Webinar

Islamic Banking Jobs and Careers

Career Options In Islamic Banking And Finance: Your Questions, Our Answers

Sunday August 8, 2010: Live Webinar from Dubai

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Atif: I'm very excited to be here, we're normally accustomed to conducting face-to-face training sessions but it's gratifying to see that we literally are covering the entire globe this evening. I see names all the way from Calgary, Canada in the West where it's early morning to Australia where its late night, so welcome everyone. We have people from Dubai, Finland, U.K, Nigeria, so Alhamdulillah it's a really healthy mix and insha'Allah Islamic finance is for everyone, so insha'Allah we'll try to make sure that all the questions get answered and that we keep all of our answers as relevant as possible to this global audience. I'm also joined by Yusuf Jha who is the Shariah controller of a major GCC Islamic bank, he'll also be joining us. Welcome Yusuf.

Yusuf: Asaalamu alaykum, thank you for having me here. It's a pleasure to be here, hopefully I can benefit the listeners in terms of the questions they may have.

Atif: So we'll begin right away. Insha'Allah we're going to try to keep the webinar to less than 90 minutes, we'll have an introductory session which will shortly be followed by the questions that we've received in advance by email and then live questions and for those of you who stick around to the end we will also give people an opportunity to win various things including discounts, as well as other stuff. Insha'Allah not limited to 1-on-1 career counseling with Islamic banking experts. So we'll begin right away, the webinar is "Career options in Islamic finance" and as most of you know, despite the global financial crisis, Islamic finance has Alhamdulillah remained quite resilient through much of the crisis. It has not been completely insulated because obviously even many Shariah-compliant transactions, however compliant they are, are still going to be affected by the markets around that industry. So despite that Islamic banks continue to thrive. There is expansion going on in a number of countries and over 500 Islamic banks, whether stand alone or subsidiaries are all over the world and central banks and countries from as far flung regions as Japan, Canada where we were recently, and Australia have stated their intention to expand with Islamic finance services.

The industry is growing annually at a rate of over 20% which is actually a number that we hear a lot but what is more relevant is that in some Islamic finance industries that are relatively mature like, Malaysia, Pakistan, parts of the GCC, it is more stable and growing while in other places where it's just being introduced the rate of growth is much, much higher.

The S & P believes that the potential for the market of Islamic financial services is close to $4 trillion and like I mentioned there is a very positive interest from Muslim and non-Muslim countries around the world with many of them starting with capital markets transactions from the get go and then moving on to retail and corporate style products as they progress. So it's good to see that regulatory, legislative and political changes in these countries a re accommodating Islamic finance.

According to AT Kearney over 30,000 new Islamic banking jobs will have to be filled in the Gulf alone. And there are actually bigger markets than the Gulf, obviously the UK, Europe, North America, these are huge markets where Islamic finance remains largely untapped. There has been progress in places like UK, Europe, but again, it's still the tip of the iceberg.

One of the best signs that there is a critical mass of Islamic financial institutions and Islamic finance practitioners is AAOIFI. AAOIFI stands for the Accounting and Auditing Organization of Islamic Financial Institutions and it is the leading standard setting body in the industry. It is essentially an effort to bring the top scholars from around the world from various regions together several times a year to formulate standards for various products and it is widely held to be the leading standard setting body and they've put out a book called AAOIFI Shariah Standards, which I recommend to all of you to try to get a hold of.

This is a sample organizational chart of what an Islamic bank would look like and insha'Allah we'll set this as a context before we get into your specific questions and I'll let Yusuf speak about the various areas within Islamic finance. Yusuf is involved with the Shariah control aspect, he's with the Shariah side in terms of Shariah auditing of products and practices and I'll let him explain how the various departments interact.

Yusuf: Assalamu alaykum everyone again, maybe just before I start speaking about the specific ways the departments interact, it's important to take in the general perspective which is that Islamic banks as they function now are in effect functioning very similar to the way conventional banks would function with the difference being that they have the additional factor of trying to ensure that whatever transactions they engage in are deemed to be Shariah-compliant by the Shariah board of the respective banks. So when you look at the general structure of Islamic banks, they tend to mirror the structure of conventional banks and so we find very much the same departments, the same skill set with certain additional factors which insha'Allah we will hopefully cover today.

So if you look at for example the chart we have here, we see obviously the CEO, the executive committee and various executive decision making bodies and we see that the bank itself, Islamic banks tend to incorporate a variety of functions amongst which is the corporate investment banking unit, which tend to operate very much like conventional investment banks in the sense that they would be involved in for example real estate, corporate banking in terms of syndications, investments, there would be property management, there would be private equity, likewise the retail banking and the credit division is very much, once again similar in terms of its analysis in the way a conventional bank would operate.

Now the only caveat towards all of this would be that there would be an additional level of governance in effect being the Shariah division or the Shariah department of that institution and they would be given, all of these various aspects of the banks would be given certain guidelines by which they would liaise with the Shariah department. For example when it comes to investment banking there will be criterion with regards to the equity, with regards to all the transactions it could be engaged in, at each stage the Shariah division will be involved.

Atif: Yusuf can you explain to us outsiders, I mean we get involved with training and we hear a lot about the Shariah control of Islamic banks where it's patchy and some banks a little bit more strident and strong, where as in others it's a bit more laissez faire, how does it work in your bank in terms of your oversight on the various departments?

