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Islamic banking gains footing in Hong Kong
Nick Walker
update on Saturday, August 27, 2011
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By adhering to its principles, Islamic banking and finance has grown in recent decades from a peripheral financial network to a sizeable complementary system within the globalised economy. Today, it is expanding throughout Asia, the Middle East and Europe, far beyond core markets such as Malaysia and Saudi Arabia.

The global growth of Islamic banking - which shuns riba, or interest - is opening up opportunities for job seekers and those already in the banking sector who want to enhance their professional development.

In many respects, HSBC is leading the way outside the Muslim world, according to Razi Fakih, deputy CEO of the Dubai-based HSBC Amanah, part of the HSBC group.

"We're the first in the industry to build a global curriculum so HSBC sales managers can better understand Islamic finance," he says. "The curriculum, produced through significant investment of resources, combines tailored e-learning modules with instructor-led training and external accreditations. Content for the training is developed from a global perspective, but details and examples take in Shariah interpretations in each country."

HSBC Amanah also recently conducted advanced Shariah classroom-training for staff who will benefit from such in-depth exposure, Fakih says. "Participants from Malaysia, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain listened to Sheikh Nizam Yaquby, a world-renowned Shariah scholar - who also sits on HSBC Amanah's central Shariah committee - talk about topics such as Shariah objectives, Islamic contracts and Shariah monitoring," he adds.

Besides this, his bank also offers an Amanah - Arabic for "trustworthiness" - graduate programme as part of its talent management scheme. 

"We continue to build a specialist talent pool for Islamic finance through tailored training freely available to HSBC staff, and dedicated recruitment programmes including the Amanah graduate programme - an opportunity for candidates to gain broad exposure to our Islamic business worldwide," he says.

At present, HSBC's Islamic banking presence is rather limited in Hong Kong. Its only product-offering is a fund - the Hang Seng Islamic China index fund - which is sold via its Hang Seng Bank subsidiary. Still, interest in Islamic banking is surging, Fakih says. 

While Islamic finance is still in an early development phase in Hong Kong - though set to grow considerably, according to most market observers - neighbouring countries have seen extraordinary growth in this area in recent years.

According to Endang Rosawati, a spokesperson for Jakarta-based BNI Syariah - the Islamic banking arm of Bank Negara Indonesia (BNI), or the National Bank of Indonesia - these are promising times for the sector.

"We have seen a significant demand for Islamic banking at BNI. Presently, we have nearly 54,000 BNI Syariah customers," she says. "BNI Syariah is an Islamic bank within the BNI group, which initiated the business in April 2000. Seeing the business blossom, BNI created this spinoff to strengthen its Islamic finance business, and in June this year, BNI launched the fully-fledged BNI Syariah. It's now one of the top four Islamic banks in Indonesia. And, by the grace of God, we keep growing."

BNI provides routine Islamic-banking training programmes in Indonesia for new recruits in its BNI Syariah section. Basic training is mostly implemented through e-based learning, while advanced training is undertaken interactively through seminars and other person-to-person means.

Long before the term corporate social responsibility (CSR) became a buzzword, Islamic banking saw the concept of giving back to the community as a key role of any financial institution. And this is the case with BNI Syariah.

Rosawati explains: "We apply the time-honoured `Manajemen Syukur' ['management of gratitude' in Bahasa Indonesian] principle as our CSR programme. Indeed, it is due to a concrete commitment and deliberate implementation of our gratitude to God, that has enabled us to grow and prosper."

As for the future of Islamic banking in Hong Kong, Rosawati says she is quite upbeat.

"Being one of the world's business centres, Hong Kong promises to be a potential place for the future development of Islamic banking," she says. "In light of the fact that Islamic banking is open to Muslims and non-Muslims alike, Hong Kong appears to be a conducive place for Islamic banking to grow."

 

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