The lack of Islamic bankers is one of the biggest challenges the industry faces. Attending courses and obtaining certifications on Islamic Finance is key to winning clients’ hearts and minds in the region as the sector adjusts to the growing consumer interest.

While bankers in Europe and the US face new waves of mass lay-offs, downsizings, mergers and acquisitions and even bankruptcies as a result of the sub-prime crisis, the Gulf region sees no let-up in double-digit growth.

‘The need for highly qualified executives in emerging financial hubs such as Dubai, Qatar or Riyadh is enormous,’ says Thomas W. Hofer, Managing Partner of Dubai -based executive search firm Taylor Hofer Partners.

‘The impact of the global credit crunch on Arab and international banks in the oil-rich region has been insignificant,’ he adds.

Lack of knowledge

However, for most high-potential bankers the shift to the Middle East is not a smooth career path.

They face a lack of knowledge of Islamic Finance, which is not only the fastest growing and most innovative banking segment in the region, but has also become a key part of the mainstream industry.

‘This is why Western bankers should apply for a study programme in Islamic Banking, in order to become familiar with Shariah-based vocabularies, from ‘A’ for Amanah (‘to have faith or trust in somebody or something’) to ‘Z’ like Zakaht (the Muslim duty of donating 2.5% of the profits).

There are various curricula world-wide which are most helpful to obtain the theoretical basis for the business around the Koran and capital.

Some examples of these are:

• DIFC Academy, the educational arm of the DIFC, in cooperation with the London-based Securities and Investment Institute (SII) offers five-day-courses in ‘Islamic Finance Qualification’ as well as online-study curricula. An online-exam is taken at the end of the course.

• At CASS Business School in the DIFC, bankers can opt for an Executive MBA Islamic Finance course which can be taken through a 25-month-curricula run alongside the day job. CASS Business school at London University runs its own branch in the DIFC where the entire programme is taken.

• At the Bahrain Institute of Banking and Finance in Manama a 16-week-long study session leads candidates to obtain an Islamic Banking Diploma.

• Most convenient for most employees is the long-distance learning curricula of the Institute of Islamic Banking and Insurance in London. On successful completion of the course, students are awarded the Institute’s Post-Graduate Diploma in Islamic Banking and Insurance and are also made an Associate Fellow of the Institute. The programme was designed and endorsed by Durham University, UK.

Cecile Hofer, Managing Partner of Taylor Hofer Partners, advises Western women in business not to shy away from opportunities in the Islamic Banking world.

‘In Dubai,’ Cecile adds, ‘we constantly see that women climb the career ladder faster than in Europe.’ The statistics speak for themselves: 45% of all bank employees in Dubai are female.