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The debate on Islamic finance does not stop raising questions. Its rise brought about a lot of questions about its ability to complete and calm the ardor of some traditional financial practices or also its contribution to the Tunisian economy and its ability to meet the expectations of different economic actors. It is within this framework that JCI Tunis organized a meeting on this issue. It sought to explain the concept of Islamic finance and share knowledge to enrich the country’s banking system.
Mahfoudh Barouni, Member of JCI and Chairman of the Administrative Board of Zitouna Bank, explains, in an interview with African Manager, the strategic role of Islamic finance that could benefit both investors and Islamic economy in general.
Interview:

The theme revolves around which responses to which challenges?

Above all, we should say that this event, organized by JCI Tunis, aims to open dialogue between bankers, professionals, academics and businessmen. As JCI, our vision includes the development of skills of young Tunisians. My paper revolves around two axes, including showcasing Tunisia as one of the pioneers that has established a range of Islamic funding mechanisms to adjust banking and trade operations to the Koran precepts. Since 1975, we have provided a greater contribution in this area.

How Zitouna Bank has contributed to the promotion of Islamic finance since its creation in 2009?

Our idea is to answer several motivations: first, strengthening and enriching the banking and financial system of our country by providing new innovative solutions and complementary products and services already in place by conventional banks in a perfect synergy with the guidelines. In addition to its significant contribution expected in the economic revitalization of the country, this new born seeks to be a bank with high social responsibility. It plans to cover various sectors and areas related to sustainable development and well-being of Tunisians.

As a result, the bank offers a full range of products and services that comply with the principles of Islamic finance and the needs of its customers including individuals, professionals, businesses and institutions. In addition, financing techniques adopted by the Zitouna Bank are based on both morality and ethics of Islamic finance principles. The goal sought-after is a strong participation in the revitalization of the banking system, an offer of Islamic banking products and a high return on investment.

That said, I note that you cannot achieve all the goals in a short time. This is just the beginning for Zitouna Bank which aims to broaden its scope and open up on more horizons. For this reason, efforts will be made to achieve all the objectives in the short and long term. There is still a long way to go.

What is your balance sheet for 2010?

The results of this year will be published shortly. At first, I can report that our goal is to establish 25 branches in late December, spread over the whole country, to reach 120 branches by 2014, ensure fair access to our products and services and propose best solutions to our customers by anticipating and innovating, with 320 employees and approximately 15,000 customers.

Why have you not taken the initiative to establish a training center for the benefit of executives to ensure a qualified and skilled human infrastructure in this sector?

Although the idea of the project existed and was being studied, the concept has become clearer and negotiations are continuing with stakeholders to better define the legislative framework and the axes of this project which should meet the standards required in this area.
It is noteworthy that an ad hoc committee was established and is tasked with studying the final lines of these coaching and training centers that will be placed under the supervision of the said department and which will be serving officers of the bank and the financial sector as well as academics and researchers who will have the opportunity to obtain specialized certifications.

Is there such a strategy to promote this mechanism among Tunisians, especially since this branch of finance remains largely unknown, not only from public but also from finance and trade professionals?

A deep action of information and training remains to be done with entrepreneurs, financial executives and Tunisian citizens to better understand the mechanisms and benefits of Islamic finance. Indeed, Islamic finance should be seen as an opportunity for entrepreneurs, as it appears today as an alternative funding that should not be overlooked when traditional sources are dwindling at this time of economic crisis.

How you see the future of Islamic finance in Tunisia?

Tunisia is actively working to develop a modern, competitive and attractive platform to promote its emergence as a hub for exporting services and regional financial center. This requires increased efforts to improve the competitiveness of the economy, support businesses and enhance the influence of Tunisia at the regional level. Our goal is to help shine the image of a responsible, modern and universal corporate, both close and open on international environment and actively participating in the development of Tunisia.

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