The fairer sex is gradually claiming its place in Islamic finance, widely perceived as a male-dominated sector. Islamic Finance Asia pays tribute to some of the notable femmes who have made significant strides in the industry
While top managerial positions in Islamic finance are still dominated by men, it is certainly hard to ignore the fact that women are fast climbing their way up the corporate ladder in this rapidly growing sector. Compared to their male counterparts, many of these women have preferred to keep a low profile, despite the notable contributions that they have made to the development of the industry.
Here’s a selection of female movers and shakers (in no particular order) in the Shariah finance industry.
ZETI AKHTAR AZIZ
Governor, Bank Negara Malaysia
Appointed as governor of Bank Negara Malaysia in May 2000, Zeti has been with the central bank since 1985, in a career spanning several senior positions in monetary and financial policies, and reserve management. As governor, she oversaw the transformation of the financial system that included wide-ranging financial reforms, the evolution of new financial institutions, strengthening of the financial markets and the rapid expansion of Islamic finance, and the transition to a managed float of the ringgit exchange rate.
Chairman, Securities Commission Malaysia
Zarinah assumed her current post on the 1st April 2006 and has been actively involved in efforts to beef up the Islamic capital market in Malaysia. Under her leadership, the commission has, among others, been active in promoting the Malaysia International Islamic Financial Centre (MIFC) agenda and embarked on an extensive Islamic Capital Market Development Project — aimed at growing the talent pool and adding to the body of knowledge of Islamic finance globally.
In her capacity as Securities Commission Malaysia (SC) chairman, Zarinah is also a strong advocate of the internationalization of Malaysia’s Islamic capital market. She has been actively involved in promoting cross-border Islamic capital market product transactions, which include the agreement between the Dubai Financial Services Authority and SC for cross-border marketing of Islamic funds.
As vice chairman of the Emerging Markets Committee of the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO), as well as chairman for the Asean Capital Markets Forum, Zarinah is also active in providing advisory input on capital market-related initiatives in the region — including those concerning the Islamic capital markets.
Zarinah is also chairman of the Malaysian Venture Capital Development Council and the Capital Market Development Fund.
She is a member of the Foreign Investment Committee, Financial Reporting Foundation, National Innovation Council and Malaysian Institute of Integrity.
NIK RAMLAH MAHMOOD
Securities Commission Malaysia
Nik Ramlah is actively involved in the development of Malaysia’s Islamic capital market, providing strategic and policy input on matters relating to market development, and supervises the implementation of the recommendations of the Capital Market Masterplan.
She has been actively involved in the development of the bond market, venture capital industry, fund management, corporate governance and rationalization of the regulatory framework for the capital market.
Nik Ramlah is a member of the professional development panel of the International Centre for Education in Islamic Finance (INCEIF). Prior to joining the SC in 1993, Nik Ramlah was an associate professor with the faculty of law at University of Malaya.
Director, corporate investment banking
Bank Islam Malaysia
Mashitah was responsible for the setting up of the Islamic finance department in RHB Sakura, with a focus on arranging and structuring Islamic securities, which she currently specializes in.
In 1997, she co-arranged the RM2.2 billion (US$611.7 million) Bai Bithaman Ajil bond for Kuala Lumpur International Airport. She is a member of the Treasury and Debt Capital Market Committee of the Malaysian Investment Banking Association.
Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission
Lam has led a series of reform measures to manage the risks associated with securities margin financing. She has also worked closely with the Monetary Authority and the Insurance Authority to reinforce the conduct supervision of intermediaries and investment advisers.
As a regulator, she is among those instrumental for the approval of Hong Kong’s first ever Islamic retail fund — the Hang Seng Islamic China Index Fund, made available to retail investors in 2007.
To date, she is also very much involved in the issuance of Hong Kong’s first ever Sukuk, scheduled to take place in December.
In the funds arena, Lam has enhanced and strengthened Hong Kong as the hub for asset management in Asia through the introduction of a comprehensive regulatory framework for collective investment schemes and a pragmatic approach for funds authorization.
She also enabled the offering of hedge funds and real estate investment trusts to the retail public through the introduction of the hedge fund guidelines in 2002 and the Code on Real Estate Investment Trusts in 2003.
RHB Islamic Bank
Jamelah was appointed as the CEO of RHB Islamic Bank on the 6th August 2007, making her the first woman in the world to hold such a position in an Islamic bank.
Subsequent to that, she was promoted to managing director on the 8th October 2007. She has about 20 years of relevant experience in the finance industry, with her last position being deputy CEO of Kuwait Finance House (Malaysia). Prior to that, she was chief operating officer of RHB Investment Bank.
In the initial years of her career, she was an officer of corporate banking at Bumiputra Merchant Bankers. She then moved on to become assistant general manager of project finance in Sime Bank, and subsequently to Perwira Affin Merchant Bankers, where she served as head of risk management before being appointed as country head of Macquarie Group Malaysia. She is among the renowned personalities in the regional Islamic finance sector and is a regular speaker at many international finance conferences.
