There are two lasting bequests we can give our children. One is roots. The other is wings. — Hodding Carter
LET’S take a break from sukuk structuring and stock screening, and talk about the children of parents in Islamic finance. They may well be the industry’s future. I suspect many of us in Islamic finance do not come from Islamic banking parents or banking family dynasties.
We come from parents that were traditional bankers, engineers, physicians, scientists, journalists, merchants, civil servants, politicians, regulators, academics, and so on. And growing up, Islamic finance was probably not on our radar screen as a career.
The question becomes, how do we tell and sell “little Shariq, Sana, Bill, Hillary, Hrithik or Khajul” that a career in Islamic finance is as interesting as an astronaut, doctor, actor, teacher, football player, policeman or president?
Today, the questions raised by students at university lectures imply Islamic finance does not capture the attention or imagination of many young people. It does not seem to pass their personal “gut” test of authenticity, let alone have impact investing/funding purposes for those who need it most, the “bottom of the pyramid”.
To elaborate, at what age do we inform them about Islamic finance and, more importantly, will they understand? It seems such a dilemma exists in “adult” Islamic finance with Muslim financial illiteracy very high, as the industry is always talking about education.
Maybe the content message on Islamic finance education needs to be done professionally and with a single information by an industry body. One universal message by one voice! The story could start with how you, the parent, got into Islamic finance.
How did you hear about Islamic finance? Did you read about it in the Quran and Hadith on prohibition against interest? Was it recommended by a colleague/friend/mentor? Were you a customer of Islamic finance? Was it by design, job opportunity, luck, etc?
Bottom-line, how did you connect to Islamic finance and we all have our stories. Then expand why you stayed in this niche market with stories on product launches, opening offices, travel, meeting people and leaders from different cultures and countries, winning awards, media interviews, and the souvenirs purchased from the exotic places where Islamic finance exists.
The “adventure side” of Islamic finance has appeal to children, much like their class trips to the zoo, museum, sporting events, plays, etc. Then, finally, explain to “junior” how a career in Islamic finance will not only serve God, but also could bring about social justice, financial inclusion, distribute wealth, and address the general public good.
This will be “heavy”, and your child may “get 25 per cent of what you’re saying, as his/her attention span is in today’s “twitter and instant messaging” time frame. He/she will probably Google your name, and will mentally bookmark the results and revisit later (may be). All of us, in one way or another, want to leave a legacy behind for the “village” that raised us, and Islamic finance, being embryonic, better affords that opportunity, even today.
Put differently, conventional finance and capital markets are older, more developed and efficient vis-à-vis Islamic finance, hence, less opportunities to make a mark.
Today’s youth are more socially conscious and social media savvy, and will look at Islamic financial institutions that are most admired. As the best place to go to after college/university, or may be drawn in by a charismatic executive.
Do we have such surveys, awards and executives? They want to be change agents, especially after witnessing the Arab Spring in real time, to the inequities they see, read and hear about. The question then becomes, how does a career in Islamic finance facilitate a “call to action?” Maybe it’s about providing SME financing to the likes of the Tunisian fruit seller, Mohammad Bouzazi, that sparked the “Spring”.
May be its seeing venture capital contribute to financing the next Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, etc, as part of building a knowledge-based society by the leaders/rulers. For some children, they will want to follow the footprint of their parents, because it’s interesting or easier (connections exist), while others will ask themselves, “how do I explain this on career day?’”
Thus, what’s the “pull factor” to Islamic finance? Is it becoming an Islamic investment banker and doing multi-billion dollar deals much like in Wall Street? Islamic hedge fund manager? Is it running a mega Islamic bank? Is it building and running a multi-billion dollar Islamic private equity or venture capital fund? Is it building an Islamic version of Grameen bank?
What about becoming a syariah scholar? Is it the “power” and influence they have? Is it the money they make by sitting on many boards, according to the Funds-at-Work study? What about second generation syariah scholars?
Only one comes to mind. Brother Imran Usmani, the son of the Justice (retired) Mohammad Taqi Usmani of Pakistan.
What about non-Muslims in Islamic finance and Islamic finance in non-Muslim countries, is the pull factor there for children of an Islamic banking parent? Islamic finance is inclusionary in nature, as there are many non-Muslims working in the industry, but would non-Muslim industry professionals encourage their children to pursue a job/career in the industry?
Query: Can an appropriately educated non-Muslim become a syariah scholar? In discussing the issue with non-Muslim colleagues, their motivations are a function of their entry and ensuing experience in the industry. If they were dealt with fairly, given opportunities to contribute in a meaningful way, develop and climb the corporate ladder on merit, appropriately compensated, etc., then they would suggest it as a viable option.
Whether the child pursues a job/career in Islamic finance is another matter. Now, what about Muslims in Islamic finance, like myself, residing in the largest democracies in the west, US, or the east, India, where the anti-syariah movement led by a vocal minority lingers and typically comes out during election cycles? Both of my children, Sami (15) and Sana (12), have been exposed to Islamic finance, including manning a booth at an Islamic finance conference, and the major attraction to them includes the 35 countries visited, photo-ops with leaders, awards received and media interviews.
In both cases, exposure to Islamic finance is both the least and most one can do for the child. (To be fair, unlike exposure and promotion of Islamic finance in places like Malaysia or the UAE, being a Muslim in the US or India, one seems to always be defending and defining Islam and its offerings in post-9/11 time period, while distancing oneself and damning those extremist bent on hijacking religion.)
Exiting Islamic Finance
Once people get into Islamic finance, they may job hop from one Islamic finance entity to another, usually based on compensation during the pre-crisis days, while others stay at one firm until a sense of accomplishment of the vision or retire. So, for Islamic finance career people, it’s all they know and it’s how they are generally type-cast/labelled.
Query: Do non-Muslims in Islamic finance encounter the same labeling issue? Is it easier for non-Muslims (than Muslims) to go (back) to conventional finance, or is this too broad a generalisation question? So, what kind of second career do Islamic finance people land? For example, Iqbal Khan, HSBC Amanah founder, is now founder/CEO of Fajr Capital; Hussein Al Qemzi, previous CEO of Sharjah Islamic Bank, is CEO of Noor Islamic Bank, and I went from being a global director at Dow Jones Islamic Index Group (10 years) to global head of Islamic finance & OIC Countries at Thomson Reuters.
The second career in Islamic finance is about a fire in the under-belly. It’s a continued commitment to possibly (1) Right some wrongs (2) Finish what you started (3) Make a difference (4) Pierce the Islamic “glass” ceiling or (5) Desire to go back to an unstructured environment to create value.
Today, the emphasis seems to be on offering Islamic finance courses at college/university or continuing education levels. It needs to be offered earlier, at the high school levels. Although not one of the five pillars of Islam, it should be offered it at Sunday/Islamic schools as it is as important as learning about consuming halal foods.
The more important point is to offer exposure to Islamic finance, as the young mind is overloaded to many secular distractions and opportunities.
Bank Negara Malaysia governor Tan Sri Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz may have gotten it right when she said: “Our new Financial Sector Blueprint ... We have also gone in a very major way into financial education and literacy to raise the level starting from the schools to factory workers and housewives on how to manage finances.”
One wonders if the motto, “No child left behind”, coming from education area, has application for an Islamic banking parent? As potentially second generation Islamic bankers, these children could start an Islamic banking family dynasty!
The writer is global head of Islamic finance for ThomsonReuters based in New York.