Could you provide a brief journey of how you arrived where you are today?
I decided to walk the Islamic finance road after moving to Turkey in 2004, having sensed misunderstandings over the true role of Islamic finance in Turkish society, mainly due to societal tension. The factual combination of a Muslim culture and religion with secular principles, however, offers a unique and challenging isotope for innovative progress.
What does your role involve?
My overall experience and contacts help me to structure deals and assist with the smaller details where needed. While the legal experts are at work with the actual drafting, I assess the test runs and re-adjust in accordance with the client and his financial/business framework and compliant feedback.
What is your greatest achievement to date?
Islamic finance has been present in Turkey since 2004, first under the roof of finance houses, and now participation banks. They existed, but no one actually talked much about Islamic finance, or were even aware of its existence. My initiatives have helped to place Turkey on the way towards a more Shariah compliant path, increasing knowledge and fostering acceptance within Turkey itself. Islamic finance is now seen as a true compliant alternative to conventional banking, with full acceptance of secular standards and promises to unleash thus far unused resources.
Which of your products/services deliver the best results?
First and foremost, we combine local Turkish, US and European insights, common law and continental “conventional” legal systems, the French, English, German, Dutch and Turkish languages, as well as Muslim and Christian backgrounds. We also bring an international level of service together with a dedication to compliance to the client. Fast, unprejudiced access to a variety of sources with a deep understanding of the ratio behind the words (it is not because we speak the same language that we actually understand the message in the same way) is what attracts clients most.
What are the strengths of your business?
Commitment to the business of the client. A flexible, multilingual and multicultural team cross-fertilizes and opens doors. Meeting deadlines and open reporting. The file belongs to the client and has to serve his goals, not ours. We dedicate ourselves to that.
What are the factors contributing to the success of your company?
Currently, most major international law firms in this part of the world are confronted with at least one of the threaded paths (Murabahah and Ijarah, Istisnah, Musharakah and Mudarabah) and play a relatively passive role in adapting and tailoring to local frameworks. However, we have chosen to be more open-minded and eager to think with the client in order to achieve his goals.
We do not want to bill time. We strive to help the client make it happen.
What are the obstacles faced in running your business today?
The primary obstacle was ignorance – people simply did not know the true nature of the alternative that was offered.
The secondary problem was trying to suppress the subsequent reflex to isolate the products and services out of the conventional offerings. It is good to be aware of the intrinsic differences, risks and management patterns, but wrong to quarantine. This slows down development.
Where do you see the Islamic finance industry, maybe in the next five years?
During the next five years the industry will mature in volume and human resources. More and bigger funds and tradeable Sukuk will open doors to volatile secondary markets. In turn this will lead to better understanding and eliminate existing prejudice and ignorance. So far unutilized financial resources (because there are no available compliant products) will find their way to productivity in places (initially within the Islamic sphere itself) where they can be used properly.
Name one thing you would like to see change in the world of Islamic finance?
From its very origin – and within the scope of products offered today – Islamic finance is well geared towards venture capital and infrastructure finance. As such it can play a significant role in literally shaping the world of tomorrow. The big challenge ahead is to grow away from the beaten track (from the existing shortlist of named compliant contracts that have been explored and matured profoundly) to more open, un-named contracts that still respect the boundaries, but allow freedom to explore.
With more knowledge and expertise avaiable and a much larger number of practitioners, that road offers broad perspective.
BENER LAW OFFICE is a Turkish law firm with a broad international track record and a flexible approach. We build lasting relationships with our clients worldwide. BENER LAW OFFICE stands for first class legal service, with an emphasis on integrity and professionalism. Our well-balanced and experienced team is dedicated to meeting our clients’ expectations. We always offer highly effective, innovative and practical business-focused solutions. Paul WOUTERS is a Belgian lawyer and advisor to BENER LAW OFFICE.