Legal consultant, Soebagjo, Jatim, Djarot
Noor has advised major domestic and international clients, among others, in general commercial law, cross-border investment and negotiations, finance and banking (including Islamic funding), and the Indonesian process toward dispute resolution. She is well known for her expertise in mergers and acquisitions (M&A) and has been recognized as an Asia Law leading lawyer over the years 2004-08 for professional services in M&A and for Islamic finance in 2005-08.
A Singaporean, Noor has been called to the Singapore Bar and has an LLM from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, where she studied Islamic law. Noor is active in Indonesian business and industry circles, and in international legal organizations.
She is a council member of the Inter-Pacific Bar Association (IPBA), chairman of IPBA scholarship committee, and a member of the International Bar Association (IBA). She is one of the founders of the Asian Islamic Finance Alliance (AIFA), a regional legal grouping providing Islamic banking and financial services in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.
Noor also sits on the governing boards of the Singapore Chamber of Commerce and the Singapore Association in Indonesia and in the International Business Chamber of Indonesia.
Noor is a regular speaker on M&As and Islamic finance at regional business conferences.
BALJEET KAUR GREWAL
Managing director and vice chairman, Kuwait Finance House (KFH) Research
Baljeet is the first woman appointed to head the global economic and investment research team at KFH, the first Islamic bank worldwide to have a notable research presence. Prior to this, she was attached to Aseambankers Malaysia, ABN AMRO Bank as chief economist and Deutsche Bank, London, with experience ranging from credit structuring to economic and capital market research. She has broad experience in investment banking, having participated in notable Islamic fund raising transactions in Asia and the Middle East.
To date, she has undertaken research in Islamic finance with a principal focus on debt capital markets and Sukuk.
In addition to writing and publishing a number of articles on topics such as developing economies and debt markets, Islamic debt structures and Southeast Asian economies, she has addressed numerous international Islamic conferences and forums.
VYATI KARTIKA SARI ISKANDAR
Founder, Marsinih Martoatmodjo Iskandar Kusdihardjo (MMIK) Law Office
With more than 12 years of experience in the legal sector, Vyati has been involved in a large number of corporate Sukuk issuances in the republic.
Vyati is also active at the international level, currently being part of the legal team at Hugh Fraser International, an international corporate and commercial legal services firm based in Dubai and Perth.
Her areas of expertise are general corporate, real estate and property, corporate and loan restructuring, project financing, and banking and finance.
SITI CHALIMAH FADJRIJAH
Deputy governor, Bank Indonesia
Siti Chalimah had a long and varied career in Indonesia’s banking sector before being appointed to her current post in May 2005. As deputy governor, she was among those instrumental in developing the central bank of Indonesia’s strategic plan to develop the Islamic banking sector for the next decade.
As a regulator, she is involved in various efforts to revise regulations in Indonesia’s financial system, aimed at further encouraging the growth of the Islamic finance sector in the republic. Among them are revising regulations to allow Islamic banks in the country to trade Shariah bonds in the secondary market.
Director and head of investment products
Hang Seng Investment Management
Lee was among the key figures responsible for the development of Hong Kong’s maiden retail Islamic fund, the Hang Seng Islamic China Index Fund, in 2007 — which attracted more than US$65 million worth of investment in its first month.
With more than 17 years of experience in the finance industry, mainly focusing on product development as well as sales and marketing, she is responsible for product development and administration, sales and marketing, fund distribution as well as overall business development of Hang Seng Investment Management (HSVM).
She also oversees the investment fund business of Hang Seng Bank and has an in-depth understanding of the various investment needs of clients, be they an ordinary citizen or an institution.
Senior partner, Praesidium
She drafted parts of both regulatory structures, including the development of the supervisory philosophy of the two regulators.
She was the architect of the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Shariah Systems Regulatory Model and the key driver of the first mutual recognition model for cross-border flows of Shariah compliant capital market products — the DFSA and Securities Commission Malaysia agreement to allow for cross-border marketing of Islamic funds.
Governor, State Bank of Pakistan
Shamshad Akhtar took over as governor of the State Bank of Pakistan on the 2nd January 2006 for a three-year term — creating history in the process as the first woman in the country to ever occupy the post.
Since assuming the post, she has been able to implement new economic policies within the banking sector, thus instigating strong reforms within the country’s economy.
With the aim of bringing Pakistan’s Islamic finance sector into the mainstream, Shamshad was also instrumental in pushing for regulatory reform and improvements in core infrastructure of Pakistan’s Islamic financial systems in an effort to provide a conducive business environment for the sector to grow and subsequently contribute toward enhancing investors’ confidence level.
Under her leadership, conventional banks in Pakistan are permitted to open Islamic banking windows, which served as an added boost to the growth of the country’s Islamic finance sector.
Shamshad’s commitment and contribution toward Pakistan’s Islamic finance sector has certainly earned her international recognition. In January this year, she was appointed as the chairperson of the Islamic Financial Services Board (IFSB) Council, taking over from Malaysia’s Zeti Akhtar Aziz and was also awarded “Central Bank Governor of The Year” by The Banker magazine for the years 2007 and 2008. In addition, she is also a regular speaker at Islamic finance conferences.
