Working in Islamic finance

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With an estimated worth of $2 trillion, Islamic finance is an emerging market that requires an international approach, numeracy and good communication skills. Islamic finance refers specifically to the $2 trillion market of sharia compliant products, which range from those provided by investment banks to Islamic retail operations. In the Islamic world’s banking and investment industry, financial instruments are produced with the guidance of a sharia board, whose job is to ensure that products are compatible with sharia law. As such, the constraints on financial practices are established by Islamic law. Consumer demand means that there are various products and services available to investors who wish to be sharia compliant. The Islamic market is hugely complex and guided by a variety of different interests.

Due to the prohibition on the payment of riba (interest), investments must be structured differently from conventional financial products. Sharia compliant products must not only be halal (ie not invested in prohibited assets such as arms, tobacco or alcohol) but have a responsibility to invest in products that are beneficial to society. In this way, Islamic financial products are similar to SRIs (socially responsible investments).

Available roles

Islamic finance roles are found within all functions of banking and investment companies, from asset management to private banking. You could find employment with an international bank that offers sharia-compliant services to clients in specific locations, or with an Islamic company that markets its products in a variety of financial centres.

Recent developments

Due to the role of sharia advisory boards, Islamic finance is complex by nature. Alongside professional bodies and think tanks, these boards judge existing products while advising on the development of new products. They ensure that the evolution of sharia-compliant markets and products can keep up with the developments of other markets. Financial centres are increasingly attempting to attract Islamic financial institutions and revenues by adapting legislation to suit its requirements. In this respect, European markets have opened up in recent years. It is also a growth area for many countries in terms of female careers.

Starting out

Graduate training schemes in Islamic finance are limited (although this is changing), but Islamic financial products account for a significant part of the work of many international banks. An organisation’s general training programme may offer graduates a rotation spent with a particular emphasis on sharia, with training likely centred on a major Islamic financial centre such as those in the Gulf, Hong Kong or Malaysia.

Skills required

  • Foreign language proficiency is a requirement for some roles and highly useful for others. Graduates fluent in languages such as Arabic, Malay, Bahasa Indonesia or Bengali are sought after.

  • Good communication skills.

  • Numeracy.

  • Project management skills.

  • Negotiation skills.

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