Saturday, 4 October 2014

True to label

In modern commerce, product or service description is a very important practice as consumers rely on these labels in making purchasing decisions. As commerce becomes more complex and the products and services themselves grow in complexity, labelling is regulated in many countries in addition to sales practices.

When we buy a car, we expect the car to have a reasonably functional engine with all other parts operating as what they should. When a brand new car has no engine, irrespective of how other parts are working, a car would not function like a car. So, what appears to be nice may not be so if there is something wrong in the manufacturing processes. Here, a car without engine is not about defects in processing but a pure cheating case. Of course buyers are expected to test drive the car before deciding whether or not it should be purchased. Failing to do so exposes them to the risk that the car has no engine.

In the financial services industry where products literally could vanish into the thin air if poorly constructed using poor quality assets, being true to label is something that regulators would expect religiously (this may no longer be appropriate as religion itself is being ignored in many societies). This is the reason why some of the products need to be approved by regulators, especially if they are sold to retail investors who are not expected to have the sophistication to understand the product details. Given that these products are purchased for many reasons such as retirement planning, it is important that the risk factors associated with the products and the way they generate returns are properly disclosed in the ways that could be understood by would be investors.

The important of product labelling goes beyond just cars and financial assets. One of the major investment made by most people is education. Not only attaining education can be costly, the whole journey could be fairly lengthy. Just recall how long we were required to go though the schooling system before we  were eligible to attend colleges and universities. I am sure all politicians in all countries would be promising high quality affordable education as a reason why they should be elected. Hence, the issue of being true to label would be applicable to them as well, I suppose.

I have been on advisory boards of a number of tertiary education programmes offered to public. On of the tools to promote those programmes are through prospectuses issued by the relevant institutions of higher learning. Just go and pick one, I am sure there are many nice words being used to describe what the programmes entail. Shouldn't these prospectus be subjected to the same expectations that they are true to their labels?

To me, offering education programmes is similar to selling dreams. Prospective students are allured to the programmes on the promise that they would have good job and career prospects. In fulfilling their dreams and in believing the promises made, people eventually enrol into the promoted programmes.

What if they fail to attain what were promised? Who is going to be responsible for their shattered dreams? Worse, some of them would only realise that these promises are not true much later when they realise the qualifications that they have would not allow them to progress further at the workplaces. Perhaps, equating a degree to a professional qualification may risk such line to be crossed especially when there is no such practice being applied in a particular industry globally. If universities could be ranked, even the degrees may not fit to be grouped together when the universities awarding those degrees are not at the same ranking. In situations when a university is not even ranked, such concern would be amplified!

Islam is very strict about business transactions and there are series of rules about this. References here would be handy in understanding how much Islam values trust and ethics in commerce. Some of the prohibitions are very clear about the needs for vendors to sell products which are true to their labels. It would be interesting to observe how many Muslims realise this and apply the concepts at their workplace. Given the multi dimension of commerce nowadays, the requirements and prohibitions are not limed to goods only but the concept have to be applied across all aspects of commerce to the extent that they are applicable.

So, for Muslims out there who are trying to promote their products or services beyond what they truly are, you may be crossing the line of your own faith.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

The importance of market recognition

How many routes are there to be a professional accountant? This seems to be a popular issue nowadays as the society is discussing about the need to have more professional accountants in Malaysia to serve our developmental and economics needs.

If we ask this questions to senior accountants who qualified in the 60's, they would recall the apprenticeship system in the old days where aspiring accountants paid their masters who were partners in Chartered Accounting firms to be trained under the Chartered Accountants programme. Those who went through this process ended up not just with the qualification but the skills and competencies which are required and recognised by the market.

The route of admission into the profession has evolved with the graduate entry approach adopted by many accountancy bodies. Aspiring professional accountants have to enrol into professional accountancy programmes and must pass all the papers which are relevant to the professional bodies including the integrated case study paper which requires them to apply their knowledge and skills on issues which resemble those that are faced by professional accountants in their workplace. 

Some professional accountancy bodies would require their students to obtain the relevant working experience while completing their professional programme to ensure they are able to learn from the real world. Some other professional bodies are more flexible where aspiring accountants can choose to complete all the papers before starting their work experience stage at approved training organisations or under the supervision of mentors who are themselves qualified professional accountants.

Whatever the route is, what matters is that the aspiring accountant must be able to meet the minimum competency level set by the relevant professional body, which itself will have to ensure the public that the standard set is relevant and serves public interest. Without such process, the professional body would not be able to gauge whether or not the person being admitted has the requisite knowledge, skills, experience and professional values. Those who fail to demonstrate that they have met the standard would not be admitted as members until they are able to do so in the future. If the professional body operates as a global body, it will maintain the same standard across the world. This is the reason why members of such bodies are able to obtain global recognition through the membership.

