To find out the latest in Islamic banking technologies we spoke with the experts at Path Solutions, the leading Islamic banking software provider.
Jacob Zachariah Karuvelil, ‘Executive Vice President-Operations & Global Support’ and ‘General Manager-Kuwait’ at Path Solutions has been working with the company since its inception and has more than 25 years of extensive hands-on experience in the fields of Finance, Audit, Operations and IT. Donning the hat of Department Head, Jacob has played a key role in the development of the company managing various departments. He currently heads the ‘Global Support’ activities of Path’s worldwide clients, Operations and Corporate Legal Services and functions as the GM for Kuwait Head Office.
- Tell us about Path Solutions and the iMAL System.
Path Solutions, with its diverse client base and global presence, is a multi-award winning Islamic banking software house offering a broad spectrum of Sharia and IAS-compliant integrated solutions and services. All of Path Solutions’ business lines are certified as ISO 9001 compatible and are also CMMI Level 3 certified.
Path Solutions’ flagship product, iMAL is designed and developed from scratch on the basis and principles of Sharia to meet the Islamic banking needs, thus making iMAL the number one choice worldwide for this niche market. iMAL, is a comprehensive enterprise yet modular system catering for all banking and investment operations. A “Model Bank” implementation option is available, with best practice processes built-in for start-up Islamic banks.
Path also offers iWINDOW as Islamic window for conventional banks and iSHRAQ a solution aimed for investment companies and consumer financing companies.
- What is the latest iMAL Version?
Version 13.0 is iMAL Application’s most recent ‘Major Release’ that was released in March 2013. It comes with many modifications and general enhancements added to meet the demands of the market and latest technological advances. iMAL 13 includes wide-spread enhancements across the various Delivery Channels, Business Vertical products, Financial Accounting as well as Reporting ones.
- How frequently does Path Solutions release ‘Major Releases’? Are there any other release kinds?
As per Path’s current Version Release Policy, we issue one iMAL Major Release every year to facilitate complex and/or widespread product enhancements and sweeping technological advancements. Major Releases are generally available to all clients and are free of cost; hence termed GA (General Availability) releases.
‘Enhancement Releases’; on demand are released to specific clients to accommodate their critical modifications that cannot wait until the Major Release. And then we have the ‘Maintenance Releases’ or updates which are provided as and when needed to quickly resolve issues reported.
- Tell us about the Upgrade Methodology for existing clients for such Major Releases.
With every new Major Release, Path Solutions follows an ‘Early Adopters Program’ (EAP) where a few clients are selected to do the upgrade as pilot projects. For such clients, full and dedicated Support of key assigned resources from all Path Solutions’ departments is allocated allowing faster turnaround. After completion of upgrades through ‘EAP’, the version is made available for all clients to upgrade to.
iMAL upgrade projects are run by members of the “Global Support” team, the team who provides the general day-to-day Support and maintenance, thus having a full understanding of the people, client business and their requirements.
All projects are executed following Path Solutions’ adapted PMI Methodology for Project Management. A Project Manager (PM) is assigned and for bigger projects’ supervision, a Project Director (PD) would be there. The PM & PD and the project team also receive Support from the Global Support – Project Management Office (PMO) ensuring effective monitoring and control is established throughout the project.
Every project plan discussion starts with a Standard Project Plan, schedule (set based on Path’s previous experience). Upgrade projects range from one month to anywhere upward of three months. This is directly dependent on the level of testing the client plans based on the number of modules implemented among various other factors like availability of staff, readiness of the infrastructure, other dependencies like database and hardware upgrades.
- Do clients need Path Solutions’ help for the ‘Upgrade’?
Every client is given all the needed requisites and the option to do upgrade on his own. However, almost all clients use Path’s Consultancy Services to aid the Upgrade effort. The usual procedure would be to have Consultants (Technical/Business) assigned for the project to be present onsite with the client to support him.
It may be either throughout the project helping propel the project as planned closing it in record times, or at times specifically to accomplish particular tasks based on client requirements like where our Consultant conducts a cycle of Unit Testing onsite before UAT on behalf of the bank IT team. This has always ensured UAT by Business team are much shorter and hassle free. Least down time is achieved with our Technical Consultants assisting for the system upgrade and validation tasks. Also, Overview Trainings of the new Release inclusions are done. Some clients also take it up further to conduct full detailed Refresher Trainings for their employees.