Yusuf: It's a very valid question and I think that sort of put a finger on the fact that Islamic banking although, I don't think people can necessarily consistently say that it's still in its infancy in the sense that it has existed for about close to 20 years but the processes are still being defined and these standards by which things are done vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, from banks to bank. Now the particular bank that I work for is known for its diligence when it comes to Shariah compliance which of course is the reason why Islamic banks are known as being Islamic, so you'd expect all Islamic banks to be very diligent in their Shariah-compliant procedures by which they audit transactions, however, this obviously to the degree to which it is done varies from bank to bank.

Now for example my bank when it comes to retail transactions we have what's called a 100% audit system whereby any transactions are entered into an automated system and there is specifically retail Shariah auditors assigned to various transactions to okay the transaction. I myself work in the corporate investment banking and treasury aspects of my bank so for example my job is to review the transactions that take place at the level of treasury to actually review the deals, the deal tickets to make sure that the correspondence between the dealers at the outset are actually Shariah-compliant and then also to make sure that the specific sequences of the operations are done in a way that is Shariah-compliant.

At the level of corporate banking, we're involved in client meetings, we're involved in initial structuring of transactions, we're involved in the subsequent review of documentation. Investment banking likewise we're involved in when it comes to structures we're constantly monitoring any equity that the bank has purchased to make sure that it fulfills the Shariah guidelines that are stipulated by the Shariah department.

Atif: Now Yusuf, a lot of these are going to come up later on but I'd just like to ask initially in terms of a person who is looking at his career options in Islamic finance: what kind of person do you feel is ideal in this market and what can a newcomer do to make oneself ideal?

Yusuf: Well I think all of these questions have deep philosophical underpinnings in the sense that we need to first define what direction we want Islamic finance to go in and I think it's important to perhaps speak from an 'as is' perspective as the industry is today and perhaps touching a 'to be' perspective which is the way the initial people who conceived of Islamic finance thought Islamic finance would be. Now Islamic finance as it is today is very much a mirror of conventional finance, so if you look at this diagram today you'd find that most of the senior management would actually be individuals who've spent the bulk of their careers in conventional banking and so they've made a move across from conventional banking into Islamic banking and a result the paradigms or the ways in which they function are very much rooted in the way a conventional bank would function.

So the mechanisms by which they would analyze risk for example would be completely conventional and this is actually something of particular importance to Islamic finance because in Islamic finance, the transactions themselves, the Shariah basis for a transaction to be legit is often rooted in valid risk being accommodated. Now this goes against the way conventional bankers would be given to operate in the sense that the often only form of risk they are familiar with is credit risk. For example a classic would be an Ijarah, it would be unheard of for a conventional banker to actually conceive of the fact that the lessor if it were to be a bank would bear major maintenance risk whereas this is an essential risk from an Islamic lease perspective and a key difference between an Islamic lease and a conventional lease.

So what often happens in terms of the 'as is' is that most of the Islamic banking personnel are usually experienced conventional bankers and this actually is just simply to do with the nature of the industry in the sense that Islamic banks in effect have been in terms of customer expectations, in terms of the regulations, in terms of various factors, are expected to perform like conventional banks with additional caveat that they are Shariah-compliant. And so as a result, because the expectations of the shareholders and the various stakeholders, the essential management tends to be conventional banking.

Now as I touched upon, most of the people who can actually move now into Islamic banking are usually people who have a lot of experience in conventional banking. Now what about people who want to join afresh, this is an emerging industry and I think it to people's advantage who are actually coming into this field basically with a solid qualification under their belt. Their qualification could be an academic qualification or a practical focused qualification of the sort Ethica™ is offering and the idea being that it would reflect their actually going into the industry with a basic understanding of how an Islamic bank is meant to operate.

Atif: Now I see a lot of you guys are coming up with very good questions and we promise to get to as many questions as possible so I would ask everybody to hang on to their questions and insha'Allah when we go to live question and answer, you can type up your questions in the public chat area. We're going to go to the next slide and then shortly thereafter we'll be at the Q and A's, which we're at now. Excellent, so your questions, our answers. So we'll start with Kenan, I hope I pronounced that correctly, from Canada who says:

Attendee (Kenan): I'm a student at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, studying commerce and finance, I have an opportunity to go to Saudi Arabia and I'm interested in making the transition from conventional to Islamic finance. From your experience what is the best way for me to get into the Islamic finance industry in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region in general?

Atif: Well I will take a first jab at that and then I'll ask Yusuf to follow up. We'll try to keep our answers brief and if you have follow-up questions then you can actually email us. And obviously we can speak one on one by phone or in person if you happen to be in Dubai.

I happened to be in Canada last week and we met with the government and there is certainly a lot of movement towards Islamic finance happening in Canada, so if you have an opportunity to go to Saudi Arabia that's great but you should certainly look at Toronto and speak to the Ontario government, in particular the Financing Authority and the Big 5 banks and try to get a handle on what's happening there and when things are going to happen because it is certainly the case that if you have an early start in your country then you are obviously better off than the people who come in later. So in terms of an opportunity to go to Saudi Arabia, that's great, obviously that market is well established.

And we found that from our experience at Ethica™ in terms of helping people with recruitment we found that the best way to get into the industry is to demonstrate interest. So to be a banker or a student who has no demonstrated experience or interest in Islamic finance, you're starting off with a slight handicap compared to somebody, for instance, who has done a consulting project, an internship, even contributed to a publication or a conference, attended an Islamic banking course or received certification or obviously received something like a degree, so these are obviously all examples of demonstrating one's own interest.

A good starting point if you happen to be in Saudi Arabia on a visit, is informational interviews conducted at banks, insha'Allah we can at a later time communicate about opportunities within Saudi Arabia and point you in that direction, so there are those opportunities and Yusuf who also transitioned into the industry several years ago is now based in the UAE can also shed some light for Kenan.

