Could you provide a brief journey of how you arrived where you are today?
I developed a keen interest in Islamic finance at secondary school. My father’s guidance and the example of some noteworthy individuals provided me with a lot of motivation. While completing my Bachelor’s in Business Administration at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA), I completed a credit course on Islamic banking and learnt a lot from some of the pioneers in Islamic economics, especially from Dr Imran Usmani.
After my MBA I began my banking career as a money market and foreign exchange trader at Pakistan’s largest private bank. I believe that in order to be a good Islamic banker, one must be a good banker to begin with. Later I moved to Meezan Bank’s corporate and investment banking division and was fortunate enough to be involved in the development of some exciting and groundbreaking new products.
In February 2005 I joined ABN AMRO – Pakistan, giving me a larger platform to contribute towards the growth of Islamic finance.
What does your role involve?
I oversee all Islamic product development activities (corporate, commercial and retail); which involves conceptualizing, structuring, and obtaining Shariah approvals, as well as striving to ensure a successful roll out. I am also actively involved in business development, which entails defining business plans for various countries and implementation of the same.
Presently I am working for the launch of the Islamic business (both retail and corporate) in Pakistan, which is in its final stages.
As Secretary of the Shariah board I co-ordinate all ABN AMRO group’s Islamic banking activities with the Shariah scholars, obtain their opinion and present final structures for approval.
What is your greatest achievement to date?
I earnestly aspire for my greatest achievements to come.
Alhamdulillah I am pleased with my contribution to the organizations I have worked for and Islamic banking in general. I endeavor to learn myself and to impart knowledge and training, developing those around me. Hence I am happy with my performance in reaching people through conferences, seminars, meetings and training programs.
Which of your products/services deliver the best results?
All our products have significance and unique selling points. However, to mention a few we have developed some very sophisticated Islamic investment instruments. In Pakistan we are at the threshold of launching the Islamic business. I envisage our unique Islamic mortgage product to be a huge success.
We were able to secure multi-billion dollar deals in the Middle East last year. Recently we concluded a US$3.5 billion deal involving a petro-chemical company in Saudi Arabia, a large fraction of which was Shariah compliant. Our personal financing product in Saudi Arabia is also very successful.
What are the strengths of your business?
Our business mix gives us a competitive edge in our chosen markets and client segments. Additionally we have been in many countries for a number of decades, hence our local knowledge coupled with global know-how provides a very strong platform for service excellence. We also focus heavily on customer segmentation and analysis to deepen our understanding of our markets’ needs.
We are committed towards performance, a strong service proposition and the veracity of Shariah compliance in all our products. We work as a team, collaborating across business units and product areas.
What are the factors contributing to the success of your company?
- Strong brand and corporate image.
- World class service quality.
- A committed team.
- Product innovation.
- Strong commitment from senior management.
What are the obstacles faced in running your business today?
There are no fundamental obstacles. We view all hurdles as opportunities. Normal market challenges are always present, and each market is dynamic in itself. In Pakistan we compete in a very aggressive and dynamic market where the customer is becoming increasingly savvy and aware of his options. Our long history in this country enables us to provide an experienced platform. In Islamic finance, as the industry is still in its nascent stage, there is a dearth of trained manpower, a limitation which all players are facing.
Where do you see the Islamic finance industry, maybe in the next five years?
Malaysia and Pakistan are very good models, where the government and the regulators have been proactive in creating a parallel system. Islamic finance will, InshaAllah, continue its strong growth and will become mainstream business in a number of countries. We see a number of businesses becoming increasingly interested in Islamic solutions and educating themselves on the options. As this trend continues we will see a transition from Shariah compliant products (simulation of conventional products) to Shariah based products. Hence institutions with a strong focus on research and development, innovation and service quality will truly benefit from this growth.
Name one thing you would like to see change in the world of Islamic finance?
We must all endeavor to offer genuine Islamic finance solutions reflecting the essence of Islamic finance, rather than labeling conventional products as Islamic. Additionally, we should educate ourselves and the market. We should be propagating the need to save and invest. Hence:
“Save now … Buy Later” Not “Buy now … Pay later”
We must endeavor to benefit the communities and work towards equitable distribution of wealth. Lastly, I think the standardization of Shariah rulings is imperative.
ABN AMRO is one of the largest financial institutions in the world, with European roots dating back to 1824. It has been active in Asia since 1826. It has over 3,500 branches in almost 60 countries and territories, and total assets of €881 billion as of year-end 2005.
In Pakistan ABN AMRO was established in 1948. It is now the third largest foreign bank there, playing a prominent role in both corporate and retail businesses. In the UAE it has more than 30 years of experience, and it is the oldest foreign bank in Malaysia and Singapore.