Ultimately we leave it up to the client to decide and provide our services based on each client request and requirements.
- Could you share about one of the latest iMAL Major Release Upgrade done?
The first ‘EAP’ Pilot Upgrade to adopt the new iMAL 13.0 version was United Capital Bank (UCB), Sudan and they went live on the new version in November 2013.
The project was executed as planned and service rendered to the client as per the scope and schedule agreed with the known risks and the unknowns managed efficiently moving UCB to iMAL 13 as expected. With the exception of a few issues faced that were ironed out during the UAT stage, the project was a clear success.
The true cooperation and integrated efforts of the international team of Path Solutions drove this project to success. From Path’s end the PM was from Sudan office, onsite Techno-Business Consultants from Bahrain office and the directorship from India office. The Application experts from Kuwait & Lebanon R & D centres and unwavering Support from the Global Support team contributed gravely to this victory. This would not have been a reality if not for the exceptional leadership and guidance from UCB Head of IT, System Analysts & Project team.
- Is iMAL 13.0 the latest Version? Were there any minor Releases after?
iMAL version 13.2 is the latest Version released in August 2013. It is a minor Release Version built on 13.0 adding in some important modifications and enhancements based on requirements from our clients and others internally identified.
iMAL 13.2, as in 13.0, also includes many enhancements across the various products. Additionally some new changes are included in the specialised iMAL modules for Alerts, Transfer Pricing, Revaluation, Provisioning, ATM Broker and Financial Template Reports.
- Has 13.2 Upgrade been done anywhere?
The first client to start the Upgrade as per ‘EAP’ is Bank of Khartoum (BOK) in Sudan, the largest bank in Sudan now, with 50+ branches.
With many branches decentralized, this Upgrade project comes with its own set of risks to factor in, among many other variables and so the ownership to lead this project was given to one of Path Solutions’ most Senior Managers and Subject Matter Experts on the iMAL Application. From BOK side, the ownership of the project is with the VP-IT/Project Manager.
The Upgrade project at BOK involves a project team including specialists for integration efforts, database review and fine tuning, Internet Banking penetration testing providing onsite assistance during the various stages, along with a Business Consultant and Technical Consultant to propel all planned tasks. Specific expert Trainers are also allocated for the Training on specific modules BOK needed emphasis on.
The project started in March 2014, has successfully completed the planned ‘Training and Bank IT Testing’ phases, which were followed by the User Acceptance Test (UAT) phase. The Go Live on the Upgraded Version has taken place on May 29, 2014.
- How important is it for clients to Upgrade to latest Version?
First of all, it is clear that it would allow the client to take advantage of the vast set of new enhancements or fixes that would have been added with such a new Release – regulatory (like for FATCA), other market-driven enhancements, bug fixes or defect corrections, etc.
Secondly, as per Path Solutions’ Version Release Policy, while all the clients receive free Major Release software updates, it also sets that only the last two General Availability Releases would be supported. This allows Path to maintain and manage lesser Versions and focus on quality of the Supported Versions.
- Any updates about iMAL future Major Release?
The new Major Release, iMAL 14 targeted delivery date is by the 3rd Quarter of 2014 and our strategic partner Boubyan Bank, one of the major Islamic banks in Kuwait will be the ‘Early Adopter’.
Q&A with Clare George-Hilley, co-founder, Centropy PR
Clare George-Hilley is the co-founder of Centropy PR
Global Banking and Finance Magazine recently caught up with Clare George-Hilley, co-founder of fintech and financial services specialist PR agency Centropy, as the company toasts to three years of trading. We asked Clare about what life is like running an agency in the city, the trends she is seeing in the financial services space and what the future holds following the Covid-19 outbreak.
Why did you decide to set up Centropy PR?
I was looking for an opportunity to launch my own agency, both my husband and I had been in the public affairs and public relations industry for over a decade and we thought the time was right to go out on our own.
We could see that the financial services industry was surging, with challenger brands and new technology transforming traditional banks and setting new standards of customer service. There was a huge market opportunity to create and launch a PR agency that could provider first class comms support, alongside a deep understanding of complex regulations such as AML, KYC, and the GDPR. Likewise, many traditional technology firms are diversifying their offerings, to tap into the growing market opportunity posed by the fintech boom.
