The SME Story: Mark Zubov, founder and CFO of Iman
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The SME Story: Mark Zubov, founder and CFO of Iman

The SME Story: Mark Zubov, founder and CFO of Iman

Iman offers a halal book-now-pay-later solution to retailers

Gulf Business

What is the core concept of Iman?
Our mission is to democratise access to fair and transparent halal financial products. We do that by offering a halal book-now-pay-later (BNPL) solution to retailers, allowing them to grow their sales. Shoppers then can buy anything they want and pay for their purchase over time in simple halal monthly installments.

Installment sales are funded by investors that are able to generate attractive halal returns through our Invest product. This way, we are able to offer financial products that are both more accessible to investors seeking sustainable halal yield and more affordable for the people that need funding.

How did the idea for the company come about?
My partner Rustom Rahmatov, and I first met when we were working for a Central Asia-focused investment firm. When looking at investment opportunities in the consumer finance space, we noticed how low the credit penetration rate was in Uzbekistan – only 6 per cent of the population ever borrowed from banks or invested in deposits. One of the main reasons behind that was the lack of Islamic financial products in a market where 90 per cent of the population are Muslim. Furthermore, we noticed how poor the user experience was that commercial banks and other lenders were offering in the market. As we both had prior experience working with fintech lenders in developed and emerging markets and understood the consumer lending business quite well, we decided to build upon that knowledge to create a halal BNPL, first focused on Uzbekistan, and with the ambitious vision to expand into the Middle East and North Africa, and Asia.

Give us a business overview of your operations.
On the BNPL side, Iman currently operates in Uzbekistan – which we launched back in June 2021. We have connected to more than 110 merchants with over 300 point of sale outlets, both online and offline. On the investment side, we have 1,600 investors from over 50 countries that have invested over $1.5m through Iman. We have over 30 employees on our team. With regards to fundraising, we have bootstrapped the business early on and recently closed our $1m seed round with the participation of Battery Road Digital Holdings, Tesla Capital, UZCARD Ventures and MyAsiaVC among others. We are now about to start raising a $3m post-seed round to improve our product, grow our customer base and launch operations in Pakistan.

What is the size and potential of the Islamic fintech market within the region?
According to growth strategy research and advisory firm, Dinar Standard, the Islamic fintech market size for Organisation of Islamic Cooperation is estimated to be worth $49bn. While that constitutes only 0.7 per cent of global fintech transactions, the market is projected to grow at 21 per cent CAGR to $128bn by 2025, compared to a CAGR of 15 per cent for the conventional fintech sector. The rise of Islamic fintech is, first of all, driven by the increasing digitisation in high-growth Muslim markets, such as Pakistan and Nigeria, with a young and tech-savvy population. Secondly, with the increasing demand for ESG-compliant investing across the world, Islamic fintech is starting to attract not only Muslims, but also people who are interested in the ethical aspects of halal finance. Third, the rise of blockchain, and particularly decentralised finance (DeFi) should help with bringing financial services to unbanked Muslims as well as building greater trust and transparency in Islamic finance.

What are your upcoming expansion plans for the business?
We are looking to launch our BNPL product in Pakistan in the second and third quarter of 2022, with plans to aggressively expand throughout MENA later this year. To do that, we are already speaking to potential strategic partners and investors who could help launch in the GCC. Finally, to scale our investment product throughout the world, we are building a DeFi protocol that will make it easier for us to attract investors globally seeking sustainable halal yield.

Read: The SME Story: Armin Moradi, co-founder and CEO of Qashio

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