How do you see the business of Islamic banking changing/evolving over the coming years?
When we embarked on our growth strategy in 2014, one of the biggest challenges was to change the perception that people had, not just externally but also internally. Whilst, we are an Islamic bank and we will always continue to be an Islamic bank, there’s no compromise on that. We wanted to make sure that we open our doors for all, not just by opening physical doors but by making people understand that this is a bank that has something in it for them. We started to understand what people are looking for and positioned ourselves to make sure that we are in each and every segment of the banking pyramid – we are a very strong retail and wholesale bank and we make sure we understand what customers are looking at. When we looked around, when we started to grow, our biggest competition was not the Islamic banks in the regions we were operating in, they were the large conventional banks.
When we started to compete with these conventional banks, there was this misnomer, there is a myth that Islamic banking is for Muslims alone and that Islamic banks cannot offer what a conventional bank can offer. That is where technology, product innovation and structuring came in. We worked very closely with Shari’ah scholars all around the world. We said that if you want to make Islamic finance the norm you have to stop comparing it with conventional banks and the conventional system, saying we are a better alternative. That’s not how you are going to capture the masses. You will capture that market if you tell them that what you get in other banks, you can get in an Islamic bank and it offers the same thing at probably a better value proposition.
When we changed that positioning we started making inroads into the retail space, consumers started understanding Islamic banking is for all. We are not preaching here. It is a mode of operating. At the same time, the wholesale banking customers also realised that this is not that complicated, it is not something that we don’t understand. Over the last three to four years that’s how we have gained market share, quarter on quarter, close to around four times. We are growing faster than the market compared to conventional players, not Islamic players. That positioning was key for us and had to be done both externally and internally. I’m glad we did the right thing and the results speak for themselves.