Q8india.com, the well known news portal in Kuwait recently had the pleasure of having a chat with Jamal Ahmad, Executive General Manager of the Risk Management Division of Al-Ahli Bank of Kuwait.
Hailing from Calcutta, he is a well known personality in the banking industry in Kuwait, with 30 years of banking experience in India and Kuwait. Starting his banking career as a probationary officer in the State Bank Group, he has successfully handled senior banking assignments across a wide spectrum of banking activities and is a rich source of knowledge and experience on all facets of banking.
Jamal Ahmad has deep insight and perspective on the banking industry and the challenges it faces. He has inspired and been a role model to many youngsters opting for a banking career. A dynamic mentor, he has recognized and supported talent and his protégés hold senior positions in many banks and other organizations. Apart for being a professional banker he is known for being a generous philanthropist.
Here are excerpts from our conversation.
Q: What’s your view of risk management’s & asset management’s purpose within a Bank?
JA: Risk has always been an integral element of the banking industry. With the exponential growth of banking over the past century and the vast amount of public funds managed by individual banks, appropriate management of risks has become critical for protecting the interests of the public and all other stakeholders in the banking industry.
The role of risk management has assumed greater prominence after the Global Crisis exposed the inadequacies of existing banking practices.
Q: Are we at the end of financial crisis or the worst is yet to come?
JA: We are still too close to the events of the Global Crisis to hazard a guess. Almost daily new developments are coming to light highlighting lacunae and failures in systems and practices. However, given the learning from recent experiences and the steps being taken by central banks and banking industry across the world we can be reasonably certain that many of the ills plaguing the banking industry will be resolved.
As to the overall financial and economic crisis being resolved I would venture that we will have to wait and see as these are dependent on social, political and geographical factors and issues of much wider import than the banking sector alone.
I am however an optimist and believe that the crisis will blow over, things settle down and we will move towards an era of greater global and local prosperity. More so in Kuwait which is richly endowed with oil wealth and an enlightened administration that is development oriented.
Q: Is Indian Banking system is different than Kuwait Banking system?
JA: My view is that banking activities as a whole are more or less the same across the world, granting that specific regional requirements may necessitate greater focus on specific products and services.
By sheer volume and size and longer banking history the Indian banking system has developed over a longer period and hence has significant differences from the banking system in Kuwait. The Indian economy is more varied in terms of activities and hence its banking activities are more diverse with a wider selection of products and services. Banking in India is yet to touch the lives of large part of its population while banking in Kuwait reaches its entire population. Kuwait has a well established Sharia banking segment which is absent in India
Q: What is your advice to all youngsters who want to pursue their career in Banking?
JA: Banking has become more sophisticated and specialized in recent years. Youngsters wanting to pursue a banking career should target to equip themselves with a sound understanding of fundamental banking principles and core banking activities. In the initial years of their career they should work towards being recognized as experts in one or two specific banking areas. A well read banker who keeps abreast of the latest developments will always have an edge and the aspiring banker must always keep on updating his or her knowledge and skills. Even today I consider myself a student of banking trying to keep up with the latest developments !
Banking being a customer driven business the young banker should work on improving interpersonal and communication skills. Most important of all, the aspiring banker should firmly resolve to always adhere to highest standards of personal and professional integrity. Many of the bankers we find landing in sorry situations nowadays are the victims of their own failure to adhere to high ethical standards.
I would advise young bankers to always balance their personal and professional lives. Family, relationships and health should not bear the cost and end up sacrificed for professional advancement.
In that sense Kuwait is a good place to work as a banker. The banking culture here offers opportunities to live a balanced life, unlike the rat race in which many bankers across the world in both developed and developing countries find themselves in. Here you can have personal time for family, friends and entertainment, even while maintaining high standards of work.
Q: What is your specialty in motivating the bankers?
JA: I am a firm believer that attitude is what counts most. It is my conviction that any youngster determined to be a banker and willing to put in hard work can succeed. This has been borne out by my experience with many youngsters whom I have had the good fortune to guide towards successful careers. Moulding young bankers and guiding them to successful careers has given me immense satisfaction over the years.
Q: What role the banks play in the economy of developing countries?
JA: By being the engine that delivers credit wherever it is needed, banking can be the catalyst that helps to drive the economic growth of developing countries. We have already witnessed such developments in Asian countries like Bangladesh and India. Today the focus is on Africa where new technologies like mobile banking are bringing banking services to previously unbanked areas in a cost efficient manner. I am sure this process will accelerate in the years to come, and in ten years time most of the people in the developing countries will have easy access to banking services. This will open up a whole realm of economic possibilities to providers of goods and services, marketers and producers of agricultural and basic goods in the rural areas which will boost economic growth.
Q: What is your view about or how safe is dealing in capital market, gold market or currency market?
JA: Considering the volatility we have witnessed in these markets it is easy to take a negative view on them. However, my experience tells me that any market can be dealt in as long as one carefully studies the risks involved, seeks expert advice and takes prudent decisions based on reasoning. One has only to avoid following the herd mentality or the tendency to take hasty decisions based on emotional responses individual events. One needs to take a holistic approach and a long term perspective while dealing with these markets.
Q: Is there any advantages of Islamic banking over the conventional banking?
Islamic banking has its strong points. Commercial banking also has its merits. My belief is that there is ample opportunity and market demand for both commercial banking and Islamic banking to coexist together to offer customers the widest choice of banking services.
Q: “What’s in store for banking over the next 5-10 years?”
AJ: I believe the tide will turn. As in the past the world will overcome the difficult conditions we are experiencing post the Global Credit Crisis and move on to better conditions. As bankers we need to negotiate this period cautiously, offering support to our customers who are also experiencing problems and find constructive ways to arrive at win-win situations.
As I said earlier, we are likely to witness a world that relies more and more on technology and banking will be no different. The traditional brick and mortar branch banking we are accustomed to, will give way to alternative delivery channels driven primarily by the internet and telecom services. While older bankers like me may feel a little nostalgic, I believe that banking must move with the times and the needs of the generation it serves.