So, we worked on a business plan, designed a strategy for winning clients and officially launched in September 2017. Within a few months we had a growing portfolio of clients and a thriving business, since that point, we have never looked back!
How is Centropy doing now and what are you plans for growth?
The last three years have flown by and our client portfolio has grown and diversified quickly. We now manage PR campaigns for clients on everything from cryptocurrency, wealth management to payments and trading software.
We’ve also hosted parliamentary debates with key industry figures, including Members of Parliament (MPs) on topics such as the future of the financial services industry and the impact of challenger banks on traditional providers. The team is expanding quickly and we’re investing heavily in the latest training and support to ensure our team members are equipped to reach their full potential.
How do you see the next 12 months?
The Covid-19 outbreak has crippled the economy, forcing millions of people to work from home due to the very serious health risks. The knock-on effect of this crisis will lead to companies cutting costs where possible to save jobs, so tech will play a vital role in ensuring many businesses stay afloat.
We are already working with contactless payments specialists and other fintech companies that offer solutions to help companies survive and thrive despite the inevitable challenges ahead.
We aim to continue building our portfolio of expertise, testing ourselves with new challenges and delivering the best possible service to clients
This is a Sponsored Feature.
Lessons from past recessions and advice for business owners during the coronavirus pandemic
By Neil Davis, managing director and co-founder of Sterling Networks
What is Sterling Networks?
“Sterling Networks is a professional organisation founded in 2014 which facilitates networking events for businesses across the Midlands, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire and the South West. Over 300 members attend our fortnightly breakfast and lunchtime meetings.”
What is your background prior to establishing Sterling Networks?
“During the 1990s, I worked in the corporate team for Halifax. My wife, Tracey, and I went onto own a manufacturing business, which was also called Sterling, and produced a range of gifts, merchandise and promotional items.
“We soon realised tradeshows were a great way to meet distributors and clients. From there, the business grew exponentially, and we managed to build a network of around 500 distributors. Eventually, we became ground down by the manufacturing business – in part because the local manufacturing sector was being devastated by competition from China – and took the decision to sell the business and relocate to Spain.
“After spending several years living abroad, we moved back to the UK to set up Sterling Integrity (EXPO’S) & Sterling Networks (Networking) We were inspired by a desire to help businesses make meaningful connections with one another, and we haven’t looked back since.”
The UK has recently entered a recession, brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. What have you learned from past recessions and how are these experiences helping you to navigate the current crisis?
“I’ve lived through a number of recessions and have seen the pain that insolvency causes companies on a large scale. It’s taught me that there are those who win and sadly those who lose, and that businesses must adapt to a rise in demand for certain products or services at a time of financial crisis.
“Given the nature of what Sterling Networks offers [an opportunity for business owners to connect and grow together] I decided we could build upon the brand due to the demand for new business during the pandemic. We therefore moved our networking events from face-to-face to virtual via tools like Zoom and have gained a steady stream of new members in recent months, reaching an overall total of well over 300.
“On top of that, we’ve taken new staff on during the crisis and have launched a number of new regional groups across the country. I was determined that Sterling should come out of the pandemic with a head start, so my attitude to the recession has been much more positive than those who are forecasting nothing but doom and gloom.
“We can’t pretend high street retail wasn’t suffering long before the pandemic came along, and thousands of new businesses are sure to start up to meet the demand for the products and services that people require at a time such as this. In order to develop and grow businesses need to focus on where changes need to be made to meet this demand.”
Sterling Networks has been providing emotional support to its members throughout the pandemic. What advice have you been giving to members that could be useful to other business owners?
“I try not to be too opinionated and respect other people’s views when giving advice to members, as there are always two sides to every circumstance. I’ve been careful not to say to people that they should be doing one thing or another, as I don’t know their business and its needs quite like they do. The only thing that I have been telling members is the importance of setting up one-to-ones with one another. By doing so, they can listen to the needs and concerns of other, like-minded business owners and work out ways that they might be able to help one another.
“The pandemic has meant we all have a bit more time on our hands, so the advice I would give to people is to use this extra time wisely. Not having to travel physically from one meeting to another means there is a greater opportunity to connect with more people. It’s important to remember that individuals outside of your business can be just as valuable as those within it.”
What makes you hopeful for the future and are there any words of encouragement you can give to budding entrepreneurs?
