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SALIHIN ABANG C.A.(M)FOUNDER AND CHAIRMAN OF SALIHIN SHARIAH ADVISORY

SALIHIN Advisory has developed a wholesome
approach to business, based on ethical values,
commercial excellence, and commitment to
social responsibility and good governance.
Would you care to share with our readers your
vision of a twenty-first century business in a
world dominated by tech revolution?

Founded in 2002. SALIHIN has emerged as a brand under
which independent group member firms of SALIHIN
International LLP (SALIHIN International) operate and
provide professional services in the areas of Shari’a
advisory and education, audit and assurance, corporate
finance, taxation, financial reporting, digital consultancy and
corporate advisory. SALIHIN International is the entity with
which all the member firms of SALIHIN Shariah Advisory
are affiliated. Its headquarter is in Malaysia, with offices and
network of partners across the globe.

Since our founding, SALIHIN story has evolved to a level
deep-rooted in Shari’a. This sets a strong foundation upon
which we aspire to be the best global provider of Shari’avalue-based services and education. Alhamdulillaah, we
are on course, as we internalise and implement human
governance in accordance with Shari’a values to deliver
quality services. Our diverse professionals deploy a wide
array of holistic capabilities to unreservedly serve our
clients locally and internationally. Our Shari’a advisory and
education services are offered by SALIHIN Shariah Advisory
Sdn. Bhd. (private limited company), a network member firm
of SALIHIN International. It is an approved Shari’a advisory
firm by the Securities Commission Malaysia.

SALIHIN goes beyond conventional approaches to
help organisations and individuals create sustainable
and meaningful value. Leveraging on our experienced
international and local Shari’a advisers as well as drawing
on the global knowledge and resources of SALIHIN member
firms, we provide Shari’a advisory and education services.
This covers Islamic capital market advisory, Islamic banking,
fund and wealth management, takaful, zakat, waqf, Islamic
corporate reporting, Shari’a auditing and assurance, Shari’a
review, Shari’a research and publication, fintech, and Islamic
finance education and training.

SALIHIN is cognizant of the impact of the exponential
technological advancement on the present and future
business landscape. Advancement in technology, such as
artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, work processes
automation and data analytics, can significantly alter service
offering, business model, business process, and employee
engagement among others. At SALIHIN, we embraced these
disruptions. Currently, we are automating our work processes,
self-developing systems and data analytics applications for
customer and business intelligence.

Our vision is to provide the Islamic finance industry with
digital solutions relevant to the future ecosystem of the
industry. For instance, SALIHIN Academy has recently
launched its Islamic finance education mobile app to facilitate
tapping into Islamic finance knowledge anywhere and at any
time. In addition, we have an accounting system purposely
designed to assist Muslim businesses in the Islamic finance
ecosystem to accurately determine the zakat and waqf with
ease. Moving forward, we continue to reimagine the future
with cutting-edge technologies to provide solutions to the
needs of stakeholders in the industry.

What are some of the challenges and
opportunities in Islamic finance? How, in your
opinion, can humans remain relevant despite
the huge advancements in technology?

The Islamic finance industry is gradually been driven by
financial technologies (FinTech) affecting fundraising,
payments systems, infrastructure, operation and risk
management, data security, monetisation, and customer
interface. These technological advancements are growing
at a pace seemingly impossible to comprehend. Not only
that, the displacement of human-related activities through
automation and artificial intelligence raises questions about
the relevancy of humans in the future. AI-related applications
have begun codifying and automating Shari’a advisory roles.
Robo advisors automates routine financial advisory services
and tasks of Shari’a advisors. For me, these offer opportunities
for such advisors to focus on high-value Shari’a advisory
activities. However, the challenge is for the Islamic finance
industry practitioners to embrace technology and build the
necessary competence to remain future-fit.

SALIHIN Shariah Advisory has emerged as a
premier provider of Shari’a advisory services
in a fiercely competitive market. This is even
more remarkable, given that you are based in
Malaysia, which is arguably the most advanced
Islamic financial market. How did you manage
to achieve such a huge success in a very short
span of time?

We are proud to be recognised as one of the best Shari’a
advisory firms. It is indeed a blessing from Allah SWT. As we
aspire to be the best global Shari’a advisory services provider,
it is a huge responsibility to prove ourselves to the world
through providing high quality Shari’a advisory services. The
key to success is the sincerity in promoting Shari’a-compliant
way of doing business. We regard this as a form of jihad
towards upholding the Islamic way of life in business and
finance. Behind this success is the dedicated and competent
team of SALIHIN, congratulations to all of them.