Yusuf: I definitely, in terms of what Atif has said, I would definitely echo everything he said and I think maybe just boil it down to basic facts, you need to get the words Islamic finance on your CV and you've got various roots and the best thing is for you to get multiple roots so that could involve publications, attending conferences, getting some sort of qualification, a qualification is important and there are various qualifications existing, we highlighted Ethica's™ qualification and the various other qualifications out there in the market.

To get that on your CV is something definitely you should try and do because the raw facts are that the industry today, although it's in dire need of personnel, there needs to be a way in which a person can distinguish himself simply because in light of the credit crisis, recruitment isn't at the peak that it once was and may not be for the foreseeable future so for most people coming into the Islamic finance industry it is better that if they want to come into the industry as a key they should actually show their interest and get that word 'Islamic finance' on their CV.

Aside from just getting it on the CV, I mean obviously the idea being that the fact that their interest should mean that they've actually studied or taken some interest by attending some conferences, contributing to publications, reading magazines, and so on. With regards to the GCC specifically the institutions that exist that usually practice Islamic finance can be usually counted literally on the fingers of your hand and what would be a good idea would be to actually visit their websites, send your CVs across, take a trip down to research the actual industries and the banks and the institutions and try and see how best what you'd like to do would fit in within the ethos of that institution and usually they're fairly open in terms of people being able to come and submit their CVs and so on. I think the GCC especially the UAE, despite the credit crisis there is still a recruitment drive taking place.

Atif: We've put this question at the beginning because its general enough to inform many other questions and questioners and that is, how to break in. Many of us who started off in the industry, I started my banking career about 20 years ago on Wall Street in Morgan Stanley, now as a conventional investment banker trying to get into Islamic finance and these were early days, back in about 2001 and back then, the only way was to basically muscle your way into a bank or in front of a scholar and a lot of the work that we did initially was unpaid, so an unpaid internship. We actually executed transactions as interns to start off with even though we were ourselves experienced bankers and then from there you transition into paid work. Though there's a number of ways to do it.

Yusuf: I definitely would follow that up, my own background, maybe this is of benefit to the listeners, like Atif in the sense that I didn't actually come from a finance background, I came from a business consultancy background and when I initially decided to look into the option of Islamic finance, the options that were open to me involved a significant pay cut and involved me to actually in effect doing an internship. But what I found was then very shortly, within a span of 2 years, simply having that experience on your CV is a huge difference in this emerging market.

Whereas Islamic finance expands to the degree that we've outlined, close to 20%, and new markets are emerging. The demand for experience is so huge that even if you've got a year to two years of experience on your CV, and that may involve a degree of sacrifice, or it may involve not potentially earning or taking a benefit, that you probably would have, had you not gone down that route but then you'll find that simply having that experience becomes a key differentiator when it comes to going in and it's very easy to then go onto more senior positions within the industry.

Atif: Okay excellent. We have a question here from Adeeba in the UK.

Attendee (Adeeba): I'm a journalist with 12 years experience, I recently signed up for a distance learning Islamic banking course in London and now I'm seriously thinking of a career change. I'm totally new to the subject area, number one, do I stand a chance of being employed by an Islamic financial institution? Number 2, would you advise me to do an MA or an MSc in Islamic banking after finishing my distance learning course and number 3, how can I capitalize on my Central Asian background and knowledge?

Atif: So a lot of what we've already said applies to the first question and the answer is certainly 'yes'. What we've found, we have over 1200 students at Ethica™ and this broad cross section of practitioners and students, people shouldn't try and make a complete 100% U-turn. So if you're a journalist, there may actually be a niche for you as a journalist with a Central Asian background who has knowledge of Islamic finance.

I mean how many people can call themselves experienced journalists in that part of the world which is becoming increasingly important given its hydrocarbon advantage and have practical Islamic financial product knowledge. I would say very, very few. So if you want to distinguish yourself, ultimately you will be compared against your peers, so that I think is a real big advantage that you should leverage from your experience as a journalist.

Yusuf: I just want to follow up and once again echo the same things as Atif in the sense that prior to this question we've been speaking more of Islamic finance from a banking perspective or financial institution perspective but just as in conventional finance, you've got a whole set of attached career options, amongst them is financial journalism, this is something that is emerging as well because as Islamic finance is growing there are road shows taking place, there are publications involved, there are magazines there are bodies that distribute newsletters and I myself have just come from a road show in India literally a few days ago and huge demand there and I think this will only increase and anyone who's got a prior experience in journalism would more than likely be able to find opportunities. I mean Malaysia's an excellent place for this.

A couple of individuals, I'm not going to mention the organization, but a couple of individuals who formerly worked for Euromoney publications and they went and set up their own company which is very significant within the Islamic finance news domain so likewise there are plenty of opportunities out there without necessitating for someone to literally make a career change from journalism into banking. Now having said that if that's something that interests you then falling onto your second questions, there are advantages to formerly doing an Islamic banking course, I don't know if Atif has anything to say about this.

Atif: Well our experience has been that generally recruiters and banks want people with practical knowledge of Islamic finance particularly the products and while Masters and MSc might be useful if you're younger, if you have 12 years of experience, you're probably not 20 so I think at the stage you're at, what banks are looking for is people with practical knowledge and for that unfortunately the Masters route is sometimes frustrating for people because they're learning theory from a lot of people, professors basically, who don't execute Islamic finance transactions for a living. So if you can find such a program where you get practical knowledge that's great, but this has just been our experience.

