Could you provide a brief journey of how you arrived where you are today?
I have over 28 years of work experience in the financial services sector in Europe, the US, Asia and Africa, and in the last seven years, I’ve been based in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. My experience in the Islamic finance industry started in 2003 when I headed up The National Commercial Bank’s investment services division, which was the world’s largest Shariah compliant mutual fund company. I am now the CEO of Al-Khabeer International which was established in Bahrain in 2008 with an initial paid-up capital of over US$100 million. Al-Khabeer International is licensed by the Central Bank of Bahrain as an Islamic investment business. We are affiliated with a successful company in Saudi Arabia, Al-Khabeer Capital, which was formed by the same founding shareholders.
What does your role involve?
We have two main business lines: advisory services and asset management. Our advisory services teams provide advice and solutions in the areas of investment banking, mergers and acquisitions activity, corporate finance, Sukuk and structured finance. I spend most of my time developing our asset management business as I am confident that we can build and manage a variety of high-performing Islamic funds for investors.
What is your greatest achievement to date?
In terms of my professional career, I would have to say it was in growing The National Commercial Bank’s Shariah compliant funds business. We built 13 new funds within three years and achieved great growth in the number of customers and size of funds; in the end we were managing about US$8 billion of Islamic mutual compliant funds.
Which of your products/services deliver the best results?
Our first fund (called SADARA) is a dynamic asset allocation fund, which is particularly appropriate for the current economic environment. This means that the asset allocation is not fixed. It allows the manager to have the twin focus of aggressively investing in equities in the good times, but cutting back on equity exposure to limit the downside in bad times. Investors are able to have greater peace of mind knowing that while it is primarily an equity investment, the fund manager will be actively limiting the downside risk. And as we’ve seen a lot of volatility in the markets recently, we were inspired to recruit a team of professionals who have experience in this fund management style and to build such a fund. This one is only focused on Saudi Arabia, but others could follow.
What are the strengths of your business?
Al-Khabeer means ‘expert’ in Arabic. And true to the name, Al-Khabeer’s greatest asset is its human capital base. We have assembled a team of high caliber professionals who are motivated, determined and committed. Although there are challenges in being a start-up organization, we encourage an entrepreneurial culture, and as a new company, the team has a sense of excitement and a determined energy to make things work.
What are the factors contributing to the success of your company?
The foundation of any organization is what really determines its strength, direction, resilience and ultimately its ability to overcome obstacles and achieve success. Al-Khabeer is fortunate to have an extensive network of contacts as well as a strong shareholder base, most of whom represent some of the most well-established and respectable companies and families in the Gulf. Financial backing from them has allowed us to establish ourselves, hire a good quality team and implement our strategies..
What are the obstacles faced in running your business today?
Let’s face it, launching a new investment business in 2008, right in the midst of the global financial turmoil, has been a challenge in itself. However, we remain highly focused on creating a world-class family of funds and building a strong investment performance track record, knowing that at the end of the day, our fund returns will be the determining factor for investors.
Where do you see the Islamic finance industry in, say, the next five years or so?
I am confident that the industry will continue to grow and build upon previous successes. There will be more Sukuk issued, especially from Gulf-based corporates, and hopefully the emergence of a meaningful secondary market in Sukuk.
In a year or two, I expect to see more Islamic private equity funds but probably not much in the hedge fund space – that will take longer. I also hope to see a broadening of the industry into different countries where Islamic finance has yet to be developed. The Gulf and Malaysia are the leaders, but there are huge Muslim populations in other geographic areas.
Name one thing you would like to see change in the world of Islamic finance.
One would be an increased focus on bringing professional risk management tools into this industry. There should be a general belief that this aspect is incredibly crucial to protect the capital of our investors and I do not believe that it has been done that well to date.
The other area of opportunity I’d like to see accessed is in the development of cross-border distribution platforms. I hope to see the major players set up distribution systems that will efficiently allow investors to access other Islamic funds more easily. I think the ability to compare fund performance, analyze managers and be able to swiftly make an investment would be extremely helpful to investors.