Could you provide a brief journey of how you arrived where you are today?
I was called to the Bar of England and Wales (Lincolns Inn) in 1979 and to the Malaysian Bar in 1980. In 1981 a friend and I opened our own firm, Albar & Co. In the banking and finance area, I saw the need for a niche practice offering quality and cost effective legal work.
Our involvement in Islamic finance began when the industry was still new in the country. As a banking and finance lawyer, I managed to secure the second Islamic finance deal in the country, in the mid-80s.
What does your role involve?
Today, as the full-time managing partner of Albar & Partners, apart from managing and overseeing the firm, I am also actively involved in the overall development of the firm. It is my primary responsibility to provide the firm with its vision and to direct the course for its future.
With my expertise in banking and corporate work, from time to time I also discuss and advise my partners on some of the more complicated legal work.
What is your greatest achievement to date?
I would say that my greatest achievement was in building the firm from scratch to where it is today. I am proud to say that we are a firm recognized for providing our clients with quality work whether it is in banking and finance, corporate advisory work or in litigation work. Our achievements have also been recognized by us winning several industry awards.
We won the Islamic Finance news Awards 2007 for Best Islamic REIT Deal of the Year for our role as legal counsel in the Al-Hadharah Boustead REIT deal. That was the first Islamic plantation-based real estate investment trust in the world.
Which of your products/services deliver the best results?
I would say that being a niche practice, all of our services deliver good results. However, in terms of practice area, Albar & Partners is known to be strong in the banking and finance field which also includes banking litigation. This practice area has always been our forte. Our corporate advisory services, too, is an area where we are very focused and we service several big clients that use our services almost exclusively.
What are the strengths of your business?
Our strength is to be able to produce high quality legal service that not only lives up to our clients’ expectations but exceed them. We have built a reputation based on our commitment to excellence and professionalism.
What are the factors contributing to the success of your company?
We have been able to get some of the best people on our team who are immensely dedicated and committed to the firm. We inculcate and stress the importance of professional values in the firm, which speak for themselves. I believe that with our fundamental commitment to professionalism and excellence, we have been able to not only retain existing clients but also secure new ones.
What are the obstacles faced in running your business today?
What we have seen is that in the past few years, the legal industry has lost much talent to the larger international law firms overseas due to the high salaries offered by them. In addition, inevitably we are faced with rising costs in terms of salaries and rental and the like, and a downward pressure on fees due to fierce competition.
Where do you see the Islamic finance industry in, say, the next five years?
In Malaysia, I am confident that Islamic finance will continue to grow by leaps and bounds. The industry is expected to pick up momentum, especially with the push from the central bank, Bank Negara Malaysia.
Its governor, Zeti Akhtar Aziz, in her bid to make Malaysia a global hub for Islamic finance, has opened up the industry by putting in place more investor-friendly regulations, as well as many other incentives to encourage a higher level of Islamic finance business and expertise to come into Malaysia. Therefore, I can see Islamic finance continue to grow in this country.
Also, with the current economic global crisis where the conventional banking industry is faced with unprecedented challenges, Islamic finance may be an alternative that can pick up momentum globally.
Name one thing you would like to see change in the world of Islamic finance?
If you look at Islamic finance from a macro point of view, I think we need to foster greater coordination between the different schools of thought. We should move to the level where differences of opinion in terms of the fundamentals in the interpretation of Shariah law is kept to the barest minimum or eliminated completely.
We should have more dialogue and discussions in finding a solution for the differing opinions. Following this, I would like to see Islamic finance become a real and viable alternative to conventional finance.