Could you provide a brief journey of how you arrived where you are today?
My first job was with ANZ Banking Group, where I worked in Perth and then Melbourne, before moving overseas to Singapore and then Thailand. At the end of 1999 I came to Qatar with ANZ Grindlays Bank. ANZ sold Grindlays into a local joint venture, and I left ANZ to become general manager. In 2005 the unique opportunity arose to join the Qatar Financial Centre (QFC) as part of the management team to create the Qatar Financial Centre Authority (QFCA) from the very beginning.
What does your role involve?
As managing director of business development, my primary role is to promote Qatar and the QFC to financial institutions as the best choice of location to base their operations in the GCC. This involves determining which firms and which types of firms are needed in Qatar and developing action plans to target those firms. I also provide input into the strategic planning process for developing financial services in Qatar and assist with the development of the key messages and events used to promote Qatar and the QFC. My team and I spend a good deal of time working with firms which are exploring the market or developing a business plan. Our aim is to bring new capacity and more expertise to the financial sector here while making sure that the new firms arriving are doing so with an accurate view of what their business prospects are.
What is your greatest achievement to date?
Being appointed as general manager of Grindlays Qatar Bank at the age of 38. It was the culmination of my international experience and management skills which allowed me to run a small but very profitable bank.
Which of your products/services deliver the best results?
As a financial center we do not have products as such. The fact that our services to firms are tailored to their needs, whether at the exploratory end of the process or in the establishment of an operation, makes us different to other centers in the region, and I would say even around the world. Qatar is a young and rapidly growing financial marketplace and many of the firms which are seeking to set up here are completely new to the region. We can help them in a wide variety of ways, from providing data for their business plans to advising them on premises and homes as well as schools for their expatriate staff and their families.
What are the strengths of your business?
Undoubtedly the fact that Qatar’s economy is based on a real asset (energy, primarily natural gas) and the legal and business structure is modeled on global best practice. Qatar wishes to engage with the global economy and has a clear understanding that international financial institutions will only come if they know and trust the environment which has been created for them.
What are the factors contributing to the success of your company?
Apart from the attractiveness of the opportunity to do business in Qatar, the construct of the QFC allows firms to do business onshore as well as in the region, and to do business such as retail insurance and wealth management that are restricted in other regional centers. I would add that the QFC has the full and enthusiastic support of the Council of Ministers in Qatar and has been given all the encouragement and support it needs to achieve its goals.
What are the obstacles faced in running your business today?
The QFC has been very successful to date, and while there are no major obstacles, managing expectations of firms in an increasingly competitive regional market and maintaining the momentum will be challenging.
Where do you see the Islamic finance industry in, say, the next five years?
It has only been in the last five or six years that Islamic finance has really started to develop at the retail level. I see over the next five years this development continuing so that it becomes more mainstream and offered in a lot more countries where there are large Muslim communities, such as Australia, Indonesia and Europe. I also expect to see much greater involvement of Islamically structured instruments being a feature of major deals not only in the Middle East but around the world.
There are hints that the ethical nature of Islamic finance has some attraction to the conventional finance sector and I would like to see some evidence of that coming through into the sort of products that one may be offered in High Street banks such as in the UK, US and Japan.
Name one thing you would like to see change in the world of Islamic finance?
I would like to see greater consistency and transparency in the regulation of the Islamic finance industry. This perhaps requires a Basle type approach, and it also means that there needs to be a bigger talent pool for firms to recruit from. The speed with which the demand for Shariah compliant financial services is growing needs to be matched by the supply of highly qualified executives into the industry, without which compliance issues will increase.