Notwithstanding the relevance of technology in Islamic
finance, experienced scholars are required to provide further
guidance to the industry to ensure Islamic finance operations
and practices are in accordance with the principles and rules of
Shari’a. Technology will help to spur development but human
capital remains relevant to ensure that Shari’a issues are
addressed with a proper ijtihad process (scholars deducing a
fatwa in guiding practices). Hence, automation and robotism
despite their importance does not make humans irrelevant.
Rather, a better human-machine interaction is envisaged.

As a continuation of the previous question,
won a GIFA at the last Global Islamic Finance
Awards held in Cape Town. How have these
achievements contributed to your company’s
further success?

Last year, we received the award of the Best Emerging
Islamic Shari’a Advisory Firm. This year we received GIFA
2019 Award for the Best Islamic Finance Training Provider.
Honestly, these awards were not consciously chased but
rather came as a fruit of our genuine pursuit of excellence
in whatever we do. However, the awards gave us additional
motivation and boosted our confidence, to maintain our
commitment and achievement to be the best at what we
are offering. Also, the awards further strengthens our brand
positioning through global recognition and awareness of our
existence and capabilities. Finally, the awards have increased
the stakeholders’ trust in us, especially our clients, as our
track record is proven.

What are the short-term and long-term plans
of, in the Islamic financial services industry?

The short-term plan is to position ourselves in the Islamic
financial industry locally and internationally. On the domestic
scene, we are actively promoting our comprehensive advisory
services, executive development programs and publications
via our online bookstore (www.iqrakitab.com.my). As for the
international market, we are currently focusing on advisory
services and introducing professional qualifications in Islamic
Finance to the targeted regions around the globe.

For the long-term plan, we have actually a lot in the pipeline. We want to be one of the main players ensuring that Malaysia remains as one of the important hubs for Islamic finance development. We foresee more collaborations with other organisations worldwide especially with countries where Islamic finance is still at a growing stage. We also plan to introduce artificial intelligence and blockchain related products and services for the Islamic finance industry. On Islamic finance education, our plan is to establish SALIHIN Private Higher Learning Institution/University, for which the foundation is currently being built in the SALIHIN Academy and Salihin Business School.

On a personal note, would you care sharing with our readers the inspiring story of Salihin Abang?
One of the most difficult things to do is seeing and writing one’s story as inspiring. Nevertheless, with all humility and humbleness, I will share mine from grass to grace journey. This covers my entrepreneurship and professional life. I hope this may be inspiring to others.

I was born and raised in Kampung Lintang, a village in Kuching, Sarawak. We had no entrepreneur in the family, so you can imagine me thinking I cannot become one either. Shackled by that imagination, I enrolled into a religious school. I later found myself in an accounting degree stream without any initial idea of what I want to become. Importantly, the religious school inculcated in me, what I called a religious filtration system. It guided my thoughts, actions, and behaviour. It is only by seeing things based on that religious filter, that one can achieve success and happiness here and in the hereafter. Therefore, by the time I graduated, I made up my mind to become an entrepreneur in accountancy. An entrepreneur whose success hinges on his positive impact on those around him, the ummah
and the society. After graduation, I obtained the needed practical experience required to begin the accountancy entrepreneurship journey in 2002.

When I started SALIHIN in 2002, I did not have any financial capital, no employee,
no office, just a very small shared office space, with my laptop and no printer. The
most important asset I had was my brain. From that humble beginning, our firm
is now one of the fastest growing and largest home-nurtured firms in Malaysia.
The road was not easy. At some points, friends would boldly say to me, “you can
never be good, you can never do great things, you can never succeed, and you
will be bankrupt in six (6) months.” During that time, you can imagine how I felt.

At that moment the filtration system crucially resonated in me that rizq is
from Allah. As khalifa of Allah, I have to work hard with steadfastness to
please Allah, not people. In the end, Allah’s will prevails, not the doomsayers’
wish. Allah never forsakes His khalifa. Alhamdulillaah, we have made it and
soaring upwards. Today, the gains from that extend beyond the firm.
From a Managing Partner of SALIHIN firm to steering the affairs of
the entire accountancy profession, and being the President of the
Malaysian Institute of Accountants (MIA), the sole regulator of
the accounting profession in Malaysia.

From SALIHIN to public listed companies and government
agencies. I am contributing my expertise in the governance
and management of both public listed and prominent nonpublic listed companies as well as government and state
statutory bodies. I have been appointed as Independent
and Non-Executive Director and Corporate Advisor.
In these capacities, I assume the board and
committee membership responsibilities in audit, risk,
investment, sustainability and corporate reporting.
For the progress of Islamic economy and finance, I
am involved with the Malaysian Islamic Chamber
of Commerce (DPIM).