Yusuf: I second that. I think that there are quite a few programs emerging now maybe seeing from the UK there are quite a few degrees coming now there's always been Durham, now the University of Reading's offering an MSc in Islamic banking and investment banking which involves some time spent in Malaysia at INCEIF but obviously working in the industry I myself didn't take a masters route or a formal academic route and I have found that when liaising with individuals who may have taken an academic route, and also being involved to some degree with them within the bank's internal recruitment when it comes to people coming on board that what Atif said is correct that the emphasis is on practical experience and even if someone has done a masters or an MSC.

There often needs to be some sort of demonstration whereby they can demonstrate they have practical experience, which is something I think most of these Islamic banking courses are recognizing which is why often for example I mentioned INCEIF in Malaysia, it's an institute that involves students as part of their MSc being placed in Islamic banks. Because for much of the time previous, what's been found is that a lot of discussions are taking place at the board or theoretical level which needs to be done because there still needs to be direction defined for Islamic finance but at the same what's happening on the ground seems to be travelling a bit too fast for what's happening at the universities and so there needs to be a coupling between academic knowledge and practical experience and if you can't find a program like that there are programs that exist which offer practical experience and outside knowledge.

Atif: Okay Farzana from Melbourne.

Attendee (Farzana): How are the educational programs in Islamic finance different from one country to another there are a variety of programs from Malaysia and the UAE, which certificates or educational background is needed to get into the Islamic finance industry?

Atif: As I mentioned earlier, AAOIFI is the leading standard setting body these are standards followed by scholars from Malaysia all the way to the US and in between so the impetus should be to follow these standards not just at the banking level but also at a training level and one thing that you can do as a prospective student is to ensure that your certificate or educational pursuit conforms to AAOIFI's latest Shariah standards, so whether it's in Malaysia or the UAE, what really matter is not the location but the standard being followed.

Atif: Next question is Hammad from Karachi

Attendee (Hammad): What do I need to know to work in the investment banking arm of an Islamic bank?

Atif: Yusuf's bank actually has such an arm and since he's actually in the investment banking department who better to answer this than Yusuf.

Yusuf: I'm not formally in the investment banking department but I do liaise with them. I think if you've got investment banking experience prior to coming to an Islamic bank then obviously that would help. Investment banking just as a point of information is a form of banking that is quite consistent with Islamic banking anyway and for example people who may have worked as analysts at investment banks and may have been involved in general investment banking transactions often have directly transferable skills to an Islamic banking context. Apart from certain conditions that need to be stipulated that they will need to follow with regards to the Shariah when it comes to buying and selling equity, when it comes to taking stakes in companies.

Atif: Matthew from Boston.

Attendee (Matthew): Which countries present the best Islamic banking employment prospects for a westerner? I'm willing to relocate anywhere opportunities may be presented.

Atif: Matthew that's an excellent approach whether you're a westerner or not, ultimately the best opportunities for employment are usually where the best opportunities for experience exist and that's where the most transactional volume takes place so for that the number one location is the Gulf. I mean you can say Malaysia but we are quite vocal about the Malaysian experience which has been that there are a couple of transactions namely the buy-back transaction and the resale of debt instrument that is really actually something separate from AAOIFI and other standards used around the world.

So Malaysia is actually not the best place to get your initial experience. Although we've been there a few times, they are trying to change that aspect of their industry but it does remain something insulated standards-wise from the rest of the world. They have high transactional volume but in terms of experience we recommend places where global standards are advocated which would be the Gulf and obviously the UK and, coming along quickly, Europe as well.

Having said that, since you're in North America there are growing number of local and community based opportunities in the US, I was sitting next to Stephen Ranzini at the G20 Islamic finance summit and he is working on an excellent Islamic financial product out of the mid-west so there's a number of local opportunities within the US as well. So that doesn't necessarily mean you have to relocate outside of the US for instance. So you can look locally, sometimes the grass is greener but sometimes it actually is greener so I would say in terms of volume, the Gulf, in terms of experience the Gulf or the UK but certainly there is a lot of stuff happening in various other parts of the world. Kabira from Luxembourg.

Attendee (Kabira): What are the options for a compliance officer, I'm studying for the ICMA diploma in Islamic finance in the University of Reading in the UK is that a recognized diploma in the Middle East?

Atif: Certainly you know Kabira we cannot comment on whether something is recognized or not. Ultimately it all boils down to what standards are being advocated so we can't speak specifically about Reading but obviously it's a renowned university and I'm sure that they have high quality education. In terms of what standards are being used, that's something you'll have to research yourself and given that you are from Luxembourg or at least based there, there is a lot of stuff happening with the Luxembourg government.

They were recently here in Dubai advocating Luxembourg as a major Islamic finance hub in Europe, so insha'Allah there are opportunities there whether for a compliance officer or otherwise. So wherever there is Islamic finance there will be a need for compliance officers, in terms of the recognition of the diploma you'll have to research the standards that they're teaching there for yourselves. Obviously we can't comment. Moving on Masroor in Bahrain.

Attendee (Masroor): I'm an Arts graduate and a certificate holder from the Chartered Insurance Institute in the UK, I'm working in Bahrain with a retail bank selling asset based products, how can I join the Islamic banking industry?

Yusuf: Well Masroor, you're in the right place because Bahrain's obviously quite a significant market player when it comes to Islamic finance, being the place where AAOIFI is based and being a place where several Islamic banks exist so the best course of action would be to attend conferences, to forward your CV either electronically or in person with institutions and just generally networking, I mean the fact that you've got qualifications, the fact that you're already based within the region are both advantageous.

