Exclusive interview with Mr. Rizwan Ata (Regional Manager Meezan Bank Ltd)

 
1. Please introduce yourself in detail with achievement, educational and banking background?
 

I have by the Grace of the Almighty done an MBA from the USA, with a major in strategic marketing. After my studies, I joined Emirates Bank International with whom I was associated for over 13 years in key positions. During my working with Emirates, I had the opportunity of working overseas as well as in many major cities of the Punjab region, enabling an in-depth understanding and market reach. I joined Meezan Bank in 2002 on the official inauguration day of the bank. My fundamental responsibilities as Regional Manager include management of the Bank’s various corporate and retail branch functions in the Punjab; across Lahore, Multan, Faislabad, Sialkot and other cities of the Punjab. Today by the Grace of Almighty the Central Region includes 25 full fledged branches spread over 11 cities of the Punjab. We are proud of the fact that our Central Region is the fastest growing Region within the fastest growing Islamic Bank operating in Pakistan.

 
2. You have a diversified banking background. How do you feel being the pioneer Islamic bank in this region? Please elaborate your experiences in this regard?
 

As I already mentioned, my initial experience was with Emirates Bank – a purely conventional bank. Shifting over to Islamic banking was a truly new phenomenon and required a complete change in mindset. It required a complete new understanding of both Asset products as well as Liability products from what I was used to. Meezan Bank Ltd is no doubt the pioneer Islamic bank, we are proud of the fact that the first Islamic banking license was issued to us by State Bank of Pakistan in 2002. Meezan Bank Ltd is looked up as the pioneer Islamic bank in Pakistan; the same expectation carries a lot of responsibility on us as we have to meet the public’s expectations in all regards.

 

Meezan Bank Ltd has one of the largest offering of Shariah driven products and services under one roof. The bank has developed an extraordinary research and development capability by combining the skills of investment bankers, commercial bankers, Shariah scholars, legal experts and end product users that has led to the introduction of a diverse product range which satisfy business needs and meets world class service standards. Meezan Bank continues to educate and refine the market by offering various business value propositions in a transparent and open manner, in addition to addressing commonly asked questions about Islamic banking and how it differs from the conventional system.

 
3. Being the expert on Islamic Banking, what do you consider the future of Islamic Banking in Pakistan?
 

The Islamic banking industry is currently just in the evolutionary phase and can be conservatively said to be in the infancy stage. The latest SBP figures show Islamic banks to be catering to just 3% of the market as of now. The positive thing is that the Islamic banking market players are increasing with the coming in of new entrants like Dubai Islamic, Emirates Global, Bank Alislami as well as independent Islamic Divisions within the existing conventional banks (Bank Alfalah, Askari Bank, MCB, HBL, UBL etc).

 

Initially the Islamic banks will try to cover larger urban cities of Pakistan and gradually will start opening outlets in smaller towns and rural areas. Islamic banks currently are catering to a specific niche market – religiously inclined, the true essence of Islamic banking success will be when we start catering to the general consumer based on our excellent product offering as well as service standards. Our goal in 2007 is to increase the branch network to over 100 branches. I personally hold a very positive and optimistic view for the industry and can safely say that the only way is up.

 
4. According to latest figures the growth of Islamic banking in Punjab is far greater than other regions of the country? Do you indicate any reason behind this?
 
I personally feel that the business community of the Punjab based in Lahore, Faisalabad and Multan is traditionally religiously inclined. The main reason is that the business concerns are normally headed by a senior patriarch who is very much against the interest factor and similarly his religious views are delegated to the younger generation. The success of Islamic banking can be attributed to the fact that the “market” or demand was always there but unfortunately there were no institutions around to tap this growth.  
Once the facility was offered, the results were shown in terms of substantial numbers. Secondly I feel that the manufacturing sector of Pakistan is mainly concentrated in Lahore, Faisalabad and Multan and similarly the growth of this particular region has been simultaneous with the growth of Islamic banking. Thirdly there is a large presence of SME’s in the Punjab which has fuelled the growth of the industry.      

