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12 June 2013

Islamic banks sponsor the Internet (access)

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By Rushdi Siddiqui

What is the most valuable commodity in the world? Gold? Oil? Dollar? Diamonds? No, none of the above.

All respectable jurisdictions have laws against 
its misuse.

One of the leading futurists said: “Power is no longer money in the hands of few, but information in the hands of many.”

We now live in a hyper-connected world, hence, the question becomes: is access to the internet, 
a vast universe of information (overload), a right or privilege?

To communicate, is a right or privilege?

To connect with people, is it a right or privilege?

In the last column, I raised and discussed the need for Islamic finance to connect with the social media, from Twitter to Linkedin to FaceBook, as their potential customers, Muslim youth and those with aligned value system, are ‘residing and working’ there.

Today, I would like to raise the issue of another avenue for Islamic financial institution sponsorship dollars/dirhams and internet access.

Sponsorship

Islamic financial institutions, from banks, takaful operators, asset management firms, management/Shariah consultant firms and so on, have been sponsoring events in Dubai (IIFF), Malaysia (KLIFF), Bahrain (MEGA), London (Euromoney), etc., for decades.

During the pre-credit crisis time period, it seemed there was one/two Islamic finance events per week globally, for building brand awareness, product launches, etc. Islamic institutions were flush with cash for their marketing budgets, and conference organisers were happy to oblige to put on a ‘show.’ But, one by-product of the ‘over-conferenced’ environment was a push back to organisers as quality became sub-par and networking was with familiar faces.

[Some of the sponsors won awards at the sponsored Islamic finance conference, but that is topic for another day].

In hindsight, it’s difficult to gage the effectiveness of the sponsorship moneys on metrics for brand/product goodwill translating into actual customers. In an Islamic overbanked market, some would say destructive competition, like Dubai or Malaysia, it’s difficult to state unequivocally the marketing/PR spent resulted in more customers and increased margins in the medium term.

In the post credit-crisis environment, the pendulum has swung to the other end of the spectrum, hence, fewer Islamic finance conferences, but more educational/community based seminars from the likes of the Islamic finance team at Thomson Reuters.

Naming rights

Islamic banks have begun to think outside the box and comfort zone to (1) create brand awareness to new/another set of customers (2) who pay less attention to the traditional channels of [retail] reach. This is a major break-through for the Murabaha centric banks.

One of the areas where the marketing seems to have expanded is possible the outgrowth of the Ramadan Tents sponsorship during the fasting month in Dubai. For example, Noor Islamic was the first Islamic bank to have its name on a Dubai metro station.

Hotel Internet access

It’s well accepted Dubai is tourism, trade and commerce hub of the Middle East. It’s well accepted the Dubai hosts the largest number of conferences on finance, technology, construction/realty, food, fashion/arts, etc., in the Middle East. It’s well accepted Dubai has the largest number of hotels, from one to seven stars, in the Middle East. It’s well accepted the Dubai International Airport/Terminal Three is the busiest, destination or connection, in the Middle East.

Now, with millions of people visiting Dubai, for business or leisure, one of the biggest complaints is not breakfast should be included in the hotel room rates (it should), but the cost of accessing the Internet, especially when paying top dollar per night.

The challenge (‘costly’ Internet access) presents a wonderful opportunity for Islamic banks, Takaful operators, and even Dubai Financial Market, an Islamic stock exchange, to sponsorship Internet access at [the better] hotels. The goodwill will be directed not towards the hotel (directly), but by sponsoring Islamic financial institution.

The hotel guests become potential clients, partners, and provide business development opportunities, or may even provide valuable feedback.

Furthermore, they become a brand ambassador for the bank, via word of mouth ‘endorsement,’ as every-time access Internet in room, have to (endure) the commercial about the bank. For example, on Emirates airlines, one views the commercials, luxury brand, hotel, or financial institutions, before being able to watch a movie on ICE.

For the hotel, it may result in repeat customers and referrals to colleagues and families without incurring marketing costs.

Conclusion

Islamic financial institutions need to think outside the box on not only marketing, but also expanding their customer base.

‘Traditional thinking is all about “what is”

Future thinking will also need to be about what can be.’
— Edward De Bono

Internet access is a right and Islamic banks should lead the charge.

[Rushdi Siddiqui is Co-Founder and Managing Director of Azka Capital, a private equity advisory firm focused on halal industry initiatives, and an Advisor to Thomson Reuters on Islamic finance and the halal industry.]

(Courtesy: Khaleej Times)

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