Could you provide a brief journey of how you arrived where you are today?
IWell, this is a variation of the most popular questioned asked of me: ‘How did you get involved in Islamic finance?’ The answer is an equal mix of serendipity and rather commonplace business decision-making. Failaka does, however, have a rather mythical and exotic beginning, with roots leading back to South America in 1996; for it was in Santiago, Chile that I met my business partner (and Failaka founder) Tariq Al-Rifai. We were both graduate students studying the ‘economic miracle’ of Chile in an overseas study program.
Shortly after that first meeting, Tariq had the idea to start Failaka, having found it difficult to obtain accurate information on the handful of Islamic funds that existed at the time. While my knowledge of the industry was close to nil at the time, it sounded like a promising idea and we began publishing our quarterly Failaka Islamic Fund Reports (covering the modest 30 funds that existed).
Throughout the years, we kept up with the industry’s growth and reached a point where we had to either turn our efforts into a full-time business or close it down, as it was becoming a time-consuming task monitoring 200+ funds on a part-time basis. Feeling that the growth was a genuine phenomenon, we made the right choice.
What does your role involve?
Each day can be a mixture of many roles — event organizer, relationship manger to the fund companies, sales manager, capital markets analyst, conference lecturer, bank consultant… and I’m sure other bits too if I were to sit back and count. But I’m not complaining! Having worked in large organizations with tightly defined roles, I relish the diversity.
What is your greatest achievement to date?
Our greatest achievement will be the launch of our new, state-of-the-art database of Shariah compliant investment funds on the 24th March. It has been a huge and challenging undertaking that will take our business to the next level and, more importantly, provide investors with the latest tools for analyzing Islamic funds.
Which of your products/services deliver the best results?
Our business has four main components: funds database, the Failaka Fund Awards, our consultancy and our publishing projects. Each one is managed aggressively and has its strong points. We are, however, particularly attached to the fund reporting side of our business as it forms the cornerstone for nearly everything else. We also have high hopes for our new
Failaka Shariah Report, which we believe is the world’s first book to profile Shariah scholars and open up that part of the industry to new participants.
What are the strengths of your business?
Like any good service business in any field, we aim to provide a compelling, customer-focused service that responds to the demands of our clients, is easy to use, correctly priced and represents good value.
What are the factors contributing to the success of your company?
Like many in the field, we have benefited from the surge in global interest in Islamic finance. For those banks and investors interested in the sector, the first prudent step is often to do your homework. As providers of information on the Islamic sector, we are well-positioned to answer their questions. We also pride ourselves on quickly delivering on new business initiatives.
What are the obstacles faced in running your business today?
Time! As we are still a small company, there is a limit to what can be done each quarter, each week and each day. While many like to think of themselves as supermen and women, coming to terms with what can realistically be accomplished in a given timeframe is often a challenge, especially when long-distance travel is involved.
Where do you see the Islamic finance industry, maybe in the next five years?
I see greater integration among the main centers: Malaysia, the GCC and Europe with pronounced growth in other regions, including the US and other parts of Asia. To my mind, the barriers are not so much Shariah-related (the so-called standardization debate), but regulatory. And when you speak of regulatory hurdles, you are in the realm of national and local legislatures that most often do not have a grasp of the history, methods of finance, legal requirements and tax implications of Islamic finance… and these can be tricky and time-consuming issues.
Name one thing you would like to see change in the world of Islamic finance?
I would like to see fewer conferences dealing with the basics and more that are focused on specific issues. While it is important for newcomers to get a flavor of the industry, I think it is perhaps equally important for practitioners to have more detailed discussions on some of the newer developments.
Established in 1996, Failaka Advisors LLC was the first research organization to monitor advances in the field of Islamic investment funds. Failaka also host the annual Failaka Islamic Fund Awards each spring in Dubai, the UAE, recognizing the best performing funds, fund family, and managers.