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Icons of Pakistan’s banking sector

Banking formally started in areas now comprising Pakistan during the British Raj. After getting independence from the colonial era in 1947 a new country, Pakistan appeared on the global map. Very soon the Head Office of Habib Bank shifted to Karachi from Bombay. With the passage of time various other banks were established. After nationalization and amalgamation the commercial banks that emerged were: Habib Bank (HBL), United Bank (UBL), Muslim Commercial Bank (MCB) and Allied Bank of Pakistan (ABL). National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) was established as and still enjoy the status of a public sector entity.

Prior to nationalization, the outreach and product suite of the banking system in the country increased and expanding colossally. Some of the analysts attribute the robustness of the Pakistani banking sector to the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP). Others say that it would have not been possible had Pakistan not produced some of the most charismatic bankers, who themselves became institutions. After nationalization of banks, Habib Family established Habib Bank Zurich in Switzerland. The Family would have not been successful had it not enjoyed the support of professional bankers of Pakistani origin. The largest number of bankers started their career from HBL, MCB, UBL, ABL and NBP. The second and third generation of bankers have also been mentored by the bankers operating for these entities.

The story of banking in Pakistan will remain incomplete without mentioning the icons produced by Habib Bank. The bank started its operations at a modest level from Bombay (hub of commercial activities of undivided India) in 1941 (now Mumbai). It commenced operations with a fixed capital of Rs25,000 rupees. Impressed by its initial performance, after Pakistan attaining the status of a sovereign country, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah asked the Habib Family to move its operations to Karachi. It remained the largest commercial bank of Pakistan till the nationalization of commercial banks by the then Prime Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. It was nationalized in 1974. In the early nineties, the Government of Pakistan adopted deregulation, liberalization and privatization policy. The Dawood Habib Group was granted permission to set up a commercial bank, Bank AL Habib. This was incorporated as a Public Limited Company in October 1991 and commenced banking operations in 1992. Late Hamid D. Habib, was the first Chairman of Bank AL Habib Limited. He was a Director in Habib Bank Limited from 1954 and its Chairman from 1971 until nationalization. After the demise of Hamid D. Habib in May 2000, Ali Raza D. Habib, who was one of the Directors on the Board, was appointed the Chairman of the Bank. Late Rashid D. Habib, who was the Managing Director of Habib Bank Limited from 1953 till its nationalization, was appointed as the Managing Director and Chief Executive of Bank AL Habib Limited until he expired in 1994. After his death, Abbas D. Habib, who was the Joint Managing Director and closely associated with the bank since its inception 1991, was appointed as the Managing Director and Chief Executive of the Bank. In 2016, he was appointed as Chairman of the Board of Directors.

Agha Hasan Abedi was a Pakistani banker and philanthropist who founded the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) in 1972. BCCI was, at one point, BCCI attained the status of seventh largest private bank in the world. He started his career in 1946 with HBL. He brought about radical changes in Pakistan’s banking culture as Founder and the first President of UBL established in 1959 in Karachi. Under his stewardship, UBL became Pakistan’s second largest bank. Icon Abedi introduced a host of professional innovations, including the concept of personalized service and banking support to trade and industry, paying particular attention to the bank’s overseas operations.

One of the first to comprehend the opportunities offered by the oil boom in the Persian Gulf, he pioneered close economic collaboration in the private sectors of Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE President, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, extended his patronage to UBL operations both in Pakistan and abroad. BCCI began its operations from a two-room head office in London. Over the years, it developed into a worldwide banking operation with branches in 72 countries and 16,000 employees on its payroll. Mr. Abedi was personally responsible for inducting a large number of Pakistanis into the field of international banking and almost 80 per cent of the BCCI’s top executive positions at the head office and in branches in various countries were held by the Pakistanis.

Kassim Parekh was one of the most distinguished bankers of Pakistan. He also started his career from HBL in 1949 at the young age of 18 and faithfully remained associated with Pakistan’s banking sector for 68 long years. Parekh was held in high esteem by the owners of HBL, where he gradually climbed the ladder to lead it as its president till 1988. Recognizing his acumen, the Government of Pakistan appointed Parekh Governor of State Bank of Pakistan, a post he held for about a year between 1989 and 1990. Till death, he held the reins of Habib Metropolitan Bank. Paying homage to Parekh, Syed Ali Raza said, “Pakistan has lost one of its most experienced professionals. Kassim Bhai’s intimate knowledge of Pakistan’s business environment and his ability to deal with financial institutions and clients were unique.”

Syed Ali Raza is sons of yet another icon Syed Hashim Raza. He attended the London School of Economics, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in economics. Raza also holds a Master of Science in Administrative Sciences from Cass Business School and a graduate degree from Karachi Institute of Business Administration. His last posting was as President of NBP. Earlier has also worked as Country Manager, Bank of America. While serving as the President NBP, Raza raised the bank’s profits and brought down its infected loan portfolio. In 2006 BusinessWeek included Raza in its list of the “25 Stars of Asia”, ranking him among the top 4 financiers in Asia. Raza has also been conferred Sitara-e-Imtiaz by the President of Pakistan, the highest award a civilian can receive.

Sirajuddin Aziz is a professionally qualified and experienced banker who has worked for different organizations in Pakistan, China, Hong Kong, U.K, Nigeria and U.A.E. He is currently President and Chief Executive Officer at Habib-Metro Bank. Prior to this, he has served as the Chief Executive Officer of Bank Alfalah from 2007 -2011. By virtue of being a senior member of banks’ Management Teams/Committees, he has been actively involved in overseeing the entire spectrum of banking operations of various banks for over 15 years. He is a regular speaker at the Institute of Bankers Pakistan (IBP) and other prestigious educational institutes and universities. He speaks on a diverse range of subjects comprising Credit, Trade & Foreign Exchange, Code of Governance, Economy, professional etiquettes and personal development sessions. Aziz is a regular contributor to national and international publications. As an author his publications include ‘The Quest of Mirage’, ‘Saurab Ki Talaash Main’, ‘Bitter & Sweet’ and ‘The Essence of Islam’.

Irfan Siddiqui is the Founding President and Chief Executive Officer of Meezan Bank. He initiated the formation of Al-Meezan Investment Bank in 1997, which was later converted into a full-fledged scheduled Islamic commercial bank in May 2002. This was the first ever license to be given for Islamic commercial banking in Pakistan. Meezan Bank is now the largest Islamic commercial bank in Pakistan. Siddiqui is a Chartered Accountant from England & Wales and has extensive financial sector experience with Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, Abu Dhabi Investment Company, Kuwait Investment Authority and Pakistan Kuwait Investment Company. He is a member of State Bank of Pakistan’s Steering Committee of Media Campaign – Improving Islamic finance literacy – in the country and Government of Pakistan’s Steering Committee for Promotion of Islamic Banking in Pakistan.

These are just a few names and the list could run into hundreds who could be termed ‘unsung heros’. The list includes the names of two bankers, Shaukat Aziz, who became Prime Minister of Pakistan and Mohammad Mian Soomro who rose to the position of President of Pakistan.

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