It is important for professional accountancy bodies to get market recognition. Factually, they are professional accountancy bodies which are not recognised or preferred by the market. This results in their members not being employed in senior positions or their professional career are limited. It would be sad if our young talents are not provided with proper career guidance and ended up realising they have made the wrong decision at the later stage of their life. This could also happen to those who choose not to pursue professional accountancy qualification. While this is not wrong and simply a personal choice, they should be prepared to accept the consequences if things do not work out well later.

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) is a UK-based global accountancy body which has an entry level programme known as Certified Accounting Technician or CAT. This enables aspiring accountants to start early by enrolling directly with ACCA through the CAT programme and could bypass the university system if they wish. While this innovation is welcome, there are people who are concerned that this has diluted the professional qualification as the process resembles a normal university programme.

As mentioned earlier, when the market is confident that the professional body is responsible in ensuring the professional qualification ensures the baseline standards are met, it would not be worried about the process but would scrutinise the product - qualified ACCA members. 

Let's look at some personalities who we may be familiar with who obtained the ACCA qualification and are serving organisations which are significant to our economics progress.

YB Senator Dato' Sri Abdul Wahid Omar - Minister in the Prime Minister Department in charge of economic planning

Tan Sri Dato' Azman Mokhtar - Managing Director Khazanah Nasional Berhad

Tan Sri Tony Fernandes - Founder and Chief Executive, Airasia

Datuk Wan Salamah Wan Sulaiman - Accountant General

Datin Alexandra Chin - ACCA Global Vice President

Dato' Sri Che Khalib Mohamad Noh - Group Managing Director MMC Corporation Berhad

Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed - Chairman of Public Accounts Committee, Parliament of Malaysia

Mohamed Rafique Merican - Group Chief Financial Officer, Maybank

Abdul Hamid Sheikh Mohamed - Executive Director, Symphony House Berhad

Amiruddin Abdul Satar - President/Managing Director, KPJ Healthcare Berhad

Of course there are many more ACCA members out there who are heading important roles in business and public sector which cannot be profiled here. I trust the above is sufficient to provide the confidence that once the market recognises your professional qualification, the world is at your feet.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Run With Me for Funds

Given the roles of the Securities Commission of developing and regulating the capital market, we could not disassociate ourselves from the issue of funding. However, being human, we are also concerned with those who are not as privileged and fortunate as many of us.

With that in mind,  more than 450 staff, family members and friends took to the street yesterday. No, we did not organise a demonstration or do anything of that nature but we had a jogathon for fun and to raise funds for the unfortunate.

Themed "Run with me for funds", this second instalment of the SC's Jogathon has attracted more participants than last year, when the activity was introduced for the first time.

I did the 4.5 km Fun Ran with my wife and daughter in-law while my son took part in the Men Open 6.5 km race. While all of us managed to complete our run, my son managed to finished 3rd in his race.

It was a great family affairs to all who participated and I hope more of this will be organised to ensure that non of us will be left behind unattended.

Abdul Halim Ismail Receives The Royal Award For Islamic Finance 2014

Let me reproduce the report from BERNAMA on the conferment of the Royal Award for Islamic Finance to Datuk Dr Abdul Halim Ismail, more known in Malaysia as the founder of Bank Islam, the first financial institution in Malaysia which operates based on Islamic principles.

Being first for a Malaysian, Datuk Dr Halim has certainly led innovation is this very important part of the society, finance. Without such an effort, a large portion of the community, the Muslims, will be disfranchised from the main stream economics opportunities as many of them are very concern about avoiding interest-based transactions, which is strictly prohibited in Islam.

Datuk Dr Abdul Halim receiving the award from Yang Dipertuan Agong

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 2 (Bernama) -- Islamic finance visionary Datuk Dr Abdul Halim Ismail becomes the first Malaysian recipient of the Royal Award for Islamic Finance in recognition of his pivotal role in establishing the organisational structure and operating procedures of the first Islamic bank in 1983.

The award was conferred by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Abdul Halim Mu'adzam Shah at a dinner in conjunction with the Global Islamic Finance Forum 2014 (GIFF 2014) here, tonight.

Held every two years, the Royal Award is spearheaded by Bank Negara Malaysia and the Securities Commission Malaysia (SC) under the Malaysia International Islamic Financial Centre's initiative.

