Career Advice Expert Advice

Scholars or specialists


John Mullally
Associate Director, Financial Services, Robert Walters Hong Kong

What are the top job markets for Islamic finance?
Hong Kong is not really a hub for Islamic finance, with more of this type of business in the Far East run out of Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta. There is always a shortage of scholars in Islamic finance, with most of the actual direction and rules set by Middle East scholars. Unless you are Muslim, it will be very difficult to secure a role within Islamic finance. The key individuals are religious scholars, so it is obviously an area with very high intellectual barriers of entry. Majority of the population in Malaysia and Indonesia are Muslims, so one would expect there to be a greater amount of Islamic finance activity in such places. Singapore is the closest major financial centre to Indonesia, so it benefits from the proximity.

Nick Lambe
Managing Director, Morgan McKinley

What’s the biggest centre for Islamic finance?
Malaysia is the biggest hub, with London coming a close second and the Middle East ranking third. Dubai and London are competing to be the Islamic finance centre of the world. In January, Dubai set out plans to become the “capital” of the Islamic finance sector. with global rules to enforce standards on a range of industries as diverse as Sharia finance, halal food, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and charitable endowments. And while plans for a UK sovereign sukuk may have been shelved, the British government has recently established an Islamic finance task force, intended to rejuvenate the UK’s Sharia-compliant industry.

Roles within the Islamic capital markets sector – and sukuks in particular – tend to dominate, as well as product development within Sharia-compliant products and frameworks. Another extremely important area within Islamic finance is liquidity management and treasury, so candidates in this space are in hot demand.

Philip Quinn
Managing Consultant, Banking and Finance, Kelly Services

How can one enter Islamic finance for a career?
People who have no prior experience working in Islamic finance but looking to this industry should perhaps think about a qualification from the Institute of Islamic Banking and Insurance or the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA).

The qualifications will help with their entry into the market and educate them in the products involved in this market. There is no real difference, however, to the roles offered compared with those in the conventional banking markets and, similarly, candidates will need to be specialised in specific areas as they would in the conventional banking industry. 

There is no all-encompassing “generic” Islamic finance job, although it is sometimes misconceived that there is. As per conventional banking, auditors, relationship managers, risk and compliance experts, sales staff and so on – all are required but there are also the Shariah-expert positions. The difference is that candidates will need to know how to work these same specialist positions while governed by a different set of laws.

Who are the biggest players in Islamic finance?
At the moment, the hottest markets would obviously be those with the largest Muslim populations across the Gulf States and perhaps into North Africa, but with the current unrest in the likes of Egypt, this would leave it somewhat less attractive than its southern regional neighbours.

A few years ago, banks such as HSBC had made a big push into Islamic finance and were setting up Islamic branch operations in such places as the UK – considerable Muslim population in the millions there – the UAE, Bangladesh and Singapore. But it has scaled back or closed these same operations in more recent years with the focus shifting to Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Indonesia.

This would also seem to be a trend with other banks in terms of the Asian market, with moves more towards Malaysia, the world’s biggest Islamic finance centre, and also to Indonesia. The latter is an interesting one I think. With its economy strengthening and its growing middle class, it has to be attractive.

How about Hong Kong?
I think it will find competition hard from these countries and Singapore. Hong Kong competes a lot with Singapore already when it comes to banking and finance, but Singapore is closer to Muslim countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, so it will have the edge. Although Hong Kong has looked to ease taxes on Sharia-compliant products in the same way it does other conventional financial products, the fact that there is far less of a cultural connection in Hong Kong – not to mention a much smaller Shariah-compliant investor base – I can’t see Hong Kong becoming an equally attractive location.