Could you provide a brief journey of how you arrived where you are today?
My banking career began as a conventional banker with Citigroup, where I started as an operation trainee and moved to corporate banking, where I was heavily involved in all kinds of lending for all kinds of industries, for both local and international markets.
As a Muslim, I strongly felt that I should know more about Islamic finance and in order to learn, I needed to be in Islamic banking. I moved with Citigroup to Bahrain, where the group was seriously looking into Islamic banking. Then in 2001, I left Citigroup and joined Kuwait Finance House. In March 2005 I was given the responsibility to set up Kuwait Finance House Malaysia, and here I am with a very good team.
What does your role involve?
As managing director, I have to lead the team to ensure the smooth operation of the institution, while exploring new opportunities for expansion. More importantly, as it is the policy of KFH Group to train local talent, another crucial role of mine is to ensure that the manpower is well trained and provided with the necessary tools to move forward.
What is your greatest achievement to date?
My humble achievement to date is the setting up of Kuwait Finance House Malaysia. I came all the way to a country that I did not even know about in terms of the regulatory landscape, the performing sectors, or country strategy. I set up a board of directors including three Malaysians, found the right people for the right positions, studied until I understood the business culture and the regulatory framework. In August 2005 we had a soft launch and finally, in March 2006, it was officially launched. I consider it as an achievement based on the time span, i.e. within a year!
Which of your products/services deliver the best results?
All of our products have their significance and their selling points. It is not necessary to detail each and every one here. I will therefore summarize into personal and business products. For personal, we have retail or branch banking that includes deposits, investments and retail financing. For business, we have corporate and investment banking, as well as commercial banking.
It is interesting to note that we are among the first banks in Malaysia to be offered both banking and securities licenses under one single brand name, without having to set up a separate entity for separate products and services.
What are the strengths of your business?
I would not be here without the following:
• a very good team: from the deputy chief executive director down to the drivers;
• supportive government and regulators;
• understanding stakeholders; and
• a co-operative board of directors.
What are the factors contributing to the success of your company?
The contributing factors come back to back with the strengths outlined above.
• The team members understand their roles well and, a point that I always stress, everyone in the team is equally important.
• It is undeniable that the Malaysian government is one of the most supportive governments, especially in developing the Islamic finance industry, and this has been reflected by the regulators.
• Stakeholders and the board of directors give me the freedom and the strong support to manoeuvre the organization.
What are the obstacles faced in running your business today?
I look at obstacles and problems as challenges and opportunities. If others feel that offering Middle Eastern developed products in this part of the world is a problem, I would look at it as a challenge and take it further as an opportunity to educate the market.
Similarly, a lack of manpower is perceived as a problem by others, but I take it as a challenge, or even my responsibility as a Muslim, to educate and train people in Islamic finance. As mentioned above, KFH Group strongly believes wherever it goes, it has to invest in local talent, and thus I have to practise what we believe.
Where do you see the Islamic finance industry, maybe in the next five years?
The industry has the potential to double in size, and more and more institutions are offering Islamic finance training to cope with the high demand for qualified people in the industry.
Name one thing you would like to see change in the world of Islamic finance?
A framework that is acceptable to all. We are yet to see that, but we are moving towards it. Malaysia’s move to allow Middle Eastern banks to operate in the country is a good example of framework convergence.
Kuwait Finance House Malaysia is the subsidiary of one of the largest Islamic banks in the world, headquartered in Kuwait. It is also the first fully fledged foreign Islamic bank to operate in Malaysia. Apart from offering Islamic banking, it also acts as an intermediary and facilitator to promote two-way investments between the region and the Middle East.