Pakistan’s Meezan Bank gets the balance right
Meezan has rapidly become one of Pakistan’s leading banks, thanks to a couple of early acquisitions.
Irfan Siddiqui remembers well the moment when he knew that Meezan Bank was going to make it. Meezan, which started out as a niche financial institution – an Islamic investment bank – became Pakistan’s first commercial bank solely devoted to following Islamic financial protocols in 2002.
After a decade or so in this new incarnation, a veteran Citi banker pulled Siddiqui aside at a conference to tell him admiringly what he thought about Meezan. He pointed out that Meezan had broken into the wider market that was dominated at the time by establishment banks with deep pockets, such as Habib Bank, United Bank, Muslim Commercial Bank and Allied Bank – all owned by billionaires – and the biggest of them all, lumbering state-owned National Bank of Pakistan. With their close connections to the government, these heavyweights made up a haughty banking scene that was not so much competitive as cosy and clubby, where bankers moved effortlessly between lenders while offering much the same products.
But Meezan Bank was different. It was new, it was consciously attentive to its customers, and it was rigorously Islamic. It also happened to open its doors in the world’s second-biggest (after Indonesia) Muslim country – and in the year after the turmoil of 9/11 and subsequent US-led invasion of neighbouring Afghanistan, when the international focus on Islam soared and Pakistan became a frontline state in the US-led war on terror.