Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 April 2019

Money & Me: 'We should all be living off half our salary"

Junaid Wahedna of the robo-advisory Wahed Invest says everyone should lead 'super-sustainable' lives

Junaid Wahedna, creator of Sharia-compliant investment firm Wahed Invest, set up the company at 22 with $30,000 of his own money. Pawan Singh / The National 
Junaid Wahedna, creator of Sharia-compliant investment firm Wahed Invest, set up the company at 22 with $30,000 of his own money. Pawan Singh / The National 

Junaid Wahedna went to school and university in Dubai before moving to the United States to study and work. Mr Wahedna, from India, set up Wahed Invest - a Shariah-compliant robo-advisory investment platform for halal investing - three years ago in New York. Wahed allows anyone with at least $100 to invest into Islamic finance, even to sukuks normally traded in blocks of at least $200,000 and therefore previously only available to ultra-high net worth individuals. The investment business has over 2,000 clients in the US and UK, and is looking to key worldwide Muslim markets such as India, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia from its Dubai hub. Mr Wahedna, 25, married last year; his wife is studying computer science.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

We moved to Dubai when I was eight from Mumbai when my father - a first-generation entrepreneur and the first in his family to be educated - sold his stockbroker business in 2000 and retired. So my upbringing was quite comfortable but my father instilled discipline with finance, to show money the respect and appreciation it deserves. It was quite a late shock in life when I went abroad for university and was forced to figure out my money situation and get a job. But I had had time to think holistically about money and to focus on my education.

Did your education change how you looked at money?

My masters was in industrial engineering, with a subset in financial and statistic mathematics, so I learned a very quantitative approach to investment and my decisions are purely based on maths. A lot of investing is emotional, based on sentiment, as is the old-school thinking of financial advisers: for instance, “the market is going to go down, so keep your money in gold". Mathematically, that makes no sense at all. It does not ever win to actively manage your portfolio: 87 per cent of active fund managers do not out-perform the market index. Passive always makes sense mathematically and so does diversification. And how does anyone know a recession is coming?

How much did you get paid for your first job?

I did a part-time investment banking internship in New York at 20 for $1,000 a month, which turned into a full-time job. I was there a year or so before I set up Wahed. I did everything quite fast: I graduated at 19 and was the youngest to be accepted to the engineering master’s programme at Columbia.

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Are you a spender or saver?

I am definitely a saver: I have never been interested in materialistic things. I am into my books and my work and I’m not too much of a social butterfly to worry about watches or a car. With a relatively comfortable upbringing, I’ve seen it all and it loses its charm. I look for that higher purpose rather than immediate gratification.

What is your most cherished purchase?

Investing to start my own business. I’m very proud to say I set it up with my own money at 22 - I put $30,000 in initially; it was a huge, very risky decision.

Have you ever had a month where you feared you could not pay the bills?

Yes, especially when I started work. You really have to downgrade your lifestyle. But although I wanted to be independent and do things myself, it was easier for me than other people because I had the safety net of my family.

Mr Wahedna says passive investing always makes sense mathematically as does diversification. Pawan Singh / The National 
Mr Wahedna says passive investing always makes sense mathematically as does diversification. Pawan Singh / The National 

Where do you save?

I put my money where my mouth is: a big part of my funds is invested through Wahed. I truly believe it’s the most efficient way. If it wasn’t, I’m doing the wrong thing! The rest – maybe five to 10 per cent - is in the bank in cash, for day-to-day stuff.

Do you prefer paying by credit card or in cash?

Cash - it feels more real. Also now I know, being in this industry, that anything you buy, anything you do, gets added to your profile data, which can and will be used against you. I like the anonymity of cash.

What has been your best financial investment?

Buying Turkish stock. Everything crashed in Turkey recently and prices were pushed down artificially - it was clearly undervalued. I bought up a lot of Sharia-compliant Turkish equities and it skyrocketed 200 per cent in a matter of months. It sounds like speculation but it’s not: I did the research. This was personal, not for Wahed, which works on maths, not sentiment. The vast majority of my money does too, but occasionally I like to use my brain for a purchase.

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What do you most regret spending money on?

I don’t regret spending money on anything. I’ve made some dumb purchases; I’m an Amazon addict and have sprees, so I have now four or five boxes lying around I haven’t opened right now. But you take a decision and you stand by it.

What financial advice would you offer your younger self?

The usual - keep in mind that you should put away a bit of your money, no matter how old you are. The earlier you start to save, it has an exponential effect so $10 a week can have a huge impact. That’s one of the things we’re trying to help. If you start to save at 20 versus 30 it’s the difference of $0.5 million to $1 million when you retire.

Do you have a financial plan for the future?

Nope. I don’t think it’s good to obsess over your finances. I keep aside a bit each week, have a diversified plan and trust in the maths that, over time, I will get my return. The less obsessive you are, the better. We have clients who look at their accounts every day. We tell them the markets don’t move that much! Maybe check once a month.

If you won Dh1 million, what would you do with it?

Just add it to my portfolio. Ideally you should live a super-sustainable life, so any additional money shouldn’t change your life. We should be living off half our salary or the income coming off assets, once you have enough. So I don’t think it would change anything - that helps you stay grounded.

What would you raid your savings account for?

I’m a little impulsive and opportunistic when it comes to business investments, like the Turkey thing - so probably something like that. There’s nothing at the moment - definitely not cryptocurrency, it does not make mathematical sense. Let’s say there’s a recession tomorrow - then it’s time to raid my savings account.

Updated: January 4, 2019 09:15 AM

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