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Trust in business: A Q&A with Ghazi Abu Nahl

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Trust in business: A Q&A with Ghazi Abu Nahl

The Founder and Chairman of Nest Investments (Holdings) explains how to lead your company’s operations by example

Ghazi Abu Nahl is the Founder and Chairman of Nest Investments (Holdings) Ltd. Nest Investments is a diversified international business group operating across more than 23 countries in North America, Europe, Africa, Middle East and Asia Pacific. Founded in 1989, Nest Investments was one of the pioneers of insurance in the Gulf region and has become a regional leader in the space, as well as developing significant expertise in other areas, notably real estate and banking. The Group holds assets of over $5 billion today, with annual turnover in 2017 in excess of $750 million. In 2013 Mr Abu Nahl received the Life Time Achievement Award from the Federation of Afro-Asian Insurance and Reinsurance for his service to the MENA insurance industry. He also has a strong connection to the UK insurance industry and has been a member of Lloyds of London for several decades. He and his wife were made a member of the Oxford University Chancellors Court of Benefactors in 2017.

Ghazi Abu Nahl, Founder and Chairman of Nest Investments (Holdings) Ltd

Ghazi Abu Nahl, Founder and Chairman of Nest Investments (Holdings) Ltd

Q: Your background is incredibly interesting. Tell us a little more about you and your early life.

Ghazi Abu Nahl: It has been interesting, that’s correct! I was born in the small Palestinian town of Barbara in 1946 and by 1948 my family had been forced out of our home as a result of the occupation. Israeli forces had taken our village and we were now refugees living in Gaza. With seven brother and five sisters to feed (I was the eldest at 11), we all quickly learned that making ends meet was a matter of life or death. I worked hard throughout my childhood and did well in my studies, meaning I was able to go to university in Cairo aged 17. Right away it became apparent that my parents were struggling to pay my fees – I only managed 40 days before the guilt sent me home.

Q: So the working world beckoned?

Ghazi Abu Nahl: Indeed it did. I wanted to help my parents pay for my siblings, and so I found work in Qatar. I don’t know if it was fate, but I found work at an insurance agency called Arab Commercial Enterprises. They were exceptionally good to me, training me on the job alongside the other young staff. I made little money and lived a very basic life at first, but the business grew well and expanded into other Gulf states as the economy swelled. The job taught me everything I know about insurance. It was not a popular concept in the Gulf at the time: it was seen as anti-Islamic and a form of gambling. Only British expatriates seemed to flourish in the industry and we were the only company working in Arabic and serving local people. Still, we made the case that insurance would help to secure the future of families and this idea caught on. I worked at the company for a very happy 20 years and was able to significantly lighten the financial burden for my parents.

Q: So how did Nest Investments come about?

Ghazi Abu Nahl: With all of my siblings now grown up and secure, I knew it was time to take a risk with my career. I’d set up my first enterprise Qatar General Insurance & Reinsurance Company, in 1979 whilst still working for Arab Commercial Enterprises. In 1986, my wife and I moved our family to Perth, Australia in search of a new challenge. However, I was travelling to the Middle East and in due course acquired Trust International Insurance and Reinsurance Company (Trust Re)in Bahrain and set up Nest Investments, our family holding firm in Jersey but operationally run from Cyprus. I wanted to consolidate all of the work my family had done over the years in one place – you never know what the future might bring and I wanted to be sure that we wouldn’t struggle again. Our first business is named ‘Trust’ because that is exactly what we have always tried to build – a group of people, be it a business or a family, that can rely on each other.

Q: How do you continue to build trust in your businesses?

Ghazi Abu Nahl: Even after all this time, trust is central to everything that I do as an Abu Nahl and my clients and employees can trust that our hard work and perseverance will pay off. I never build relationships that are one sided – instead I ensure that everything we do is mutually beneficial. I make sure to address any issues that arise honestly and head on. People don’t trust people who can’t provide straight answers. I’m also never afraid to apologise when something goes wrong and I will take the responsibility for finding the solution for clients and employees alike. It’s not always easy, but I strive to be patient and understanding in all of my business relationships. People’s time is of increasing value, and offering flexible solutions goes a long way to building up partnerships that work for everybody.

Q: What are the biggest barriers to building trust that businesses are facing today?

Ghazi Abu Nahl: I believe that an over reliance on the internet and social media has been detrimental to levels of trust in business. We are quickly learning that web search results and social media feeds don’t always tell the truth and it is getting harder and harder to filter through the noise and find the facts we need to make good decisions. In the last year alone, news stories about Russian bots, fake news and manipulative social media algorithms have called corporate communications and relationships into question all over the world. Can I trust what this business is telling me anymore? Business leaders need to make sure that the answer to this question is yes, and I recommend taking relationships back to basics – and face to face – to achieve this.

Q: Do you have any advice for business leaders on how to build trust?

Ghazi Abu Nahl: When you run a business you have to lead by example – if your staff trust you, they can learn a great deal from your words and actions when building trust with the clients. The days of being a ‘hands off’ leader are over. Instead, business leaders must be genuinely interested in the welfare of staff and clients, and this interest must be visible. I’d advise leaders to abandon their corner office and sit in amongst the action. Have an open door policy, and encourage your team to bounce ideas off you. Make sure that clients know that they can send you an email or pick up the phone whenever an issue arises. Advise those who need you honestly and with your expertise. You can draw on your professional and personal experience, and you should talk openly about your successes, failures and what you’ve learned along the way. With a commitment to honesty and openness, trust will come.

Interviews

Q&A with Clare George-Hilley, co-founder, Centropy PR

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Q&A with Clare George-Hilley, co-founder, Centropy PR 1

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.

Clare George-Hilley

Clare George-Hilley

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.

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Lessons from past recessions and advice for business owners during the coronavirus pandemic

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Lessons from past recessions and advice for business owners during the coronavirus pandemic 2

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.”

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Interviews

Exclusive Interview with Ugo Loser, CEO of ARCA Fondi SGR

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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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