Atif: Abdul Basit asks.

Attendee (Abdul Basit): I have done my MBA in Banking and Finance with a specialization in International Banking, where do I fit in, in the Islamic banking industry?

Yusuf: Once again, I think as we said previously, the fact that if you've got qualifications in banking or you've got experience in banking in general, this is something to your advantage but it would be important to try and supplement that with specific Islamic banking experience or something relevant and that may involve doing an Islamic banking course either an academic course or a short professional course online or otherwise.

Atif: And I think specifically in terms of getting experience, what we're referring to when we say experience, we're not saying general experience but specific product knowledge. Now whether you get that product knowledge through an internship at a bank or through an Islamic finance certificate course, you can get that knowledge. Because when you walk into that interview, you have to definitely know the difference between the various products. And if you have that you're obviously going to have a huge advantage over other people applying for the same Islamic finance job.

Yusuf: Definitely, I recall my own interview, I was specifically asked about products and product specific knowledge is something at a premium within the Islamic finance industry.

Atif: Hamidul in Canada asks.

Attendee (Hamidul): I had 12 years of banking experience when I moved to Canada, these days I work as a conventional accountant and I'm pursuing Ethica's CIFE™, hoping that I'll be able to quit my current job and join Islamic banking. What does Ethica Institute™ do to help those who finish the CIFE™ training and certification?

Atif: Hamidul thanks for your question. We will get to that momentarily but I'll just tell you two things that we do. At Ethica™ once you graduate from our training program, which lasts approximately 4 months, and is conducted 100% online, you are given the privilege of a 1-on-1 career counseling session, whether conducted at our offices here in Dubai or online or over the phone.

So that's Ethica's 1-on-1 career counseling™. And then the second thing that we do is what we call Ethica's Recruiter's Database™ in which we actually fast forward your CV to various bankers and recruiters globally. So that's how we try to help our students and Alhamdulillah we're happy to say that people have come as employed practitioners and have gone on to get their Islamic banking jobs after the CIFE™ graduation. So Alhamdulillah despite the bad market there seems to be some hope. Tauseef in Dubai

Attendee (Tauseef): I have 9 years experience in the trade finance division of a conventional bank, what should I do to join an Islamic bank?

Yusuf: Well I think once again, consistent with the other questions is that you have to get product knowledge. The function of a Trade Finance department would be very consistent with an Islamic bank's Trade Finance department with additional, again caveat being certain conditions are followed with regards to the Shariah in terms of the nature of the LCs and various other things that are usually audited by the Shariah department.

Atif: what we're going to do is we are going to wrap up with a little bit about Ethica™ and then we are going to go to our live Q and A. We'll just go to live Q and A after we tell you a little about the Ethica™ program. We have more training than anyone and that grows on a weekly basis, this is not actually the entire list of training and certification modules but down the left side of the columns you see the modules you need to complete in order to get your CIFE™, the Certified Islamic Finance Executive. And that's the certificate which is actually framed and couriered to you.

So an opportunity to hang that up in your office or study. And like we mentioned our relationship goes beyond certification, its standardized, approved by leading scholars and we are to our knowledge the only institute in the world that bases its content on AAOIFI, the Accounting and Auditing Organization for Islamic Financial Institutions. And our Ethica Recruiter Database™ fast tracks your CV to various banks and our 1-on-1 career counseling sits you with the subject matter expert to try to find you the best direction and answer your questions in terms of career growth.

More people choose Ethica's CIFE™ than any other Islamic finance certificate, alhamdulillah, so we are number one in customer rankings, we have a 100% user satisfaction rate, everyone's come away satisfied and if you're not satisfied you have a 30 day guarantee.

What we are going to do at the very end after our live session is give all of you a downloadable version of our video 'Why Islamic finance?' and 3 lucky attendees, we'll show you how at the very, very end how to get the 1-on1 career counseling and also how to get the special offer for CIFE's™ training and certification.

So now we'll go to live questions, we've got 30 minutes left, in this time we're going to answer your questions live and we will begin with this question:

Anees asks

Attendee (Anees): I have very good experience in fixed income products and a good knowledge of Islamic finance, how can I join an Islamic finance institution, my aim is to work on the structuring of Islamic finance products.

Atif: I think Yusuf you would be a good person to answer that.

Yusuf: I think much of what we've answered already probably would answer the bulk of the questions posed by the listener here, this once again is something that is consistent with the previous questions. The point being that the person who has asked the question has some experience in what would be conventional banking, he's got probably got theoretical experience of Islamic banking and wants to make the transition and the way to do that we've mentioned would probably involve supplementing your experience with either a qualification of some sort, putting the word Islamic finance on your CV and applying to the banks and trying to take that first break and maybe that first break may involve a sacrifice of some sort or it may not involve a sacrifice of some sort but as part of a transition, the experience that you've had even though fixed income specifically in the way it's done is probably not consistent with Islamic banking, there are products in Islamic banking that economically are similar in the way they're done provided they follow some aspects of the Shariah and so it wouldn't necessarily be something that would be of detriment.

Atif: Hamidul Hanan has a question for Atif.

Attendee (Hamidul Hanan): I've gone through some research about Islamic banking and finance, what I've seen that it is very slowly growing while I heard that it's very hard for Islamic banks to enter into the banking field in Canada. You have already told that Canada is thinking about that. What is your comment, I'm thinking about Islamic banking in Canada?