 

 
5. Meezan Bank Ltd as a full fledged Islamic bank, do you feel an extra burden to push the industry forward?
 

Obviously the market leader or the top seed is always under the pressure to perform and outshine the competition. We feel we have positively thrived under this pressure yet our aim is to make sure that along with the growth of the bank there is also a substantial growth of the industry as a whole. Having the recognition of being the first and the largest dedicated Islamic bank in Pakistan, our team continues to build on the Vision of making “Islamic Banking the Banking of First choice of the consumer for their banking needs. One of the key objectives of the bank is to have its footprint strategically placed in all major as well as smaller cities of the country enabling the general public to avail the benefits of Shariah compliant banking on their door steps.

 
6. How much focus will you be placing on developing retail banking going forward?
 

The overall banking sector of the country is now intensely focusing on Consumer financing as well as SME Financing. The same can be said for Meezan Bank also. All the branches are aggressively pursuing Consumer Finance relating to two products namely Car Ijarah (Islamic Auto Leasing) and Easy Home (Islamic Housing Finance). In the short span of a few years, our consumer business has achieved significant market share with high quality portfolios evidencing excellent risk parameters and negligible non performing cases (0.5% of total outstanding). The Car Ijarah business currently stands at PKR 3,150 Million and the bank has financed 6000 vehicles to date till December 2006. Similarly the total Home Finance portfolio stands at PKR 2,604 Million and the bank has financed 1,200 homes across Pakistan till December 2006.

 
7. Explain branches expansion strategy of Meezan Bank Ltd in this region as well as in Pakistan?
 

Our goal as a bank in 2007 is to increase the branch network to over 100 branches from the present 62 branches. With respect to the Central Region we hope to establish upto 40 branches in 2007 from the present 25 branches. This strategy includes setting up branches in existing cities (e.g. Lahore, Faisalabad, Multan) as well as entering new virgin markets (as far as Islamic Banking is concerned) like Bahawalpur, Gujrat and others. Our strategy is to expand in cities where our service and brand is recognized but also to enter new markets where we get a head start advantage.     

 
8. HR is the main issue in the Islamic Banking industry? How does Meezan tackle this issue?
 

The bank has worked hard to build its human resource team and ensure that the quality of the newly inducted staff is not compromised with growth. Senior management is invariably involved in the selection process to firstly evaluate the adequacy of job skills but also the Shariah mindset. As a result of the phenomenal growth in branches the total number of staff recruited during 2006 exceeded the banks total staff strength at the end of 2005. A key HR initiative has been the introduction of the GTO (Graduate Trainee Officers) as well as MTO (Management Trainee Officers)

 
9. What are the major challenges facing the Islamic banking industry in Pakistan right now?
 
  • Trained HR requirements which are growing by the day.
  • Enabling supervisory framework in transparency and disclosures, Risk Management, Corporate governance and Internal control systems.
  • Unresolved Fiqhi issues.
  • Liquidity needs as well as Inter Bank Islamic market fund.
  • Credibility and sustainability
 
10. What is the Meezan Bank experience regarding Takaful?
 

Meezan Bank Ltd was instrumental in bringing the concept of Takaful (Islamic Insurance) to the Pakistan market. Meezan Bank became the first customer of Takaful by signing the first Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Pak Kuwait Takaful Company Ltd (PKTCL) in 2005. With this the bank has gradually started shifting its Car Ijarah business to Takaful. Further it has been advised to the bank to transfer all other business to Takaful as soon as the Takaful products are made available.

 
11. Sukuk is an emerging market in Pakistan. What is the strategy of Meezan Bank in this regard? 
 

Due to increasingly diverse needs of our corporate clients for advisory and structured finance transactions, a specialized unit focusing on Investment banking has been established. Islamic investment banking concerning Sukuk transactions is emerging as a market with huge potential and the bank has successfully concluded the following deals:

  • Lead managed a PKR 625 Million privately placed Sukuk issue for a leading chemicals entity to finance its power project.
  • Participated with PKR 280 Million in PKR 1,250 Syndicate finance (Sukuk) for the plant expansion of a leading cement entity.
  • Other Sukuk participation relating to Telecom sector, Fertilizer also done
 
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