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Interview With Ahmed Ali Siddiqui

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AHMED ALI SIDDIQUI

SEVP & Head Product Development & Shariah Compliance Meezan Bank

 

ISFIRE has a brand-new format for Personality Interviews. We will include 15 questions to be answered by some leading personalities in Islamic banking and finance (IsBF). The objective is to help our readers look into the minds of those who have been successful in IsBF or any other related business/profession.

Our ISFIRE Personality of the Issue is Ahmed Ali Siddiqui, SEVP & Head, Product Development & Shariah Compliance, Meezan Bank.

 

ISLAMIC BANKING AND FINANCE – IN ONE SENTENCE – WHAT DOES IT STAND FOR, FOR YOU?

Islamic banking for me means a better, complete and Halal banking system that eliminates Riba while also helping in the establishment of a just economic system based on the principles of Islam.

YOU MAY TAKE MORE SENTENCES TO SHARE WITH US YOUR FRANK VIEWS ON ISLAMIC BANKING AND FINANCE – IS IT SOMETHING YOU FIND REALLY DIFFERENT FROM MAINSTREAM BANKING AND FINANCE?

Islamic banking is an alternative system of banking that helps to achieve strategic objectives of the Islamic economic system by engaging in permissible activities and contracts such as; sales, partnership, rent and agency. It also avoids impermissible activities, like interest-based dealings (including bonds and T-bills), unethical businesses, invalid sales and contracts, trade of artificial instruments, gambling and short/ future sell instruments.

Islamic and conventional banking and finance systems are distinct on three levels: conceptual framework, business model and the implementation at the product level. Even experts, without a clear understanding of these differences, sometimes tend to erroneously think of Islamic banks as just another bank with a mere change of name.

WHAT ROLE ISLAMIC BANKING AND FINANCE CAN PLAY IN YOUR COUNTRY?

Financial Inclusion: The State Bank of Pakistan conducted an independent survey comprising over 10,000 households representing people from all walks of life to gauge their knowledge and perception of Islamic banking. An overwhelming majority of 94.5% of the respondents consider Riba prohibited, reflecting a huge demand for Islamic banking; while 88.4% of the respondents consider conventional interest as Riba. These results suggest, a vast majority of the Pakistani population perceive banks as institutions dealing in Riba and so they are intentionally excluded. In addition to all other benefits, Islamic banking can include the huge unbanked population into formal and documented economy.

Conversion: In light of the recent historic judgement of the Federal Shariat Court of Pakistan, Islamic finance is the future of not just the financial sector, but the entire economy of the country. Islamic banks have the required skill set, knowledge and expertise to lead this state-level conversion from the front.

Cost-efficient Funds for the Government: In the past few years the Government of Pakistan has benefitted from lower costs of funds through the issuance of sukuk as compared to raising funds through interest-based instruments.

THE STATE BANK OF PAKISTAN CONDUCTED AN INDEPENDENT SURVEY COMPRISING OVER 10,000 HOUSEHOLDS REPRESENTING PEOPLE FROM ALL WALKS OF LIFE TO GAUGE THEIR KNOWLEDGE AND PERCEPTION OF ISLAMIC BANKING. AN OVERWHELMING MAJORITY  OF 94.5% OF THE RESPONDENTS CONSIDER RIBA PROHIBITED, REFLECTING A HUGE DEMAND FOR ISLAMIC BANKING; WHILE 88.4% OF THE RESPONDENTS CONSIDER CONVENTIONAL INTEREST AS RIBA.

Promote Economic Development and Welfare: Islamic banking can channel funds for real economic projects that will create prosperity and welfare in society, as Islamic banking avoids funding unethical and non-Islamic businesses, resulting in the overall betterment of society.

HAVE YOU PERSONALLY BENEFITTED FROM ISLAMIC BANKING AND FINANCE? TO BE VERY CLEAR, HAVE YOU ACHIEVED SUCCESS IN ISLAMIC BANKING AND FINANCE ON A PERSONAL LEVEL WHILE WORKING IN AN ISLAMIC FINANCIAL INSTITUTION OR UNDERTAKING A PROJECT IN THE FIELD?

When I joined Meezan Bank in 2003, we were a small team of less than 50 people. Today Meezan Bank is the 4th largest bank in Pakistan with over 950 branches across 250 cities of Pakistan. Over time, Meezan has become synonymous with Islamic banking. Being an integral part of this phenomenal journey, achieving one milestone after another, and setting my eyes on future goals has been the key to my success.

WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST-PRICED ACHIEVEMENT SO FAR?

The real achievement is to assist people in avoiding unethical and errant interest-based dealings and help them execute their banking through Shari’a-compliant means, seeing Meezan Bank emerge as the best bank of Pakistan. Having the opportunity to assist the establishment of the IBA Centre for Excellence in Islamic Finance (CEIF), and helping thousands of students from the platform of Ihsan Trust, have been wonderful experiences for me.

AS A SEVP & HEAD, WHAT ARE THE THREE CONCERNS ABOUT THE ORGANISATION’S FUTURE THAT KEEPS YOU UP AT NIGHT?

  1. As Meezan is among the top 5 banks in Pakistan as of now, my foremost concern is to not be complacent at this point and continue to strive for the ideals and goals that we upheld during our growth stage.
  • The second concern also stems from the first one, being the hallmark of Shari’a-compliance and best practices, the bank has always been under strict scrutiny from the customers, regulators, the public, competitor Islamic banks and other players in the industry. For organisations that have experienced unprecedented growth and success, maintaining a reputation in the wake of constant scrutiny is always a pressing situation.
  • Global economic challenges, post-pandemic recession, the fear of war and the spike in fuel prices worldwide, have greatly concerned Islamic bankers (traders by nature) more than the relatively risk-free conventional counterparts.

WHAT FACTORS (PERSONAL, FAMILY, EDUCATION, MENTORS, ETC.) HAVE CONTRIBUTED TO YOUR SUCCESS?

All success is attributed to the Grace of the Almighty, the prayers of my parents and support from my wife and family.

I am thankful to all my teachers who counselled me during different stages of life.

Professionally, I am blessed to have mentors such as, Honourable Mufti Taqi Usmani, Dr Imran Usmani, Mr Irfan Siddiqui, Dr Ishrat Husain and many more who helped me grow.

WHAT IS THE MOST REWARDING ASPECT IN YOUR CURRENT ROLE?

The most rewarding aspect is the total dedication of top management to promote and support Islamic banking and a high degree of flexibility to take on new initiatives, which benefits the people of Pakistan and promote our vision of making Islamic banking as the first and only choice for every Pakistani.

WHAT ARE THE FAILURES IN YOUR CAREER THAT YOU CHERISH THE MOST?

Since I consider the interest-based financial system evil, a curse for society and a crime against humanity, so I desired to eliminate and replace this system with an ethical Islamic banking system in one go. But I learned, this will be a gradual journey and we need to consistently work hard to achieve our goal.

HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH DIFFERENT PERSONALITIES IN THE WORKPLACE?

I deal with people with respect and empathy. So, I value, understand and absorb different viewpoints and incorporate them into the decision-making process. However, at the same time, it is of utmost importance to me to uphold the principles of Shari’a.

THE READERS WOULD LIKE TO KNOW ABOUT SOMETHING YOU STRUGGLED WITH EARLY ON IN YOUR CAREER, AND HOW YOU OVERCAME IT?

At the start of the career, one needs to work hard with focus, look at the greater goals and welcome challenges. Alhamdulillah, I have been always focused on my vision, and haven’t been distracted by challenges. I have not chased short-term benefits, and have tried to remain focused on the bigger picture.

IF YOU HAD MULTIPLE PROJECTS AND LIMITED TIME, HOW WOULD YOU MANAGE YOUR PRIORITIES?

I like to prioritise my tasks based on their final impact.

TELL US ABOUT A CHALLENGE YOU FACED AND HOW YOU HANDLED IT.

From 2017 to 2020, was a period, where there were no sovereign sukuk issuances and the Islamic banking industry faced a huge liquidity management crisis, there was immense pressure from the Islamic banking industry to come up with a viable solution. However, after discussions with various stakeholders including the government, ministry representatives and regulators, we came up with an out-of-the-box solution and issued the PES (Pakistan Energy Sukuk – I), which solved this problem to a large extent.

WHO IS YOUR ROLE MODEL AND WHY?

My role model is our Prophet Muhammad SAW, as he is the best of all human beings and the best guide in all areas of life. If we follow the Prophet’s noble footsteps and his glorious Sunnah, then we are on track for success in both worlds.

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