Could you provide a brief journey of how you arrived where you are today?
I have about 27 years of working experience in the financial sector, 20 of which were spent with Maybank. In 1995, I was posted to Hong Kong as the country manager of the Maybank branch there. Later I was the head of Maybank’s credit card center. In 2002, I moved to Hong Leong Bank as general manager of consumer branch banking. I then became president of MBF Cards (Malaysia). FWU Malaysia, incorporated in February 2007, is where I now serve as managing director.
What does your role involve?
My role involves managing the overall operations of FWU Malaysia, which is also the regional headquarters for our business interests in the Far East. In short, my main mandate is to ensure that the smart tripartite business partnership delivers the desired synergistic results to all stakeholders. As a branch of a foreign financial services company (FWU Group is headquartered in Munich, Germany) operating in Malaysia, my role also involves working closely with the regulators like Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) and Securities Commission (SC) to ensure that we are always in compliance with the local regulations and guidelines.
What is your greatest achievement to date?
I would have to say the setting up of the FWU regional office and obtaining all the necessary licenses within just six months. We have also achieved the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) company status and are able to enjoy various financial benefits and flexibility in our operations. The other achievement would be obtaining our investment advisory license from the SC and the approval from BNM to allow our partner, Takaful Ikhlas, to outsource part of its sales operations.
Which of your products/services deliver the best results?
Our Internet-based point of sale and administration system, FILOS (FWU Internet-based Life Office System), made available to both the bank’s distribution partner and the Takaful operator. This system facilitates sales, making it convenient for the customer and hassle-free for the sales people. The system covers the process from A to Z. Our claim to delivering results can be backed by performance track records. Within just five months, we recorded over 5,000 policies with over RM20 million (US$5.7 million) contributions collected. In July 2009 we recorded the highest number of policies signed within a month — 1,626 policies. An overwhelming 73% of the participants were non-Muslims. This has proven that our product can be easily marketed in volume and is well-accepted by both Muslim and non-Muslim customers.
What are the strengths of your business?
At FWU, we emphasize on product innovation, being quick-to-market and our ability to react to our customers’ ever-changing demands. One of our biggest strengths is that we strongly leverage on our IT systems, making all operational processes seamless and paperless. From the point of sale until the back office operations, the entire process has been automated. Our on-the-spot underwriting system allows customers to receive their insurance certificates immediately. The other significant strength of our business is our strong belief in having long-term strategic alliances with our institutional partners that leverage on each other’s core competencies to achieve synergistic benefits.
What are the factors contributing to the success of your company?
Our business model, which specializes in developing and customizing “white label” investment-linked Takaful products, would have to be the driving factor behind our success. We leverage on creating smart tripartite partnerships: between FWU, the Takaful operator and the bank. In these partnerships, FWU wears four hats — as the product developer, systems provider, distribution support and investment advisor. Besides the continuous support of the regulators (BNM and SC), we are also lucky to have a team of talented and dedicated staff whose hard work and commitment continue to propel FWU forward.
What are the challenges faced in running your business today?
The biggest challenge would have to be catering to the ever-changing demands of our customers and the fast growing Takaful landscape. Another challenge is in competing for the sales peoples’ attention, as they have a wide range of other retail banking products to market. Positioning our product in a prominent space on the bank’s retail shelf is a challenging but rewarding task.
Where do you see the Islamic finance industry in, say, the next five years or so?
I believe the growth potential of the Islamic finance industry is incredibly great and that with time, it will only strengthen its position as a globally accepted alternative financial system.
Name one thing you would like to see change in the world of Islamic finance.
Only one: a more standardized interpretation of the Shariah principles. There are varying interpretations of the Shariah principles in different jurisdictions. Having a more standardized interpretation would help to eliminate a lot of confusion for not only the industry practitioners but also the consumers, especially among the non-Muslims.