Could you provide a brief journey of how you arrived where you are today?
As a solicitor, I practiced in the area of corporate finance. I relocated from the UK to Dubai in 2001 to improve my knowledge of Shariah and Arabic. It was there that I became involved in advising on Islamic finance and in some of the largest and most complex European and Middle Eastern Shariah compliant transactions. After three years in the Middle East, I went back to London and joined Norton Rose, where I continued to expand my practice by working on several pan-European Islamic funds and other Islamic transactions around the world.
I joined Simmons & Simmons in 2006 when the opportunity arose for me to build a specialist team of international Islamic finance lawyers. Simmons & Simmons provided the ideal platform with particularly strong and recognized practices in investment funds, banking and finance, capital markets and corporate finance. After taking on the new role, I moved back to Dubai so that we could more easily serve our client base in the US, Europe, Middle East and the Far East.
What does your role involve?
My role involves global coordination of our Islamic finance practice as well as mentoring, training and developing lawyers in Islamic finance. I also manage a number of important client relationships, providing active transaction management, as well as bespoke training. One of my other roles is sitting on a number of high-level government and industry working groups.
What is your greatest achievement to date?
From a professional perspective, it is toward building a cohesive team of high-performing specialist lawyers in this increasingly challenging and complex area. A number of our Islamic finance team members are recognized in their own right as experts in the field and this is very satisfying for me. However, this is a continuing challenge and our efforts to provide a better service and quality product to our clients never stop.
Which of your products/services deliver the best results?
One of the areas that our clients have commented on is the fact that we have a better working knowledge of the products and structures we advise on than our peers, based on real experience. We think more about the detail as well as the commerciality of the structures we advise on and these filter through to the overall quality and the appropriateness of our documentation and structures.
What are the strengths of your business?
The major strength is the combination of skills and experience within our Islamic finance team. We have worked hard to integrate our market leading capability in areas such as funds and structured products with our specialist experience in Shariah structuring. Another is the genuine commitment of our team to the continuing growth and improvement of the Islamic finance industry and the communities it serves. Apart from that is our close relationship with many of the leading international Shariah scholars that has allowed us to develop a deeper understanding of their approaches to various important issues.
What are the factors contributing to the success of your company?
The main key to our success is the expertise and commitment of our people and the high level of trust placed in us by our clients. We have many years of combined experience in developing a broad spectrum of products and structures and have a good understanding of market practice and best practice. The industry’s know-how on market standards and best practice in Islamic finance is a key factor in our growing success.
What are the obstacles faced in running your business today?
Our business has been significantly affected by the global financial crisis but we are working very hard to adapt to the changing environment. The breadth and diversity of our practice has helped us and in several areas we are actually continuing to grow our market share. The key to this has been actively listening to our clients and responding to their changing needs.
Where do you see the Islamic finance industry in, say, the next five years?
I think there will be consolidation in the industry as players align their products and services to meet real demand as well as increasing competition and an increasing flight to quality. There will be growing demand for genuinely Shariah-based products and structures as opposed to just compliant ones, in addition to the increasing need for practical expertise in the industry. More western jurisdictions will be developed to issue legislation aimed at attracting investment from Islamic investors.
Name one thing you would like to see change in the world of Islamic finance?
I would like to see the Islamic finance industry weaning from its overreliance on commodity Murabahah-based structures such as Tawarruq. People often ask where the “Islam” is in Islamic finance, and this question has become increasingly hard to answer.
If Islamic finance is going to make a real difference, in the way that many people hope it will, there needs to be renewed focus on genuine risk and reward sharing models of providing finance. The current economic crisis has brought the need for a real alternative to the fore, but Islamic finance can only be that alternative if it is practiced properly rather than used, as it often is, to reverse engineer conventional debt-based products.