DWS Investments, the retail mutual funds arm of Deutsche Asset Management, has introduced a sharia-compliant funds capability. It has launched a mutual funds range, the DWS Noor Islamic Funds, in Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

ôWeÆre not launching these to have a æhitÆ,ö says Michele Bang, head of sales for Asia ex-Japan at DWS in Singapore. ôThis is not an IPO type of thing. There has been limited awareness of Islamic asset management, or choice of Islamic funds, in Singapore. We want to introduce quality products. The government of Singapore has supported developing Islamic finance.ö

The Noor range has been introduced with five products in global equities, China equities, Japan equities, Asia-Pacific equities and precious metals. Investors in the Middle East have an appetite for these asset classes, says Scott Jaffray, Dubai-based CIO for DWS in the Middle East and North Africa.

The funds fall under DWSÆ umbrella of Dublin-domiciled Ucits funds. Other types of asset classes, such as real estate, will be added to the range next year. An international team of five sharia scholars helms an advisory board for the funds.

Michele Bang is leading a distribution push in Singapore. She says the Noor range is already available on iFast Financial, an internet-based platform, and DWS is in talks with banks, insurance companies and independent financial advisors.

She is also looking to work with partners in Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei to set up a feeder fund structure, in order to provide local investors with access. Bang says that distributorsÆ willingness to carry the Islamic funds varies with their degree of awareness about sharia-compliant products, and their understanding that these involve a process similar to how DWS would create and manage conventional products.

Jaffray says the firm was careful not to discriminate against investors in the Noor range, so the fees and the investment process are identical to its conventional funds line, except that the Noor funds comply with sharia law. This means that some sectors such as conventional banking and finance are excluded from the portfolios.

The various schools of interpretation that can make sukuk (fixed-interest products) difficult to sell across markets do not exist with equities, so the product is marketable across the Muslim world. Jaffray notes that while the main appetite will likely come from Muslims, the fund is open to all investors. He says the firm expects the products to be popular with Muslim investors but wouldnÆt say how much money the firm expects to raise.