CEO and executive director, EONCAP Islamic Bank
Fozia was appointed to her current post in September 2007, making her one of the only two females in the world (the other is RHB’s Jamelah Jamaluddin) to head an Islamic bank. She was chosen based on her vast expertise in Islamic financial services — particularly in structuring Shariah compliant capital market products.
Prior to this, Fozia headed Aseambankers’ Islamic division, where she focused on structuring and advising on fixed income Islamic investment banking products.
She represented Aseambankers in various seminars and roadshows and is a regular speaker on Islamic PDS (private debt securities) at local and international seminars.
During her stint at Aseambankers, she spearheaded the team that concluded the first residential mortgage backed securities transaction in Malaysia as well as the RM1 billion (US$276 million) first Islamic sub-debt issue, which had won awards from reputable local and international financial research houses.
ENGKU RABIAH ADAWIAH ENGKU ALI
Associate professor and world’s first registered female Islamic finance Shariah adviser
Engku is a member of the Shariah Advisory Council of Bank Negara Malaysia, and an independent Shariah adviser for Islamic securities issuance, approved by and registered with the Securities Commission Malaysia.
She has advised on a number of Sukuk issuances in Malaysia. These include the Sarawak Specialist Hospital & Medical Centre Sukuk in 2004, Vastalux Capital Sukuk and IJN Capital Sukuk (2005), and Dynamic Communication Link (2006).
In addition, she is on the Shariah committee of Labuan Reinsurance; a member of the investigation tribunal for the Malaysian Bar Council; and a member of the board of directors at the Malaysian Institute of Islamic Understanding, where she also sits on the investment committee.
Gender bias in Islamic finance?
Quite a number of observers, particularly those from non-Muslim jurisdictions, simply assume gender bias is among the main reasons for women’s lack of participation in the Islamic finance sector. Is this a fair observation? Associate professor Engku Rabiah Adawiah Engku Ali said such an assumption is somewhat inaccurate as there are a number of prominent women occupying top posts in the sector.
“In Asia, we can see quite a healthy representation of women in senior positions for this particular sector. In Malaysia, (we have) names like Zeti Akhtar Aziz, governor of Malaysia’s central bank, and Zarinah Anwar, who heads the Securities Commission. In Pakistan, we have Shamshad Akhtar, who is governor of the State Bank of Pakistan.
“On the corporate side, we have people like Bank Islam’s Mashitah Osman (director of corporate investment banking), RHB’s Jamelah Jamaluddin (managing director) as well as Fozia Amanulla from EONCAP Islamic Bank (CEO and executive director). I don’t think there is a taboo preventing women from excelling, professionally. They are there purely based on merit.”
Nevertheless, she agrees that the number of women occupying decision-making positions in the industry is far lower than men. She believes this could largely be due to the nature of the job that requires long hours from its practitioners.
“I think it is not solely an issue in the Islamic finance sector but the entire financial services sector. Due to the long hours, probably many women in the industry opt to find other jobs that are not as demanding. However, this is slowly changing with the increasing number of ladies entering the job market, including the financial line. Eventually, we will see more women occupying senior positions in this field,” she added.
While the number of women holding senior positions in Islamic finance is on the rise in Southeast Asia, the situation elsewhere is somewhat less encouraging — particularly in the Middle East, the birthplace of the sector itself. The man on the street simply thinks this is probably due to the “male-centric” culture of the Middle East, which does not provide women much opportunity to excel in the professional line, preferring them to be homemakers instead.
In response to this, Qudeer Latif, a law partner at Clifford Chance in Dubai, said the Middle East is beginning to see increased participation among women in the job market, as a result of more exposure and better opportunities in education. Although it may appear that women are under-represented in Islamic finance, he explained that is simply because the number of women bankers currently is still not sufficient to support the sector’s rapid growth.
“Historically, the entire finance sector, across the globe, has been dominated by males. That is why when Islamic finance took off, those appointed to senior management positions, who mostly came with a background in conventional finance, were mostly male. There is no gender bias issue on this.
“Nevertheless, compared to several years ago, there are significantly more women in the financial industry now, and given time, eventually these women will rise up the corporate ladder. This is positive. Hopefully, when there are more women in decision-making positions, it will inspire other women to participate in this sector,” he added.
Clifford Chance senior associate Susi Crawford pointed out that the rapid economic development taking place in the Gulf, which has enticed many multinational corporations (MNCs) to set up there, has also brought positive changes to the Middle East employment landscape.
“For instance, the MNCs operating in the DIFC (Dubai International Financial Centre) area have brought with them international policies, which include employment benefits for female employees. Due to the fact that more women are entering the workforce, these companies realize the importance of providing a conducive work environment for them.
“Such a trend is gradually catching on among local companies operating outside the DIFC area. This is indeed a positive move that will encourage women professionals to continue working and gradually climb the corporate ladder,” she added.