Could you provide a brief journey of how you arrived where you are today?
My career in banking began with a three-year spell at an international bank operating in South Africa. When I moved to Deloitte Financial Services I was able to persuade the executives at Deloitte South Africa to give me the Shariah advisory business. Absa Islamic Banking was one of our key clients, so I have been able to watch this business as it grew to a critical mass in a very short space of time.
What does your role involve?
Absa Islamic Banking is the largest Islamic bank in South Africa and has been acknowledged to be the best Islamic bank in Africa and the Middle East (non- GCC). My role, as I take over this exciting division of the largest retail bank in South Africa, is to build on the achievements of my predecessor. There is a big opportunity to grow our customer numbers, product range and services within South Africa. The expansion of our footprint on the African continent is a prospect that fills me with excitement. As the growth of Islamic banking increases the demand for scarce skills, I am committed to attracting the best talent in the industry to our team.
What is your greatest achievement to date?
I’m particularly proud of having persuaded Deloitte South Africa to allow me to start a Shariah advisory business for them. Deloitte was far-sighted in realizing the opportunity in this country, despite the relatively small Muslim community and the limited number of Islamic financial institutions. I also feel proud to have been entrusted with the leadership of Absa Islamic Banking in the critical period when it moves from being a new development to exerting its influence as the largest and best Islamic bank in southern Africa.
Which of your products/services deliver the best results?
Our customers enjoy what has been acknowledged by the International Monetary Fund as the sixth best banking system in the world. Absa Islamic Banking offers its customers the ultimate in access through its world class digital solution, which includes internet and cell phone banking, as well as the largest ATM and branch footprint in the country. This enables them to bank 24/7 from anywhere in the world. This is supported by an exceptional Shariah board that combines strength in the local and regional cultural dynamics with internationally recognized Shariah expertise.
What are the strengths of your business?
One is the sincere commitment to Islamic banking by the senior leadership of Absa. They committed funds and skills to starting this business because they had a vision of a bank where every member of the diverse South African population can find financial products that fulfill one’s needs. They have realized that vision. For me, having the backing of the power of Absa in southern Africa and of Barclays globally makes me feel that I can take on with confidence all of the challenges faced in growing an Islamic bank in a region that is not governed under Shariah.
What are the factors contributing to the success of your company?
In addition to the enormous footprint and cutting edge infrastructure of Absa, coupled with the loyal support of the leaders of this organization, the commitment and determination of my team are a major contributing factor. When I ventured into Islamic banking, I was told that every member of the team I inherited believes that this is their own business. I see them pitching in to work on projects completely outside of their job description and I experience this passion every day in our office.
What are the obstacles faced in running your business today?
The competition for experience and talent is as fierce in South Africa as it is in the rest of the world, which is why we have put a great deal of effort into working with our local Banking Sector Education and Training Authority towards developing training materials in Islamic banking to be used by all South African banks. Another is innovation in product development. Operating in an environment where the local laws are not aligned with the Shariah throws up regular hurdles in the product development process. To its credit, the South African National Treasury has demonstrated its commitment to addressing these challenges but it will be some time before there is reasonable alignment.
Where do you see the Islamic finance industry in, say, the next five years or so?
Given the strong focus on ethics and morality in the Islamic banking framework, I see enormous opportunities for broad growth into various forms of ethical banking that will appeal to a wide audience beyond the followers of Islam. Already the Vatican newspaper has acknowledged that Islamic banking, being a faith-based offering, deserves consideration by the broader the financial world as conventional banking is experiencing so much economic distress. I expect to see Islamic banking competing with conventional banking globally and contributing towards a unique value proposition.
Name one thing you would like to see change in the world of Islamic finance.
I would like to see the global Islamic banking standard setting bodies become more aligned with international conventional standard setting bodies. Rigorous regulation of our approach will assist in the need for greater harmonization towards a globally uniform Shariah approach.