Could you provide a brief journey of how you arrived where you are today?
During my career in investment banking, I developed a model for a Shariah
compliant vehicle finance product. When Absa approached me to set up and lead an Islamic banking division, it was one of those offers that are hard to refuse, and I accepted the challenge in March 2006. The first task was setting up a Shariah Supervisory Board
of leading scholars who are widely recognized and respected. Once this had been achieved, we had to develop our first product offering, which we launched in mid-2006.
The marketing process proved a major challenge as there was no existing expertise in South Africa and so my executive committee and I had to do it ourselves. In less than three years since my appointment, Absa Islamic Banking
has been recognized as having delivered the Shariah
Deal of the Year for 2006, Best Islamic Offering from a Conventional Bank and Best Islamic Bank in Africa. The next milestone will be the largest Islamic bank in southern Africa by any measure, which we plan to achieve within three years from inception.
What does your role involve?
Now that the team has grown to include a range of dedicated experts, my focus is on the strategy and future growth of Absa Islamic Banking in addition to constant attention to the quality of our product offering and service locally. The large Muslim population in Africa is an obvious next target and we will be pioneering Islamic banking offerings in African countries where these currently do not exist or where the opportunity for positive competition exists. Absa is part of the Barclays Group and the Barclays brand is well recognized in Africa.
What is your greatest achievement to date?
The achievement of which I am most proud is the development of the Absa Islamic Banking team. My team consists of Muslims, who feel strongly that this is a positive way to serve their local community, and non-Muslims who bring special expertise and have dedicated themselves to learning all they can about Islamic banking.
Which of your products/services deliver the best results?
Each of our products is designed to deliver the functionality and service required of that product type, with the added value of strict Shariah compliance. I believe that our savings and investment products are exceptional in the level of effort that is dedicated to giving each investor the best possible profit on their investments placed with us.
What are the strengths of your business?
Shariah compliance at every point in the end-to-end process is the heart of our business. The team that supports this is truly exceptional. Absa Group, listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, is one of South Africa’s largest financial services groups, offering a complete range of banking, bancassurance and wealth management products and services. It has a triple ‘A’ local credit rating and an ‘A’ international credit rating from Fitch.
What are the factors contributing to the success of your company?
Where at first there was a need to convince potential customers that our products are Shariah compliant, that is now rarely the case. Shariah compliance is taken as a given and the need now is to deliver the level of value and service that our customers seek. The combination of Shariah compliance with all of the convenience, confidence and profit opportunities delivered by a major bank is a compelling offering.
What are the obstacles faced in running your business today?
The level of Shariah knowledge and skills will continue to be a challenge for the foreseeable future. In a bank with more than 30,000 staff, ensuring that all of them are sensitized to the Islamic banking offering requires enormous amounts of training and internal communication. We are more than up for the challenge though — the branch staff members who sell the most Islamic banking products are not even Muslims! On a pan African level, I believe that getting approvals to roll out an Islamic banking offering will be a challenge in some African countries but feel confident that the business case and customer pressure will prevail.
Where do you see the Islamic finance industry in, say, the next five years?
I expect Islamic banking to grow from its current niche status to being a full-fledged alternative to conventional banking. Mauritius is already exploring a dual banking system, Britain is working hard to be a center for Islamic banking and I see these initiatives as strong indicators of the growth in influence and reach of Islamic banking in countries not governed under Shariah law. The recent sub-prime crisis and threats of recession in major economies also draw positive attention to the wisdom and stability of a Shariah compliant banking offering.
Name one thing you would like to see change in the world of Islamic finance?
I am already seeing greater harmonization between Shariah scholars and authorities globally and I believe that the continuation of this trend will be a powerful force in driving the growth and development of Shariah compliant financial services internationally. This harmonization has the potential to drive skills development, pave the way for the growth of new Islamic banking markets and support the growth of Islamic banking as powerful force in global financial services.