Atif: Basically what's happened is that Canada has shifted its interest in Islamic finance into high gear with a number of conferences as well as interest from banks and regulators. And what that means for people who are professionals or students, it means obviously opportunities. Now these opportunities have also been followed by the academic institutions. Centennial, Ryerson, Rotman, University of Toronto, McGill, a number of universities have either expressed their interest in launching an Islamic finance course or have already launched an Islamic finance course.

It doesn't mention in your question whether you have experience in banking but I'll assume that you have no experience in Islamic finance and perhaps no experience in banking in general but if you do have experience, obviously that's great. What I would do is that in Canada specifically approach the Big 5 banks because in varying degrees all of them behind the scenes are doing something right now in Islamic finance and they're going to need people so you're going to have to go to them.

Obviously they're not going to be public about many of their products because for instance they want to have first mover advantage in a particular product so in that respect you're going to have to do a bit of mining and searching around, asking around and networking through that. What I can do is I can give you my email address and of course everyone else has access to this email and you're welcome to contact me directly, bit I'll give you my email address and I will be able to forward you specific names of individuals in Canada in relation to your background. So hopefully that can be helpful. So my email address is atif at ethicainstitue.com. You can always go to www.EthicaInstitute.com and send an email to the contact email and that'll also get to me, so hopefully that will answer your question.

Momin asks

Attendee (Momin): I hold a diploma in Islamic Banking and Insurance form IIBI along with a Masters in Management Studies in Finance and have been working in a conventional private bank but have had problems getting into the Islamic finance industry. How should I go about it, would a PhD in Islamic finance help?

Atif: I think what you have already in terms of academic background is fairly strong. In terms of getting certification obviously something practical would also help. I think a PhD is not necessarily that much at this stage because that means three to four years of your life while the ultimate result may or may not be helpful. Whereas I think if you get actual practical experience right away given your conventional banking experience it's obviously more useful, so something more practical is obviously better than something academic.

Yusuf: I'd second that, I mean just purely at the level of my own bank, if I look across most of the individuals working in senior management positions I liaise with, I don't think anyone has a PhD. And the sole exception of someone coming in as a PhD, I think he was recruited more on the basis of his previous experience than the fact that he had a PhD. A PhD is a pointer to someone being more research oriented perhaps going in to the field of academia more and I suppose if you're looking to enter the industry, then I don't think a PhD would be necessary and definitely in terms of what you've written with regards to the experience you've already had, you've got the essential tools to make the transition. It would just be a case of banging on the door.

Attendee (Angelica): Assalamu alaykum to both speakers and participants, I'm a lawyer with a post-graduate degree in law, seven years PQE, four years UAE experience based in Dubai. As a lawyer I face a large amount of cases that relate to Islamic banking and Shariah-compliant investments, I am very interested in expanding my brief knowledge of Islamic banking by obtaining Ethica's™ certificate. The subject is of very much interest to me to the point that I am considering a career switch. Would this certificate be beneficial / sufficient to me as a lawyer pursuing a career in the Islamic banking industry in the region? Are there any training opportunities with any reputable local institutions in order to gain a high standard of practical knowledge and experience? What sort of employment opportunities would be available for me?

Atif: Good news is we have several lawyers currently working on their CIFE™ certification at Ethica™ and in fact our subject matter experts, some of them are actual practicing lawyers, award winning lawyers in fact in Islamic finance for instance Imran Mufti from Lovells with whom we work extensively. With whom we're also in the process of putting together one of the most advanced CIFEs™ in the industry, the Advanced CIFE™ in Law.

So it is an important area and it is specific to lawyers and it's important that lawyers have Islamic finance product knowledge. Ultimately what does an Islamic finance lawyer do? He helps document, execute and review Islamic finance transactions and to a large part that involves a lot of product knowledge. So not just duping and revising contracts but you're also trying to get your hands around structuring and executing these transactions, this requires in depth Islamic finance knowledge, product knowledge. So to answer your question in terms of 'would the certificate be beneficial,' obviously our certificate is designed for people who are from broad backgrounds, not just lawyers, but I think what you should do is get a basic general certificate first and then move onto an advanced certificate in Law.

Yusuf: I just wanted to comment, as Atif highlighted a lot of what I do is actually, or what Angelica probably does is what overlaps with what I do and vice versa, in the sense that I often have to review documentation and a lot of the time I'm involved in structuring and liaising with leading law firms and it's a consistent theme, as you are probably aware if you are based in the region, from what I gather you've worked on Islamic finance transactions, it's a key field and you find almost all the major firms have an Islamic banking unit or they have experts in Islamic banking and it's something that is a key differentiator when it comes to counsels.

I didn't quite gather what you meant by career switch whether that would entail you leaving your law firm, leaving law and perhaps switching more formerly to the field so you'd enter for example as internal counsel within banks, if that's what you mean then I think your experience would actually be a huge plus because many Islamic banks are looking for experienced, highly qualified lawyers and if you're keen on making the switch Atif is a point of contact, you can contact him and I'm sure, he knows myself, he knows other individuals who he can forward your CV to.

But in regards to qualification I think it's a definite advantage, the brief amount that I've seen Ethica™, I'm not affiliated to them in anyway so I'm not plugging them but in that they are very solid when it comes to practical experience and I do believe as part of their ongoing modules they're looking to cover documentation which is something that is very rare, I mean it's something that's not there in the industry, specific documentation, how to go about drafting, how to go about reviewing specific Shariah issues that arise when it comes to documentation and I think if something like that was to be there that would be a huge advantage but there's nothing that needs experience and if you've already got experience and you're looking to make the transition than that would be a huge plus.

