This sector covers all of our ‘Islamic finance’ jobs.
Islamic finance is not a sector but an approach. In actual fact an Islamic finance role can cover a range of sectors within financial services, including retail banking, corporate banking, private banking, investment banking, insurance and asset management.
The important thing is that all products and services follow Islamic principles, commonly referred to as being ‘Sharia compliant’. At its most basic, this can mean that interest – or usury – is against Islamic law and therefore forbidden in retail banking services or more sophisticated products.
But it also means there’s a vetting process involved in investments of any sort. Obvious examples of unacceptable investments would be anything linked to the sale of alcohol, pork, tobacco, pornography or gambling. However, short selling, derivatives and the use of leverage are also frowned upon.
Two of the most common Islamic finance terms you’ll hear are ‘sukuk’ and ‘takaful’.
The former is the Arabic name for financial certificates, but usually refers to Islamic bonds. Unlike conventional bonds, sukuks are not viewed as a loan, but rather the issuer is seen to be offering investors the chance to partially own a debt. These can be based around assets, projects, businesses or investments. Once issued, sukuks can be listed on exchanges and are often tradable.
It is, of course, possible to make money through Islamic finance. The fundamental rule, though, is that an investment is based on a tangible asset or commodity – there are buyers and sellers, not borrowers and lenders.
Takaful is the Islamic insurance industry, which takes a communal approach – members contribute money to a pooling system that guarantees a pay out in the event of loss or damage. This removes the uncertainty and interest associated with commercial insurance.
Most Islamic institutions need the services of specialist Sharia scholars to ensure compliance. Because they’re in relatively short supply, these tend to be used in a consultancy capacity, rather than employed full-time.
Careers in Islamic finance generally mirror those of the conventional financial sector. Depending on their specialisation, Islamic finance institutions will recruit investment bankers, retail bankers, investment specialists, corporate bankers, product managers and relationship managers. The key is to fashion products in a Sharia-compliant way.
A number of finance professionals with experience in conventional products have educated themselves in Sharia law, and there’s an increasing proliferation of university courses that combine technical skills with Islamic principles due to a rise in Islamic finance recruitment.
Big Four consultancy firms also offer advisory services to Islamic financial institutions or those firms offering Islamic products. Large law firms increasingly have Islamic finance practices and many banks recruit specialist solicitors in-house.
Finally, the asset management industry offers Sharia-compliant funds in order to ease the headache for investors, and there’s an increasing proliferation of indexes, such as the FTSE Sharia Global Equity Index and the Dow Jones Islamic Market Index.