How to Find a Job in the Islamic Finance Industry: 5 Tips from Insiders
Islamic finance has a phenomenal identity. What is today a US$ 2.2 trillion industry had started off in 1970s as a humble effort to meet the banking needs of faith-conscious Muslims, primarily based on avoidance of interest and other non-halal transactions.
Even though there are 1,407 Islamic financial institutions globally, the industry is notorious for not providing many job opportunities to new graduates. The primary reason is that despite all the buzz it receives the sector is still really small compared to conventional finance and faces a massive challenge to scale up, given that less than 1% of the global financial assets worldwide are actually Sharia-compliant.
So how does one beat the odds and discover job opportunities in this promising sector? Insiders from Dubai, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and London share their perspectives.
1) What Educational Qualifications to complete?
Like conventional banks, Islamic banks seek to hire individuals who have professional qualifications and are specialist in their areas, whether in areas of investment management, IT governance, risk management or Sharia, among others.
Mr. Hamed Mashal, who is a Senior Investment Manager at Kuwait Finance House in Bahrain, said, “I advise students to continue pursuing professional education immediately after their bachelors/masters with international qualifications such as the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation, Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst (CAIA), Professional Risk Managers (PRM) or any other reputable qualification that adds value to their careers. This gives them a competitive advantage over other job applicants as it provides them with the technical skills and methodologies employers require. Pursuing an MBA also adds significant value to the job applicant’s competitive advantage and becomes more important as the applicant reaches 7-10 years of experience.”
Islamic Development Bank is a AAA-rated multilateral institution in Saudi Arabia. One of their Investment Officers said, “Most of the large Islamic Banks like IDB look for two things. Firstly, how reputable the applicants’ university is and if he holds qualifications like CFA and CTP. Secondly, they also value a candidate's work experience in large corporates, commercial banks and development institutions, even if it be just an internship.”
Completing short courses from IslamicMarkets Learning, ‘Islamic Finance Qualification’ (IFQ) or ‘CIMA Diploma in Islamic Finance’ can also depict to employers your passion and provide you the necessary foundational knowledge.
2) Work on your Communication Skills & Join Toastmasters
Success is many a times determined by your ability to influence and convince someone. That’s why communication skills are so paramount.
Dr. Hala Radwan, First Vice President at Al Baraka Banking Group, said, “The Islamic finance industry is in desperate need of individuals who are confident communicators and are able to demonstrate leadership qualities. While not everyone is born a confident speaker, organisations like Toastmasters & AISEC can train and teach industry aspirants this ever vital skill.”
3) Read to Lead
To be ahead, you need to know the pulse of the time. Mr. Tony Nambiar, the Human Resource Director at Arcapita, a leading Islamic investment bank in Bahrain, said “I advise aspiring candidates to keeping reading articles about the industry on websites like Zawya, Salaam Gateway and CPI Financial, in addition to international media outlets like Bloomberg, the Economist and Harvard Business Review. This will keep you up-to-date about the latest trends in the industry, inform you about the major players in the market and will be helpful in acing your interviews.”
Being aware about current developments will especially help you excel in the next step.
4) Network, Network, Network!
During my job search, I had applied via emails to multiple companies in Islamic finance with no results. My lucky break came when I attended a seminar on Islamic finance and asked the speaker later if there are any opportunities at his firm. Eureka! I got the offer in 2 weeks. Nothing bears results like the good old face-to-face meet in seminar and conferences.
“Never feel shy or too proud to reach out to people asking for opportunities. From a thousand doors, at least one door would opens. Just like how a product needs to be marketed if it wants a consumer, so do seekers of opportunities.” said Mufti Faraz Adam, who is a Sharia Scholar and advisor to financial institutions across Singapore, Dubai, Malaysia, Bahrain and UK.
Prime events to network that should be in your radar include ‘World Islamic Banking Conference’ in Bahrain, ‘Global Islamic Economy Summit’ in Dubai, ‘Global Islamic Finance Forum’ in Malaysia and ‘UK Islamic Finance Week’ in London.
Key tip: “When reaching out to others, do not begin like any other employee ‘I am looking for a job’. That is an instant put-off. Such an opening statement shows self-concern and personal motives. You need to instantly demonstrate how you will add value to them; not how they will add value to you.” recommends Mufti Faraz Adam.
5) Focus Job Search on Big Brands but Don’t Miss the Small Ones
Big brand names can look great on your CV but they can be tough to penetrate. As an alternative solution, Dr. Aqsa Aziz, Senior Lecturer in Finance at Coventry University, UK suggested, “Be realistic and don’t expect to work for a high profile well-established company straight away. If early on, an opportunity comes to work at a small institution (even on a voluntary basis), go ahead and accept it. You would gain valuable experience before progressing to better roles/institutions.”
Fortunately, the industry’s eco-system has a rich tapestry of players like Sharia-auditing firms, Fintech bodies, Islamic finance training providers, wealth advisory firms, law firms, among others, and they could be an excellent venue to kick start your career on the Islamic side.
Deutsche Bank’s former Global Head of Islamic finance, Mr. Nizar Alshubaily, suggested, “Apply to a lot of jobs, even if they’re not ideal just so you can get your foot in the door. Once you are in, then many doors will open up in time.”
Aspirants should definitely consider applying to ICD’s MIRAS program, a strategic Islamic Finance industry Talent Development Program associated with Islamic Development Bank in Saudi Arabia. The initiative aims to attract promising individuals from all around the world and train them to support the growth of the Islamic Finance industry.
There is a good news: while job search can be challenging, the sector is growing with assets expected to expand from US$ 2.2 trillion in 2016 to a whooping US$ 3.8 trillion by 2022 according to Reuters. This growth will hopefully be translated into new job opportunities for aspiring individuals.
Whether one is successful in tapping this growth or not may eventually boil down to pure luck, but my story of finding a place on the inside reflects a powerful quote by Paulo Coelho, “And when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”