Atif: One thing I could also point you guys to is that you can get free contracts to download, just go to www.EthicaInstitute.com , click on the training videos page, it's on the header of the homepage. If you see the training videos, you'll actually see at the very bottom standardized contracts for all the major products. Those are free of charge so you guys all have access to that and lawyers and bankers alike will benefit tremendously.

Attendee (Yusuf): What is the role of IT professionals in Islamic banks, I have 3 years of experience in the IT industry, should I first start from the IT perspective while gaining experience in Islamic finance and then switch to the finance side or should I first start from the IT perspective in an Islamic bank while gaining experience in Islamic finance and then switch to the finance side?

Atif: My advice is always to do what you really want to do. So if you really like the IT side then pursue that. If you really like the finance side then pursue that. If your background is 3 years experience in the IT industry, the execution of an Islamic finance transaction is necessarily different from a conventional transaction and in the absence of training and well trained individuals you need to create systems that are in place that will dummy proof the execution. So that for instance somebody doesn't present an invoice and then say I'd like to do a Murabaha. So that's problematic obviously for those of you who know how Murabahas are supposed to be conducted. Now whats your role in that? Obviously if you have an IT experience combined with product knowledge in Islamic finance you're golden, so I would say once you have those things and then you go into an Islamic financial institution fully employed then you can obviously select what interests you.

Yusuf: Just to touch upon that question perhaps just in terms of my understanding, I'm not entirely clear what Yusuf means when he says he's in the IT industry and he's looking to shift to the finance side, does that mean that he wants to shift to Islamic finance while continuing to work in IT or is that just a complete shift either just as a point of information for Yusuf we share the same name and we also share potentially the same career paths because I was initially a technology consultant and now I'm working in the Shariah division so things can happen and it's about what Atif said, about pursuing what you want to do so if you really feel you want this, a specific aspect of Islamic finance that you want to do, then you take the means to do it which would involve getting experience, practical experience, getting a qualification, studying and so on, mind you having said, as part of my role as Shariah auditor, I'm often reviewing IT systems because this is an expanding thing, Atif touched on Murabaha, many of the Murabaha transactions and transactions in general involve specific sequencing and systems need to be able to effect this.

There's specific terminology, specific fields that dictate whether a transaction's Shariah-compliant or not and there's much software being developed now that would probably involve IT professionals who have a degree of experience when it comes to Islamic finance so there are plenty of opportunities in the IT field whereby you could enter into Islamic finance.

Atif: Question from Tushaar, a very interesting one

Attendee (Tushaar): Shouldn't lack of experience in conventional banking be a positive sign as then one could structure true Shariah compliant products which are not replicas of conventional banking products. Dos this statement hold true in reality for the Islamic finance industry?

Atif: First obviously conventional banking experience is not necessarily an impediment to being able to structure truly Shariah-compliant products but having said that what you're getting at, I understand which is that innocence of conventional banking is something useful, ignorance is sometimes bliss and not having this background of interest based pricing, a good sign for instance one can look at equity based products in a fresh light than something that's coloured with riba.

And I would say, I think that it's certainly a positive sign we've seen examples in places like Pakistan where a lot of young bankers come straight out of post-graduate diplomas in Islamic finance and go straight into Islamic finance and they don't have the intellectual baggage that for instance a 60 year old CEO, you know, we've been training people in their 50s and 60s who are upper management who simply don't understand how money can be made in Islamic finance whereas people who are in their 20s, who are fresh in the industry and they are completely positive.

So that's obviously a good thing, wouldn't say whether it's a question of whether one could structure them but whether it's an attitude thing and coming from an investment banking background, I'm very comfortable with equity based products and I in fact find them to be much more profitable, much more resilient and much more robust in the absence of a debt based environment and I think that could obviously be a big plus sign. What do you think Yusuf?

Yusuf: I thank Tushar for actually raising this question, it's a valid question perhaps before we go answering other questions this question is probably important to address and I would say there are various facets to this question, but Islamic finance is in essence paradigm shift, it's a completely different way of seeing banking, it's a completely different way of seeing the function of money.

The first part of the question is would there be an advantage for someone to not having necessarily gone into conventional finance and the answer is "yes" provided they are grounded in what Islamic banking is but the reality which is perhaps the second part of the question that Tushaar raised is that we don't have enough out there in terms of people understanding how Islamic banking operates, how its intended to operate and the way Islamic banking has developed as opposed to its original theory is in effect operating very much in a conventional banking paradigm but ensuring that the models being practiced are in conformity with the Shariah and in light of just the reality of the situation conventional banking experience often is of benefit to people entering the industry.

Having said that, I myself didn't have any conventional banking experience and I don't think it's necessary for someone who wants to enter the industry to necessarily undergo conventional banking experience. There are many ways they can enter Islamic banking afresh. What's important is that people who make the transition based on, I would hope so, there are economic drivers that determine peoples' decisions but if they actually believe in the paradigm in Islamic banking, how it is different, why it is different, then they make the decision to leave conventional banking based on and actual belief in Islamic banking, that would be of importance.

Atif: Omar

Attendee (Omar): I'm a legal practitioner with some years of experience and at present I'm in the final stage of my PhD program in Dispute Resolution with a background in Shariah. I presented a number of papers on Dispute Resolution in the Islamic finance industry, in some conferences, what are the job prospects for someone like me in the Islamic finance industry?

Atif: Yusuf, I think you'd be a good person to answer that.