The professional story is tied with my vision to bridge the gap between the industry and academia. Accountancy
related subjects are practical in nature. As such, graduates must be relevant
to the industry. Consequently, I began contributing to
academia as an industry advisor to universities covering
bachelor, master and doctoral degree levels. I was appointed
as an Adjunct Professor at the School of Maritime Business
and Management of Universiti Malaysia Terengganu (UMT)
and Tunku Puteri Intan Safinaz School of Accountancy at
Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM).

To practically bridge the gap between theory and practice
of accountancy, I led the establishment of Teaching
Accountancy Firm (TAF) in four local universities, including
UMT, Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM), Universiti Kuala
Lumpur (UniKL) and Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM). The
TAF brings to light the concepts of 2u2i and 3u1i by the
government and universities. This is the first time that TAF
became part of the former Minister of Higher Education’s
initiative on how industry and universities can work together
for the betterment of accounting students and achieve
nation building. The TAF was eventually recognised by the
Ministry of Higher Education as having one of the best and
most innovative curriculum designs and study programmes
in 2017 and won the Best Academia-Industry Collaboration
Award 2017.

In recognition of my leadership and significant national and
international contributions to both industry and academia,
especially in the areas of audit and assurance, accounting,
taxation and business advisory, UMT conferred on me an
Honorary Doctorate Degree in Management in 2018.

All my initiatives and contributions are guided by the filtration
system. The rewards are credited to Allah. My story indicates
my journey from being a nobody to somebody. I hope this
humble story is inspiring. The key message is to pursue your
dreams in the shade of Allah; He will never forsake you.

Malaysia has obviously been on the forefront of the global Islamic financial services industry. However, lately other countries, especially neighbouring Indonesia, have started playing significant roles in the development of Islamic
banking and finance industry. Do you think Malaysia should feel threatened by the progress of other competing countries?

Well, we have to acknowledge the competition not only from
Indonesia specifically but also from around the globe. We
do not feel threatened by this development. It is a healthy
competition and we view it as a positive progression for
Islamic finance as it is parallel with the principles of Maqasid
al Shari’a, which ultimately promotes maslahah and benefits
to the ummah. Malaysia has developed a robust Islamic
finance framework, which is seen as one of the competitive
edges that Malaysia possesses as compared to the other
players.

Nonetheless, we welcome other players to contribute to
the continuous development to bring the industry on the
same level as conventional finance. The future is all about
collaboration to strategically tap into synergy. For example,
SALIHIN is collaborating with STEI SEBI (School
of Islamic Economics) in Indonesia on Islamic
finance education, among others. We welcome
such collaborations worldwide. As the saying
goes, if you want to go fast, go alone. If you
want to go far, go together. We believe in going
together to elevate the industry worldwide for
the benefit of close to 1.6 billion Muslim ummah
worldwide.

SDGs are the talk of this decade. What in your view can be the role of FinTech, more specifically Islamic FinTech in achieving the SDGs?
FinTech is getting better recognition lately
as nowadays people are moving towards
digitalisation in almost everything. Proven
it is easier, faster, convenient and efficient.
Fundamentally, advancements in Fintech are for
a better world for all. Undoubtedly, the SDGs are
in line with the Maqasid al Shari’a, upon which
Islamic finance is built. Hence, Islamic Fintech.
For the fact that most of the 17 SDGs relate to
finance and money, Islamic Fintech plays critical
role in the realisation of the SDGs. Therefore, for
Islamic Fintech, I will focus on financial inclusion.

Islamic Fintech makes it possible for us to
reach both the unbanked and underbanked at
an improved cost. Digital technologies drive
operational and infrastructure costs, allowing
the Islamic financial institutions to offer
innovative products at lower or even zero costs.
Also, with the rise of Islamic Fintech solutions
such as mobile banking and fundraising related
platforms, financial intermediation that does
not add value for consumers are reduced and,
in some cases, eliminated. This further makes it
possible to include the financially excluded. With
financial inclusion, Islamic Fintech plays a better
role in poverty alleviation, reducing inequality in
access to finance, empowering financial decision
through improved information provision, among
others.

On our part, our SALIHIN intelligent accounting
software (SPS) was developed to assist in poverty
eradication. Its zakat feature ensures that the
right amount of business zakat is determined
and paid. On the other hand, the waqf feature
sensitises and enables Muslim businessmen
and women to create and make provisions for
cash waqf. These two features enhance zakat
and waqf collection by the various zakat and
waqf organisations in Malaysia. Our Teaching
Accountancy Firm (TAF) utilises our SPS Lite with Bank Simpanan Nasional (BSN) for microfinance
entrepreneurs, in the education sector. The TAF is a joint
collaboration with four universities to produce industry-fit
graduates. This makes it possible to reach out to student
micro-entrepreneurs who could not have access to finance.
Finally, we have also developed a mobile app to facilitate
Islamic social finance through individuals’ contributions in
the form of sadaqah, infaq, zakat, and waqf. The app also
facilitates our green-waqf initiative. These digital initiatives
are instrumental in poverty alleviation and implementation
of other SDGs.

