahed UK expansion plans
According to reports, the UK is highly receptive to services in the Islamic finance sector and is also one of the fastest-growing markets globally. It has a three million-strong Muslim population and one of the most developed Islamic finance sectors outside of the traditional Muslim regions, with global population figures projected to double over the next forty years.
It is hoped Suleman’s leadership of Wahed will address the underbanked needs of the Muslim community while also serving the increasing number of retail investors currently seeking ethical alternatives to wealth creation.
Speaking about the new role, Wahed CEO, Junaid Wahedna, explained “Mr. Suleman’s appointment reaffirms our commitment to providing innovative and outstanding ethically driven financial services to a market that, historically, has been underserved.
“We’re delighted to welcome Umer to the team and firmly believe that with him at the helm, our operations in the UK will continue to go from strength to strength and provide customers seeking ethical investments with accessible, trustworthy and innovative solutions.”
The appointment follows on from Wahed’s recent investment round and its acquisition of the UK-based fintech Niyah.
These events will support the company in its plans to build an Islamic marketplace that meets growing demand for socially conscious investors – and not just those of Islamic faith.
The fintech firm also plans to utilise the UK’s position as a leading hub for Islamic finance as a springboard into other European cities, and believes it has a central role to play in providing Shariah-compliant services that address inclusion and inequality.
The Islamic finance industry is currently valued at around US$2.4trn and is expected to grow steadily by 10-12% over 2021 and 2022, having experienced rapid growth in recent years.
THREE reasons why Islamic finance is a growing sector
- The UK Muslim population is growing - and has been traditionally underserved by incumbent banks. The Muslim population is growing twice as fast the world’s non-Muslim population and Islamic finance address this group’s needfor Shariah compliant financial products.
- It encourages financial inclusion. According to the World Bank, financial inclusion is defined as individuals and businesses having access to useful and affordable financial products and services that meet their needs – transactions, payments, savings, credit and insurance – delivered in a responsible and sustainable way.
- It supports Sharia compliant products. Transactions that work with industries forbidden in Islam (gambling, usury and speculation) are forbidden. Islamic banking only works with businesses that adhere to their ethical and moral standards.
Image credit: Wahed Inc team