Yusuf: Well Dispute Resolution is a huge, huge topic in Islamic finance simply because of the nature of contract law and the nature of transactions, that most major transactions are usually referenced to English law for example and the Shariah implications of that in the sense that the contract itself while being intended to be governed by the rules of Shariah is ultimately going to be governed by the rules of a country that may not necessarily have the Shariah in the forefront, so this is a huge topic and has various dimensions and a huge discussion point obviously we don't have the scope for to cover here but the fact that you have contributed, the conferences that you mention, the IDB, Islamic Development Bank... these are huge, huge bodies and you've contributed to them shows that you've already got a fair foot in the industry and being a legal practitioner I would expect that there'd be huge job prospects for someone like yourself.

The fact that you've a got a practitioners background as well as someone who's contributed academically shows you've got an interest and you've obviously presented papers in conferences I would definitely expect you to have a huge background and once again I would say that's it's always good to supplement this with product knowledge and I would say just by what you've written here, feel free to forward you CV to Atif and Atif can obviously liaise with people like myself and obviously other people who would be quite keen to have someone like you on board.

Atif: By the way, I have to mention that we get so many CVs that we have to have a filtering mechanism so what we do is we give preference to our own graduates so Ethica's CIFE™, so obviously people who have gone through our rigorous certification are people we can obviously recommend which we do on a regular basis, so I should point that out.

So moving onto the next question

Attendee (Sene): If you want to get started in Islamic finance what do you suggest in terms of training and then is there any prior experience one must have before job hunting and then I'm more interested in risk management so is this sector developed, is there any career option in this particular sector for an experienced conventional banker? What do you mean by that? How many years?

Atif: So a number of questions, several we've already answered which is in terms of training we recommend any training that imparts practical knowledge. Unfortunately as we often quip there's a lot of theory and coffee but not a lot of subject matter expertise so that's the number one thing, to actually know the products, so knowing beyond the terminology but actually the execution, how things are structured, how things interact and obviously how things get transacted so that's number one.

In terms of prior experience again I go back to our first question which is if you have demonstrated experience however that is demonstrated, it is good. The highest quality demonstration is within an Islamic financial institution. So that is the number one thing that you can do, get inside, whether it is paid or unpaid, obviously unpaid is less desirable but in this market whatever little experience you can get generally translates into a full time experience because people sit up and notice, we've seen this again and again we actually helped out one individual who worked at a law firm unpaid for 3 months and now he's working at a law firm paid full time. So a little bit of sacrifice can get a lot of results.

In terms of risk management, there's a lot of Islamic finance specific risk management because as you know that there is the whole aspect of asset based transactions and the risk profile of an asset based transaction is completely different form one which is assetless. We have a whole module on risk management that describes at least half a dozen additional risk management elements that are there that are not in conventional banking.

In terms of 'experienced conventional banker', like Yusuf said, even if you have one or two years of Islamic finance experience that's great but in terms of an experienced conventional baker, most banks will take somebody who has limited banking experience but specific Islamic finance even if it is limited over somebody who has pure conventional banking experience so just a little bit of Islamic finance background, goes a very, very long way.

Yusuf: Yeah, there's a huge, huge difference even if, as Atif said, you've got a short amount of Islamic banking experience, it would override conventional banking experience. You've asked about risk management in general and you've asked about whether the sector's developed and the answer is 'No' in the Islamic banking context it's not developed which may be to your advantage because if you've got previous experience in risk management you'd find the way that things function are very much the same, but does that mean it's going to stay that way, 'No' because obviously risk management in the Islamic perspective as Atif touched upon is very different which would be probably good for someone like yourself, you could probably come in this industry if you supplement your previous background with product specific knowledge and training and to understand the differences in the products then you'd have something new to bring to the table. And there isn't actually much information out there when it comes to actual risk management with an Islamic perspective but I am aware Ethica™ have specific modules that address this so this would be good to chase up.

Atif: Okay. We're going to go to our last question now.

Attendee: When will you tell us who the lucky people are?

Atif: I will explain that to you right now, before I do that I would like to invite all of you to our free 7 day course, all you have to do is go to www.EthicaInstitute.com and right there on the yellow box on the homepage is our 7 day free Islamic banking course. This free course gives you a free sample of our training modules, you get article downloads.

You also get to watch the 'Why Islamic finance?' video which has been very popular. So you learn the basics but you also learn a lot about specific products. We've chosen Ijarah, the Islamic lease as our product highlighted in this 7 day free course because renting is something familiar to all of us and to understand how it works we have an introductory module on Ijarah as well as a more advanced module on how to calculate an Ijarah and how to structure it. So insha'Allah that's free at EthicaInstitue.com.

So here we go, all attendees will get our downloadable version of our video 'Why Islamic finance?' 3 lucky attendees will get 1-on-1 career counseling with an Islamic finance expert and this is how to do it, the first 3 people who send us an email with the subject line 'Career Counseling', (we accept spelling mistakes) should be sent to info at ethicainstitute.com. First people to send it, you can send it right now, and the first 3 people will get a free 1-on-1 career counseling which is normally the reserve only of our Ethica's CIFE™ graduates.

We also have 10 lucky attendees who will get a special offer on our CIFE™ training and certification program, which is a discount and all you have to do is send an email to info at ethicainstitute.com and in the subject line just right 'I'm interested in the special discounted price' so there you go, thank you every one for your time and insha'Allah we'll have our next webinar in about a month's time. In the mean time you can contact us in Dubai at +9714 455 8690.

Our next webinar insha'Allah will be more technical and more product focused. Perhaps we will invite Yusuf back and it was really a pleasure to have you, we have to give a special thanks to Yusuf as he literally arrived from the airport straight to our offices here, so thank you Yusuf for giving us your time.

Yusuf: It was a pleasure being here and I do hope to take part again if you'll have me.

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