Could you provide a brief journey of how you arrived where you are today?
I came to the Gulf in the mid-1990s and I soon got the chance to join Alliance Housing Bank, the first private mortgage institution in Oman. Then, I moved to Amlak Finance, the first mortgage finance institution in the UAE, and was involved in the institution’s conversion from a private to a public company through an IPO and also the conversion from a conventional to an Islamic provider – even though most of the customers were non-Muslims.
In early 2006, I became chief executive officer (CEO) of Sakana (a 50:50 joint venture between Shamil Bank and the Bank of Bahrain and Kuwait (BBK)), a start-up company and the first financial institution in Bahrain to be formed in partnership between an Islamic and a conventional bank. It has been a series of firsts for me.
What does your role involve?
Being the first official employee of the company and the CEO, I have had to establish everything from scratch. As such, I have a truly hands-on style and am involved in the recruitment of all our staff, as well as contributing to the technical and operational side of the business. My day is extremely varied.
What is your greatest achievement to date?
Establishing Sakana within a very short timespan, bearing in mind that Bahrain is an evolving mortgage market, and as such we are in some way helping to write the rules of the game. Operating in a relatively small market which is highly competitive, we are even in competition with our parent companies.
Which of your products/services deliver the best results?
Relatively speaking, Bahrain’s mortgage market is still young. As with any new concept, customers want reassurance and, with this in mind, we developed all of our products and services around the theme of simplicity. I believe this has driven demand for our core home finance product.
What are the strengths of your business?
Our specialist mortgage focus allows us to offer a wider variety of home financing solutions than other local institutions – we were among the first in the Gulf to offer a 30-year mortgage, and to have a real estate agency operating from a financial institution. Our unique selling points in the local market include offering the longest mortgage term, the highest percentage financing of property value, and no pre or early repayment penalties. We use an advisory rather than a finance-orientated approach with our customers.
What are the factors contributing to the success of your company?
We have highly respected shareholders and an extremely knowledgeable board of directors. Sakana’s team members are young, energetic and willing to learn. All this adds up to satisfied customers who have offered us their testimonials and spread the word around the market, leading to more new business.
What are the obstacles faced in running your business today?
We are a small company with big ambitions. Our capitalized value is small, so growing the business while at the same time keeping costs under tight control presents a challenge. Operating in a highly competitive business while trying to achieve acceptable returns to shareholders in a short time frame is a test of our business acumen.
Where do you see the Islamic finance industry, maybe in the next five years?
Making inroads into countries outside of the Muslim world and becoming an increasingly popular alternative mode of financing for individuals and organizations that do not necessarily have an Islamic connection.
Name one thing you would like to see change in the world of Islamic finance?
There are many, but most importantly we need to keep up with the pace of change in the Islamic financial sector. Also, we must build customer confidence and consider how we can aim for standardization of practices across the board.
Sakana Holistic Housing Solutions was formed through a 50:50 partnership between the Bank of Bahrain & Kuwait (BBK) and Shamil Bank, two of Bahrain’s leading banks. Sakana combines the values of humanism and spirituality with quality and innovation, meeting market needs for economic and environmental sustainability. It brings innovative and encompassing real estate solutions to the housing and real estate sector.