Chief executive officer
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Could you provide a brief journey of how you arrived where you are today?
My role within HSBC has been as an international manager for over 18 years. In that capacity I have worked in Hong Kong, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Armenia, the UAE and the UK before coming to Malaysia in 2006 to set up and run our first Takaful entity. My jobs have included retail and corporate banking, securities custody, strategic planning, Islamic wealth management and international insurance business development. While it wasn’t clear while I was doing all that, it has turned out to be the perfect mix of experience for this role.
What does your role involve?
The role of any CEO is always tough to explain. At the moment, we are in start-up mode and my job is in constant flux. The business, and our staff, are still establishing infrastructure and deciding what we want this company to represent, what is our corporate “character.” I need to set the broad agenda and provide guidance, but also allow my team to make mistakes and learn what they are capable of doing themselves. At the same time I have accountability with the regulator, my stakeholders and the media to communicate what we are doing and hope to do in an effective way. Basically, my role is “big picture” perspective but painted with a small brush!
What is your greatest achievement to date?
Building a team that was capable of setting this company up in barely six months from Bank Negara Malaysia’s formal approval letter and writing its first business the same day – that made all the hard work count for something for staff and shareholders. It was a truly co-ordinated and powerful achievement for the team and it has proven that we can accomplish what seems impossible.
Which of your products/services deliver the best results?
We have started with only one product and it has produced excellent results; our objective is to ensure that we focus on excellent results and only introduce products that we can support in this way. If that is the case then all our products will support growth and customer value.
What are the strengths of your business?
The greatest strengths I can identify at this point are dedication and energy amongst the team to make a difference. Not just for the shareholders but also for the customers. We have a challenge in front of us to become relevant to our competitors from a standing start and that will take all of the team’s commitment and drive for some time.
What are the factors contributing to the success of your company?
These are really the same as the last question in my view. But as a complement to teamwork and energy, I would add creativity and innovation. The greatest strength of any business is its ability to embrace opportunities and confront change constructively. That requires the full and diverse creativity of all staff, not just the CEO or a few senior managers. The business world is filled with examples of fringe ideas and products that became phenomenal successes for their companies: Post-It notes and Nokia’s phone business were both random ideas or non-core activities. We compete best when we all show up to work fully – and that means mentally as well as physically.
What are the obstacles faced in running your business today?
The biggest obstacle is quite simply the incomplete market awareness of Takaful. Depending on which customers one talks to, Takaful is either unknown, misunderstood as being exclusively for Muslims, just another brand/company of insurance, or old-fashioned and uncompetitive. In the final analysis, Takaful will eventually hit a tipping point and the trends will at least bring volumes in line with demographics. The key for us and for other Takaful players is to ensure that preferences develop to recognize the value of Takaful on a commercial and community basis.
Where do you see the Islamic finance industry, maybe in the next five years?
Islamic finance is set for a very active time over the next five years in my opinion. The Muslim community will be incrementally maturing, with Asia following closely behind the Middle East and expected to follow its demand for halal products and services. This will be coupled with attention to product development, as well as the creation of substantial Islamic entities that will provide innovative and credible solutions for the community’s financial needs. I believe we will see significant changes in the way governments in Muslim countries respond to their people over how they invest the country’s funds for pensions and development and this will further sponsor activity. The risk is that there is inadequate integration between Islamic nations to collectively develop “joined-up” solutions.
Name one thing you would like to see change in the world of Islamic finance?
I would like to see the industry engage in grass roots education. It has focused on corporate and institutional dialogue, or mere product comparison, leaving the value judgment on how and why an Islamic product should be considered to rest solely on personal commitment to the customer’s faith. In the end, the only thing that really matters is whether customers find this a value-added proposition, even if that value is religious compliance rather than commercial value. And that is a function of education and demographics (which are moving in the right direction for Islamic finance). To embrace these trends effectively, however, is a function of the talent in the industry to respond to the opportunity when it asserts itself with fresh and useful products and services.
HSBC Amanah provides a range of Islamic banking and finance products to cater to their customers’ lifestyle and business needs. Backed by HSBC Amanah Finance, the global entity for HSBC’s Islamic banking activities, customers can enjoy value added financial products and services.