Could you provide a brief journey of how you arrived where you are today?
I arrived back in Sri Lanka in 1997 after having completed a Masters degree (MBA) in Australia. At the time, Islamic finance had just been introduced in Sri Lanka, with the advent of Amana Investments Ltd., the pioneer provider of Islamic financial services in the country. I was offered the opportunity to start up and head a company Amana proposed to incorporate to handle equities and various Investment banking services. I officially took on the post of CEO in mid 1998.
What does your role involve?
The areas that come under my purview include Corporate Finance / Advisory, Asset Management and Stock market related activities. I also serve on the board of directors and am a member of the executive committee of two other companies in the group, involved in the areas of commodity brokering and bullion trading respectively. Other areas of my involvement include that of new product development for the group, an area that is especially important given that Islamic finance is still very much in its infancy in Sri Lanka. .
What is your greatest achievement to date?
The company has been recently awarded a License as Trading Member in the Colombo Stock Exchange. Amana Capital Ltd. (ACL) was one of a select group of just five such licensees, among a plethora of applicants.
Which of your products/services deliver the best results?
The financial restructuring of companies in order to make them Shariah compliant.
What are the strengths of your business?
ACL has a cadre of very competent and dedicated employees, very committed to the concept of Islamic finance. They have all gained invaluable experience in this previously unexplored arena. The services we offer are also very unique and we enjoy a quasi-monopoly in this very specialized area of Islamic finance.
What are the factors contributing to the success of your company?
ACL is fortunate to have retained the services of very technically competent staff that have acquired the requisite skills in the area of Islamic finance and who work well together as a team. The services we offer are also somewhat unique in Sri Lanka and we face very little or no competition in the particular niches within which we operate. The company has also built up a considerable reputation in the formulation, structuring and implementation of innovative Islamic financial products that act as Shariah compliant alternatives to the conventional products on offer. Thus, the transition for the more Shariah conscious investors has been made as smooth as possible.
What are the obstacles faced in running your business today?
There is an obvious dearth of Shariah scholars with a background in finance. The lack of Islamic finance professionals also proves an impediment since the process of training raw professionals often proves very time consuming.
There are also regulatory constraints, although we are very appreciative of the efforts taken by the authorities to permit the development of an Islamic finance market in a country with an Islamic minority.
Where do you see the Islamic finance industry, maybe in the next five years?
I expect growth rates in the Islamic finance industry to accelerate, especially with the entry of financial giants, such as Singapore and India, into the Islamic finance market. In fact, I would suggest that the global ‘size’ of the Islamic finance market should, at the very least, double in comparison to its current levels.
More countries would encompass Islamic finance within the ambit of local regulations pertaining to the finance industry, for instance, laws to avoid double taxation on certain Islamic finance structures. The entry of conventional financial institutions into Islamic finance would continue to be a phenomenon. In the same vein, more conventional financial institutions, especially in the Middle East, would probably convert fully to Islamic banks.
Name one thing you would like to see change in the world of Islamic finance?
The divergent viewpoints/perspectives among Islamic scholars from different regions.
Amana Capital Limited (ACL) offers asset management and financial services, which is in strict adherence to Shariah principles. Its services include Corporate Financing and Advisory Activities, Securities, Fund Management, and Real Estate.