It recognises Islamic finance visionaries who contribute significantly to the growth of the global economy and social progress.

Commenting upon receiving the award, Abdul Halim, who was former Bank Islam managing director, said Islamic finance is deeply connected with the real economy, offering ethical investments and funding options for businesses.

"The principles of Islamic finance also encourage inclusiveness to create a fair and equitable financial system that is accessible to all. I am honoured to receive the royal award," he added.

The former dean of the Faculty of Economics, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Abdul Halim's expertise in Syariah law and Islamic banking put him in good stead to sit in Syariah boards of regulators in Bank Negara Malaysia, the SC, and the Labuan International Business and Financial Centre.

He had also served as Syarikat Takaful Malaysia chairman and helped set up Malaysia's first Islamic stockbroking company, BIMB Securities.

Under his vision and stewardship, both the industry and financial institutions flourished, making Islamic finance an increasingly attractive sector, complementing conventional finance.

He has been widely cited in published articles for his knowledge on Islamic economics, banking and finance.

Meanwhile, The Royal Award Chairman of the Jury Panel Tun Musa Hitam described Abdul Halim as a man of vision who has played a vital role in developing the region's Islamic banking industry.

Musa said 48 candidates were nominated for the award this year, a 25 per cent increase since it was first introduced in 2010.

He said Islamic finance is a still a work in progress in every aspect with its global asset expected to swell to US$2.5 trillion by 2015 from US$1.6 trillion at present.

Previous recipients of the Royal Award were Shaikh Sale Abdullah Kamel (2010) and Iqbal Khan (2012).

The Royal Award also accorded the late Dr. Ahmad El-Naggar with a posthumous honourable mention in 2010.


Sunday, 31 August 2014

Abe Yee and his grand children

A long weekend is always welcomed, especially at this stage of life. I took the opportunity to visit Abe Yee, a family friend and a masseur. A former member of the Malaysian Special Force, he has been known to me for avery long time especially when he was invited to our home in Kota Bahru whenever he needed treatment for his muscular pain. Off course we will be at his house on the second day of Aidil Fitri as his wife, Kak Mah, cooks the very delicious Nasi Dagang.

Abe Yee is very good at identifying the root causes of muscular and joints pains. Instead to focusing on where the pain is felt he will track their sources and deal with them decisively. One needs to endure some pain to survive his treatment. In many cases, Abe Yee will massage your stomach instead of your back if you complain about back pain and in most cases it works! A 20 minutes treatment should be sufficient.

Abe Yee with one of his grand children
There was a situation when I took a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Bharu to be treated by Abe Yee for around half an hour. It was worth it and I always recommend him to my friends. As for payment, he will never ask you for any specific rate and it is up to you to show how much you appreciate his work. Could he be applying value-billing where customers pay based on the value received rather that cost incurred as believed by many accountants who are still charging based on time cost and complain about how much their services are not appreciated by their clients?

He has a strong passion for soccer and served a number of state teams such as Kelantan, Pahang and Melaka in helping the players to recover for their next games. When those teams had financial problems, he was not spared. A very telling fact about the "professionalism" of the management of our professional soccer league.

Already in his mid 60's, Abe Yee spends his time either at his home in Kota Bharu or at his son's house in Nilai. Since retiring as a Kemas teacher, Kak Mah had started supplying Kelantanese delights to some food outlets around Nilai. I am quite confident her income will exceed what she earned last time if she continues this endeavour as her cooking is really good.

Now they are looking after their grand children when the parents are not around for work. When I was there this morning, the kids were at their top performance. Running, shouting and quarrelling over things that we could not imagine.

I am sure all of us went though similar experience. Sometimes, it is difficult to let go and we continue to behave like kids even when we grow up. The difference is we quarrel over different matters and in many times, the ways we quarrel are worse than kids. If kids can quarrel over who should sit on a particular chair, adults do have the same problem, albeit the chair that we quarrel over may lead to things that kids would not imagine. Given adults are supposed to be smarter, we would justify our behaviours through all means of communication and we make sure the whole world knows that we are quarrelling. Kids on the other hand may forget what they are quarrelling about if they have new stuffs that attract their attention.

If grand parents like Abe Yee could feel the challenge in looking after their grand children, especially when those kids are quarrelling, how would we feel when adults around us are behaving the same over matters which sometimes are insignificant. Hope we all we really grow up and behave like real adults. Well, we may need another 57 years to achieve that!

so when any of you need some help with muscle pain of join problem, Abe Yee should be able to help. 

Merdeka, Merdeka, Merdeka!