Could you provide a brief journey of how you arrived where you are today?
I came out of law school not wanting to practice and got myself a consultancy job at KPMG Peat Marwick. I moved on to CIMB, where I was part of the transformation of CIMB into a regional investment bank. I served a year at Danaharta (Malaysia’s national asset management company tasked to restructure bad debts arising from the 1998 Asian crisis) which I would regard as a highly educational stint (you learn about what not to do and how to do things right the next time). After CIMB, I went on to set up the investment banking division of RHB Sakura (now RHB Investment). By then I was drawn to Islamic banking and did two years at Unicorn Investment Bank. I moved on from there to head Kuwait Finance House’s international business division in the region. I joined Bursa Malaysia three months ago.
What does your role involve?
I am tasked to spearhead the expansion and development of the Islamic markets infrastructure, products and services as well as the marketing of Islamic products and capabilities internationally. I am also responsible for widening our reach to other markets in support of the Malaysia International Islamic Financial Centre initiative in facilitating Malaysia’s aim as an Islamic financial hub. Malaysia, with its comprehensive system, is at the frontier where there is thought leadership, innovation and evolution. To that end, I hope that my role in Bursa Malaysia will further complement Malaysia’s overall efforts in articulating and developing products and services with the strength of resource and talent that are already available.
What is your greatest achievement to date?
The establishment of RHB’s investment banking division (and the deals we closed within a year of establishment) and KFH’s Singapore and Australia businesses (which was a milestone for an Islamic GCC bank to have ventured out this far). I am also pleased that within my 100 days in Bursa Malaysia, we have rolled out Bursa Suq Al-Sila’, the world’s first end-to-end Shariah compliant commodity trading platform that is aimed at facilitating commodity-based Islamic financing and investment transactions.
Which of your products/services deliver the best results?
I would say that the equity products have dominated our business to date though we are venturing into Sukuk and such. Our iREITs (Islamic real estate investment trusts) have performed commendably and I will be focusing on similar products, namely risk-managed/averse and steady income yielding ones in view of the current investment climate. I will also be further developing our commodity trading platform, Bursa Suq Al-Sila’, which commenced operations in mid-August this year and has since received favorable response from the market.
What are the strengths of your business?
We have an efficient trading infrastructure which is underpinned by the support of the regulators. The industry is also blessed with a good talent pool of Islamic finance practitioners. The strength of our Malaysian Islamic market also lies in its size. We have substantial Shariah compliant assets listed on the exchange — 88% of the companies currently listed on Bursa Malaysia are Shariah compliant and this accounts for 64.3% of our market capitalization.
What are the factors contributing to the success of your company?
As an exchange, we rely on the vibrancy of the market to fuel our business. The strength of our economy and that of our neighbors ensures a steady stream of fund raising activities in the region as well as provides investors with a diverse range of investment products to choose from. Other contributing factors include a very good business model and a good management team to stay ahead of the race.
What are the obstacles faced in running your business today?
I would say that because we have been hugely successful on the home front, we’ve probably not had the need to expand our business beyond our shores that much. However, as we want to position ourselves as an international Islamic financial hub, we must engage in international businesses. Going international may pose greater challenges as it needs us to have greater understanding of global demands, trends and requirements. Certainly this challenge is inevitable as we are on the precipice of moving into the next required level, but is one challenge that we have mentally braced ourselves for.
Where do you see the Islamic finance industry in, say, the next five years or so?
I believe, as do many others, that the industry will grow even further with the recent financial crisis. Investors generally view Islamic products and investments to be safer with real assets underlying them. Also, Islamic financial institutions are less impacted with the exception of a very few. As it is, I see non-Islamic markets embracing Islamic finance with a vigor and enthusiasm not seen just three years ago so I am optimistic that the industry will become more mainstream in time.
Name one thing you would like to see change in the world of Islamic finance.
I would like to see greater collaboration between markets, namely in embracing higher standards of governance and best practices. We should learn from the recent misadventures arising from the conventional finance sector. Hence, in my capacity as a global head of Islamic markets, I hope to develop more cross-border Islamic markets capabilities, create strategic alliances with international partners and facilitate knowledge sharing. I would also like to see higher tolerance of differing Shariah opinions by market players as I believe that differing opinions promote product innovation and facilitates wider market reach.