“The key events that have happened to this country during my lifetime – whether wars, recessions, or the pandemic – have enabled me to take stock of things. While these experiences are certainly challenging, we all become stronger for living through them, and it gives me great confidence that the world will ultimately improve as a result of the pandemic.
“The whole world is effectively rebooting right now, as is the business community. I like to think entrepreneurs will recognise this opportunity to take better care of their peers, and this translates to greater collaboration between organisations. Speak to as many people as you can, ask all the questions that you need to and do your homework. This might well be a difficult time for us all but planning for the future must start now if it is to become as prosperous as I know it can be.”
Exclusive Interview with Ugo Loser, CEO of ARCA Fondi SGR
Arca Fondi SGR is a mid-sized Italian active asset management company. Founded in 1983 by a consortium made up of 12 regional banks, the company has grown in time, expanding its network of distributors and its client base. Nowadays Arca manages Mutual Funds, Pension Funds and Institutional Accounts with total AUM exceeding 30 € bln, reaching more than 100 banks and financial institutions and serving more than 800,000 final clients.
What are the key contributors to ARCA Fondi SGR’s success over the past 35 years?
Arca has always put clients and distributors first. That is to say we have always privileged fair pricing for funds and developing high quality products and services for our customers. This requires constant innovation as an objective and looking for people’s talent to be free to produce its effect
Why are people the founding element of ARCA Fondi SGR and how have you sustained this vision over the years?
We work in small teams, people are young and motivated and can perform duties with a high level of autonomy and responsibility. Innovation is asked to everyone, everyday
What makes Arca Fondi SGR different from other asset management firms in Italy?
Arca is a company focused on doing what it can do very well, that is to say mutual and pension funds, services for clients and banks. We never follow short term trends but always look for long lasting impact on the industry, like we’ve done may times in the past
What products/services has ARCA Fondi SGR pioneered?
Arca has been the inventor of “Arca Cedola”, fixed-horizon, coupon paying funds, which have been with no doubt the greatest product innovation of the past 12 years on the Italian market. This type of funds, at first strictly based on bonds and later as a balanced product, has encountered an enormous success both with clients and distributors due to its simple and effective value proposition. Arca is a market leader also in the “PIR” segment of funds, a range of product focused on mid and small sized companies, that have been the best performers in the Italian stock market for the last few years. In services, Arca is a leader in technology applied to asset management. Our website, app and digital services for clients and banks are award winning, state of the art combination of data, technology and channels, and the best is yet to come on this side.
What strategies do you have in place to sustain your market position and withstand professional competition in the country?
As I mentioned, we do not waste resources on projects with dubious results, instead we constantly invest on people, products and services. The high level of profitability that Arca has been able to maintain even in difficult years for the markets of the banking sector is a further testimony that this strategy works very well
How do you use technology to create meaningful experiences for your customers?
First of all, we have created a whole new division, Arca InnovAction Lab, dedicated to technology, data and processes. This ensures projects are delivered quickly and they are free to leave bad past practices behind. Arcaonline.it, Arca’s website, provides distributors with detailed information on clients’ portfolios, asset under management and subscription/redemption requests. It monitors aggregate selling data offering to our partners a suite functions and analytics to track commercial campaigns. And if the banks branches need assistance, they may ask Sara, our digital chatbot. A broad and timely multimedia production, covering exclusive reports, comments, presentations, videos, webinars and newsletters is also available on the website.
Customers, subscribing Arca’s funds through its distributors’ network, may access Arcaclick, a dedicated area on Arcaonline.it. With Arcaclick the client can easily browse through her portfolio of funds, analyze its characteristics, view transactions and historical funds’ performance in customizable views. Arcaclick is also a powerful source of information on Arca product range: Prospectus, KIIDs and other literature is easily accessible along with news, comments and reports. Arcaclick may also be accessed via Arca Fondi App, a free application for mobiles and tables, running on both iOS and Android. Available 24/7 and in mobility, Arcaclick gives clients the opportunity access information, news and details of their personal portfolio anytime and anywhere.
What key trends will drive pension growth in 2020 and beyond?
The Italian market for pension funds is still very small and therefore there is a great opportunity to grow. Arca Fondi manages the biggest open ended Italian pension fund and it’s been constantly at the top of its rankings. As people and workers are looking for yield and to weather short term volatility, the pension fund is very well poised to profit from this trend.
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