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The most trusted and successful financial institutions find that their values align closely with that of the community they serve. It’s no surprise that people want to build wealth in ways that match their principles, but the problem many banks face is that it isn’t easy to meet the needs of the many.
In response, niche banks have emerged to cater to the needs of the few. In 2007, Hakan Ozyon found himself in a financial bind and starved for choice.
“As a Muslim born in Melbourne, I found that I couldn’t build out my wealth through conventional means,” he says. “I couldn’t put my money in conventional investments because they went against my beliefs, so I fell behind the pack.”
Unwilling to compromise his religious beliefs, Ozyon dreamed of a financial institution that would cater specifically to the Muslim community.
“I woke up one morning and said, ‘That’s it, I’m starting this’,” he recalls. “I worked on the stock markets for the next seven years and basically built the concept in my garage.”
The end result was Hejaz Financial Services, a Sharia-compliant financial group that promised to solve the financial challenges faced by the Muslim community. In the years since, Hejaz has delivered.
In 2014, the first Hejaz branch opened in a small retail space in the Melbourne suburb of Heidelberg on a shoestring budget.
“In fact, it was an old brothel above a cake shop,” Ozyon says with a laugh. “It was all I could afford. So when I tell people we started doing wealth management in a unique way, it’s the truth.”
As word of mouth began to spread through the community and the business began to outgrow its modest origins, the Founder and CEO took the blossoming Hejaz Financial Services team to the city.
“That was in 2019. It brought so much credibility to the company. It’s said that perception is everything and it’s true. Suddenly, with a city office, we seemed legitimate.”
“I wanted to bring about change for my community and, after a lot of hard work, that’s what we’ve been able to do.”
At that point, Hejaz really took off. “I wanted to bring about change for my community and, after a lot of hard work, that’s what we’ve been able to do,” he confirms.
“Now, we have so many offerings across the board and, as I understand it, we’re the only financial institution in the world that is fully vertically and horizontally integrated with the number of processes we have. We cover everything.”
Indeed, Hejaz provides a broad range of financial services to the Islamic community, from investment management to superannuation services, banking, financial advice and lending to corporations, other financial institutions and individuals.
“Our next step is going into the fintech space,” Ozyon reveals. “If we want to go global for distribution, and we do, that’s what we have to do.”
To that end, Hejaz is working on a one-of-a-kind app ready to launch early next year that will incorporate many of its product offerings, as well as AI to provide advice on where and how to invest.
“Eventually that will be our main distribution channel around the world.”
In 2022, Hejaz made history once again by launching the first ever Islamic exchange-traded funds – the Hejaz Equities Fund and Hejaz Property Fund – on the Australian Securities Exchange.
“We want to dictate our own destiny, but building a foundation in business isn’t easy.”
Ozyon believes part of what makes Hejaz’s offerings unique is that every product is developed in-house.
“Not many companies can do that, especially in the financial world,” he reveals. “We want to dictate our own destiny, but building a foundation in business isn’t easy. As they say, the first million is the hardest.”
The other benefit of the upcoming app is that it will easily cut through to younger generations of Muslims who’ve grown up with mobile phones.
“That made it the most obvious choice to go with an easy, convenient app,” he says. “The younger generation is the future and they’re all very phone-savvy, so to be able to allow them to do all their banking and financial services through the app made sense.”
The Hejaz philosophy of prioritizing convenience and ease of use comes from Ozyon’s own childhood, when his father and community elders taught him the value of time.
“It’s the most valuable commodity in the world,” he stresses. “People value time more than anything, so as a service provider, if there are things you can do to save people time, they’re going to take you up on it. No-one wants to visit a bank branch anymore, even for loans. It’s too old-fashioned.”
The Hejaz app will come to represent a decade of hard work by Ozyon and his team, who have received a number of accolades for their efforts in that time. Hejaz is a two-time recipient of the Global Ethical Fund’s ‘Best Performing Islamic Balanced Fund in Australia’ award.
“Winning the trust of our clients is the most important thing. It’s not about racing to the top, it’s about getting things right.”
According to Ozyon, Hejaz’s ever-growing client base is the best feedback he can receive.
“There’s a reason why we’re growing so fast, why we’ve become the largest of our kind in the country, and that’s because we said early on that winning the trust of our clients is the most important thing. It’s not about racing to the top, it’s about getting things right.”
If the trust is broken, the brand is tarnished and everything is lost. “Which is why we make sure people know what we stand for, particularly now with ESG. What we do is true to label and that matters.”
And once again, such things take time. Ozyon is no stranger to patience and says his reserve will continue to serve him well as Hejaz continues to expand.
“If you’re an entrepreneur and you see an opportunity in the market, it’s easy to get scared and race to fill that gap,” he admits.
“But that means chasing a quick dollar. You haven’t put the work in. If you get that foundation right from the start and build trust and credibility upon it, that’s doing it right.”
Meanwhile, Hejaz is preparing to enter the global financial market on the back of its impending app. Ozyon is bullish, to say the least, about his chances.
“There’s nothing like what we do anywhere in the world. We intend to take our ecosystem to the United Kingdom, which is a very big mixed market, and after that, North America. What exists there already in our space is prehistoric, and we are coming for them.”
As the Hejaz story continues, Ozyon insists that the journey is an important part of succeeding in the business world.
“I’ve always believed that you have to be able to take people on a journey,” he reflects. “An entrepreneur starting from nothing can only build by taking people on that journey with them.
“There’s a massive difference between people who can start a business and build it up, and those who simply maintain a business. A massive difference.”
“An entrepreneur starting from nothing can only build by taking people on that journey with them.”
And greater exposure in that business world is another key part of the journey, which is why Hejaz is serving as a sponsor for The CEO Magazine’s 2023 Executive of the Year Awards.
“We’re deeply committed to recognizing and celebrating the breadth of talent that the Australian business leadership sector has to offer,” Ozyon says.
“It’s with great anticipation that I await the opportunity to announce the recipient of this year’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award.”
With hardship now in the rearview mirror, Ozyon says Hejaz is full steam ahead toward a rewarding future.
“What I want is to build a long-term Islamic-based financial institution for all the English-speaking countries in the world,” he explains.
“They need the kind of products and services we provide so that the community doesn’t have to compromise. I don’t want people to go through what I went through.”
Thanks to Ozyon’s dedication and belief – both in himself and his faith – Australian Muslims now have a choice he never had.
“I’m proud to be a disrupter, which is how I see us,” he says.
“No one should have to compromise their beliefs. If I believe in something, I do so wholeheartedly.
“People also want their money to work for them, and I created Hejaz Financial Services so that they can have it both ways. People deserve to have the choice.”