Could you provide a brief journey of how you arrived where you are today?
My first exposure to the field was in 1987 heading an Islamic banking project for Barclays Bank – where I stayed for 20 years. It has since been a significant feature of nearly all of my subsequent roles.
Throughout my 20 years in Barclays from 1979 to 1998, I was responsible for the bank’s Islamic clients. Within Barclays, I held a variety of positions such as director of large corporate banking (1995 to 1998), associate director of the Middle East group, London (1991 to 1995) and the business development manager, UAE (1988 to 1991).
Prior to my current appointment, I served as the general manager of corporate banking and capital markets of Qatar National Bank (QNB). I was also the chairman of Qatar Capital Partners (when it was under formation), and director for both QNB International Holdings and Ansbacher Group Holding. During this I was responsible – among other things, for the bank’s Islamic business before spinning it out into a new business unit QNB Al Islami. Last year I led QNB’s first corporate Sukuk transaction in the country.
What does your role involve?
As the CEO of The Islamic Bank of Asia (IB Asia), my job is to build a leading Islamic bank instrumental in intermediating capital flows between Asia and the Middle East. In particular, I want IB Asia to be known for originating and distributing innovative wealth management and capital market solutions that suit the needs of our clients in both regions, and for the quality and professionalism of its people.
What is your greatest achievement to date?
First and foremost would have to be my five children. On the business front – being profitable at the operating level in our very first month of operations. Although I have to say that I couldn’t have done either alone!
Which of your products/services deliver the best results?
It’s still too early to say. Nonetheless, we now have a comprehensive suite of investment and commercial banking products and services, ranging from capital markets and treasury, advisory, underwriting/arranging and distributing services for Sukuk to wealth management structures. We also have plans to launch a series of investment products over the next 12 months.
Most importantly, we are able to deliver tailored solutions that address our wholesale clients’ specific needs.
What are the strengths of your business?
Our unique shareholding structure for one, which allows us to tap into DBS’ product-creation and distribution capabilities in Asia, as well as our pre-eminent Middle Eastern investors and their significant network of GCC contacts. Having a world-renowned Shariah board and headquarters in a well-regulated financial hub help to complete a very strong proposition.
What are the factors contributing to the success of your company?
We’re just starting out, but are very much encouraged by the positive response and interest from the market. This can be seen as an endorsement of the bank’s solid Shariah credentials and its ingenious shareholder structure, which I believe is the first of its kind. Last but not least, Singapore took pains to ease regulations in favour of Islamic finance so as to realize its vision of being an Islamic banking hub, and the local authorities have been very supportive of our efforts.
What are the obstacles faced in running your business today?
To prioritize and meet as many of the business opportunities that have come knocking! Of course, challenges like the dearth of Islamic banking talent pertain to the industry as a whole and this will be a feature for some time. Having the first-mover advantage in a nascent industry also has a price and as such, we have to constantly innovate and work closely with the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to build a robust Islamic banking framework.
Where do you see the Islamic finance industry, maybe in the next five years?
I think we will see continued improvement in the governance and regulatory compliance areas and further development of sophisticated products. I also believe there will be the creation of more new Islamic banks that will increase competition and help open up the markets in developing countries with large Muslim populations such as India and Indonesia. Finally, the structure of the industry will further polarize around wholesale/investment banks – where regulations allow large scale proprietary investment operations – and commercial banks.
Name one thing you would like to see change in the world of Islamic finance?
There is presently a wave of money seeking out profitable opportunities. Much of this would be funneled into Shariah compliant products if there were greater choices and depth of supply provided by large credible institutions with international stature. Right now, the industry is still the domain of relatively small banks with limited resources and track records, and a few large players from a single domestic market. There are a few exceptions to this, but not sufficient enough to really take advantage of the current opportunity.
I would like to see a few pure Islamic banking international players evolving over the next few years to fill this gap and to provide market leadership. Of course, I would like my institution to be in this group.
IB Asia, headquartered in Singapore, focuses on commercial banking, corporate finance, capital market and private banking services. Its emphasis is on the provision of Shariah compliant wholesale banking services, and the origination and distribution of wealth management and capital market instruments. Log on to www.islamicbankasia.com for more information.