Could you provide a brief journey of how you arrived where you are today?
My background is conventional banking and finance, firstly in Australia (Mallesons) then Bangkok (Linklaters) before arriving in the Middle East at the beginning of 2004 (initially with Clifford Chance). I spent two years in Saudi Arabia and have experienced the shift in financing and investment products from conventional to Shari’ah compliant. My legal practice shifted accordingly. Now I am involved in far more Islamic financing transactions than conventional.
What does your role involve?
My practice continues to focus heavily on Saudi Arabia and Islamic finance. This covers a range of Islamic finance products and methods – lending including project finance, capital markets and securities. I split my time between our Dubai and Riyadh offices and have enjoyed building our Saudi finance practice.
What is your greatest achievement to date?
I have been fortunate to have been involved in a number of large and complex transactions (including a few ‘firsts’ and ‘biggests’), each of which has been immensely satisfying to complete. Every transaction poses challenges and to overcome these and achieve the client’s objectives, now that’s an achievement.
Which of your products/services deliver the best results?
As a law firm, we have achieved great success and acclaim for our Islamic finance practices across the Middle East where we have been involved in a number of the most innovative transactions. The Tamweel PJSC securitization was an example of this – a novel structure requiring hours of discussion and negotiating with Shariah scholars.
What are the strengths of your business?
Our firm has offices across the Middle East with more than 100 lawyers, which makes us the largest firm in the region. We are able to service multi-jurisdictional clients with the added advantage of providing local law advice everywhere we operate. We have Islamic financing lawyers throughout the network, backed by an extremely strong and well-regarded practice in London.
We are fortunate to have teams of lawyers across the region with a broad set of Islamic financing legal skills and the ability to apply these to meet client needs. We are also one of the few firms with a long track record in the Middle East which goes back 40 years for some offices. This has meant we have developed deep relationships with clients who appreciate and profit from the commitment we have shown to the region.
What are the factors contributing to the success of your company?
Being big enough to be able to take on any transaction and suitably resource it with experienced lawyers and being small enough to adapt to changing market conditions and client requirements. We also maintain very close relationships with a number of Islamic scholars across the region which is immensely useful in assisting in the structuring of Shariah compliant transactions for our clients.
What are the obstacles faced in running your business today?
There is a well publicized shortage of experienced Islamic finance lawyers. Then there is the equally well-publicized flood of law firms into the region.
Where do you see the Islamic finance industry, maybe in the next five years?
Clearly it will continue to grow at a remarkable pace. The recent credit crunch which has impacted so heavily on the US and Europe further enhances the position and take-up of Islamic financing. With my focus on Saudi Arabia, I can see huge potential growth in areas such as project financing and investment products. With the growth in Takaful in Saudi Arabia there will be opportunities for those offering Shariah compliant investment products to park premium income. There is no real limit to the application of Islamic financing tools.
In addition, there are significant untapped markets – for example, India, the second largest Muslim nation, and Africa. In these markets, we are also likely to see further growth in Islamic microfinancing, in addition to the wide range of financing and investment situations to which Islamic finance has been applied elsewhere.
One thing I don’t think we’ll see within five years is any real international convergence between, say, the Middle East and South East Asia. Essentially, this is because I don’t see sufficient drivers for convergence compared to the drivers for development. Each of the markets has developed in its own way and while there remains a theological basis for the manner in which they have developed, I believe they will each continue on their paths.
Name one thing you would like to see change in the world of Islamic finance?
From a legal standpoint, two issues bedeviling Islamic finance are the lack of standard documentation (leading to increased transaction costs) and uncertainty of enforcement. However, we lawyers thrive on uncertainty and change – because that is when we are needed most.
Denton Wilde Sapte is an international law firm with over 600 lawyers and a network of offices and associated offices spanning the UK, Europe, Middle East, Commonwealth of Independent States and Africa.