As a hands-on Chairman, how do you motivate
your team? Please share with our readers some
of the leadership secrets and your personal
leadership approach.

Personally, I see every team member as a leader. This goes
back to our original status as “Khalifah” on earth. The secret
is to discover the khalifah prospects of each team member
as we are made of distinct characters. This requires assessing
the strengths, weaknesses, capabilities of the individual to determine the kind of khalifah he or she would be. The ability to recognise this is crucial as everybody is born a leader, but with different leadership styles in different situations.

My leadership styles evolved from one form to the other
based on distinct situations, adopting the one that best meets
the needs of the situation, ranging from visionary, affirmative
to participative. As a visionary leader, I saw the need to setup
the firm, thought about its direction and what opportunities
could be tapped to move it beyond tomorrow. This style was
necessary at a time when the firm needed a new direction
with a sense of purpose to guide and move the dedicated
staff towards a new set of shared vision and values.

Presently, our leadership style is defused from top to middle
and to the frontline with a special focus on acts and activities.
The key to our success is to empower every team member
as a leader. We believe that human endeavour needs a
unifying and driving force for success and that driving force
is ultimately traced to good leadership. Though every one of
us in some capacity, sometimes, somewhere is a leader, what
matters more is ensuring that each team member becomes
a good leader.

It is said that outstanding organisational performances rests
on the motivation and actions of the middle and frontlines.
At SALIHIN, these leaders and their subordinates are
empowered and always asked for their direct inputs. This
provides valuable inputs to the top management in setting
strategic directions and carving out policies to best serve
clients and other stakeholders. The significance of seeing
oneself as a leader instead of an employee motivates team
members, as they feel they belong as leaders rather than
mere followers.

Who has inspired you the most and how?
How has this inspiration developed you in the
Islamic finance industry?

As Muslims, our role model is the Prophet (pbuh), his
companions and Muslim scholars and leaders. Those are our
sources of inspiration as they have demonstrated high level
of value, ethics, competency, leadership and trust, with their
compliance in behaviour and conduct.

My next source of inspiration is my parents. My father was
honest and meticulous in his duties. He never misused his
position for selfish interest, withstanding peer pressure
and the opportunities to do so. This further inspires me to
deliver services without compromising my integrity and
professionalism. From my surviving mother, I am inspired
to keep striving in the industry. She does not give up on a
cause worthy of pursuing for humanity. Her dedication and
hardworking push me to never give up, to do my best, and to
give the best to the Islamic finance industry.

Finally, the current leaders in Islamic finance are also inspiring
us in our Islamic finance journey. We learn from them goal
setting, and dealing with the challenges and issues facing
the industry. As mentioned elsewhere, I believe in healthy
competition by complementing one another. Together,
through joint effort and collaboration we can take the Islamic
finance industry to the next level. At the end of the day, it is
about learning and progressing for a meaningful growth of
the Islamic finance industry.

Shari’a compliance or social responsibility? What would you pick and why?
It is a tough question. As a khalifah of ALLAH SWT, we are
responsible to take care of each other, as we are brothers
and sisters in Islam. In doing so, we need to observe the
tenets of Shari’a in every aspect of our daily life; i.e. conduct,
thinking, speaking, intention etc. Once an individual
practices and observes the Shari’a requirements, he or she
has upheld the responsibility to himself or herself as well
as to all of Allah’s creations. As such, I believe both are
important, being a responsible member of society and a
good Muslim. However, if I have to choose, I would go for
Shari’a compliance because by default social responsibility
is embodied in it as it is meant to realise Maqasid al Shari’a.

What would be your message to the young
professionals in the financial services industry
as a whole?

My message to the young professionals is to have a clear
vision and mission in their life be it social or professional.
Determination and hard work with high moral values in the
industry are very important. We have seen banks collapsing
in the conventional domain due to unethical conducts and
behaviours. The young professionals are the future captains
of the Islamic finance industry. It is therefore, imperative for
them to uphold the trust bestowed on them with integrity
and ethics.

This industry is knowledge based. As such, the young
generation should be well equipped with good education
and professional qualifications relevant to the industry. With
technology greatly affecting the industry, we need innovative
ways of doing things, which requires new skillsets. To remain
relevant and be the professionals who drive the industry,
the younger generation must keep learning, unlearning and
relearning to build their competencies and capabilities. They
have to be self-directed learners and take advantage of
technological advancements opportunities offered to build
the necessary skills. Finally, I advise them to be consultative
and always opt for the best because one day they will be
making important decisions for the industry. They have to
cultivate the spirit of teamwork and take ownership of their
work. They have to be passionate and keep on learning from
their leaders and mentors.

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