Could you provide a brief journey of how you arrived where you are today?
I was previously with a reputable UK law firm, attached to the tax group practice in London and Amsterdam. While there, I was involved in several Islamic financial transactions. I then left for Loyens & Loeff where my colleague Kees Hooft and I jointly set up the Islamic finance practice for the firm. We put together the Islamic finance team two years ago and have since been involved in a number of Shariah compliant financial transactions, including the setting up of funds, and provide advice for retail products, leasing transactions and Sukuk issuances.
What does your role involve?
Apart from my work in Islamic finance, I am also involved in other financing transactions, often those with complex international tax issues. In cross-border transactions, for example, clients often require minimal tax leakage and protection by way of bilateral investment treaties. My role is to oversee the tax structuring side of these transactions, while my colleague Hooft advises on the banking and finance documentation.
What is your greatest achievement to date?
As a firm, we’ve put Islamic finance on the financial agenda in the Netherlands. I believe we have also kindled interest in the sector by writing articles in national financial newspapers, speaking on radio and television talk shows, and also at seminars. To date, we are considered the leading Islamic finance law firm in the Netherlands, and perhaps even in the Benelux (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg) region. Our hard work over the past two years has paid off as reflected by the growing interest in the Islamic financial market.
Which of your products/services deliver the best
One thing our clients greatly appreciate is Loyens & Loeff’s good relationship with the Dutch Revenue Service. The Netherlands’ regulatory framework allows parties to discuss Islamic finance transactions before entering into them, and this has allowed us to conclude tax rulings in advance for our clients. The elimination of any ambiguity on the tax aspects of such transactions has been a big plus for our Islamic investors looking for more transparent structures.
What are the strengths of your business?
The strength of the firm’s Islamic finance team lies in our integrated civil and tax law approach that allows us to set up innovative and cost-saving Islamic finance structures. Offering services in an integrated fashion invariably adds significant value for our clients. Our service also extends beyond a Benelux perspective as we can draw on Loyens & Loeff’s offices in most major financial centers including Dubai, Singapore, London and New York.
What are the factors contributing to the success of your company?
In this industry, I believe success begins with a comprehensive knowledge of what one does. In our firm, we combine our in-depth tax and legal knowledge with market information and this has proven to be in our favor. This year, Loyens & Loeff’s offices in the Benelux scored the highest ranking in the tax category of the Legal 500 directory of law firms. We also held on to the top position in the Benelux’s Chambers Europe Awards for Excellence 2009.
What are the obstacles faced in running your business today?
The changing economic environment is something that we all need to address. The biggest challenge would then be to predict the market direction in the next year or so. In the past, the firm had advised on various Islamic finance acquisition transactions, but that market has slowed down quite a bit. However, there is a shift towards other types of Shariah compliant structures and we see a trend towards investing in alternative asset classes.
Also, we expect to see more Islamic fund structures launched in the coming years. Our challenge would be to stay at the forefront of these market developments and deliver quality service to our clients so that we remain on the shortlist of key legal firms in the Islamic finance domain.
Where do you see the Islamic finance industry in, say, the next five years?
Generally, I think we will see increased interest in Islamic finance throughout the world. In the Netherlands specifically, I foresee Islamic finance as a real and viable alternative to the conventional financial system currently practiced on a retail and wholesale level. On its part, Holland Financial Centre — a joint initiative set up by the Dutch government, regulators and the financial sector— is spearheading an initiative to further develop the Islamic finance industry in the Netherlands. Our firm is actively involved in this initiative.
There is also growing interest to conduct Shariah compliant business activities with the Gulf Cooperation Council region as well as countries like Malaysia and Indonesia. Going forward, I think there is a great deal of potential for growth in the Islamic finance industry in the Netherlands.
Name one thing you would like to see change in the world of Islamic finance.
As mentioned before by many industry practitioners, there is still a need for standardization in the Islamic finance industry. This should also lead to a more transparent and regulated environment for Islamic finance investors. I certainly look forward to contributing to the further development of a sustainable Islamic finance industry in the coming years.