Azhar has over 21 years of experience in the finance industry, starting with American Express in Pakistan along with positions with Standard Chartered, Citibank and Dubai Islamic Bank.
Could you provide a brief journey of how you arrived where you are today?
I started my career as a management trainee with American Express Bank in Pakistan with exposure to trade and credit operations before assuming my role as corporate banking relationship manager.
I have 21 years experience of which seven years are with Islamic banking. I held various senior positions with Standard Chartered and Citibank where I managed global corporate, large local corporate and public sector portfolios in Pakistan including a product management role with Standard Chartered Singapore.
My foray into Islamic banking was triggered by an event in 2005. During the month of Ramadhan my younger brother, who was studying Islamic finance, came to me prior to breaking of fast and shared a couple of Quranic verses on the prohibition of interest. That led me to think about Islamic banking and from then on I prayed for the opportunity to make a career switch. God willing, in just a couple of months I was offered a post at Dubai Islamic Bank (DIB) in Pakistan.
In January 2011 I rejoined Standard Chartered Pakistan as the head of Islamic Banking.
What does your role involve?
I am responsible for Standard Chartered’s Islamic banking business in Pakistan which entails formulating and implementing business strategy, governance, meeting revenue targets, ensuring Shariah compliance and the hiring and training of quality staff. This involves working closely with my consumer and wholesale banking colleagues to increase the share of Islamic banking portfolio in the overall business of the bank.
What is your greatest achievement to date?
I have had interesting assignments throughout my career; however I consider my stint at DIB Pakistan to be the most challenging and notable. I joined the bank during its inception and was part of the core team that built the franchise from scratch. This entailed a wide array of responsibilities including staff hiring, product development, client management, branches opening, relationship building with the regulator and other government officials resulting to a profitable operations in a span of four years.
In addition, I have played an instrumental role in the execution of innovative Shariah compliant transactions which include Sukuk Ijarah programs for the Government of Pakistan, the first ever cross-border Salam transaction for an oil exploration company, an infrastructure project finance facility for a port operator, a project finance facility for a large conglomerate and a structured finance facility for a utility company.
Which of your products/services deliver the best results?
Some of our key areas of success have been off-balance sheet financing, structured corporate finance solutions for wholesale bank clients and home finance for our consumer banking customers.
What are the strengths of your business?
We leverage the bank’s network and relationships dating back 150 years with deep-rooted local knowledge and a wide footprint across the Muslim world (UAE, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia). We are the first international bank to get an Islamic banking license in Pakistan and the first to launch Islamic banking here.
We often lead the way for the industry in product innovation. Standard Chartered Saadiq has also been at the forefront of innovative Shariah compliant products and played key role in multiple debut financing and inaugural Sukuk issuances for sovereigns, corporates and financial institutions. We have assisted regulatory and autonomous bodies in development of Islamic standards and regulatory frameworks.
As a testament to our growing market share, Standard Chartered’s revenue contribution to the Islamic banking industry in Pakistan as of to date is 7%.
What are the factors contributing to the success of your company?
We have vast experience in assisting regulatory and autonomous bodies in developing Islamic standards and regulatory frameworks, being the adviser to the State Bank of Pakistan and the Ministry of Finance on the Sukuk Ijarah program for the government.
Globally, we have the geographic coverage to support our Islamic finance agenda with focus on Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Our presence in the Muslim world in at least 16 countries where majority of the population is Muslim offers a substantial business base for Saadiq. Our comprehensive Islamic banking offerings are backed by dedicated a Shariah Supervisory Board comprises three of the most eminent and recognized scholars in the Islamic banking industry.
What are the obstacles faced in running your business today?
For all the industry’s recent growth, Islamic banking still represents a fraction of total banking assets globally, and the great majority of Muslims still bank conventionally. Penetration remains low in some of the world’s largest Muslim countries. There are several reasons for this, the most obvious being lack of awareness of what Islamic banking has