The seminar, co-sponsored by St Philip’s Chambers and Advantage West Midlands (AWM), and held in association with West Midlands Business Council and West Midlands Minority Ethnic Business Forum, was addressed by Farrukh Raza, managing director of Islamic Finance, Advisory and Assurance Services (IFAAS), and John Hughes, a partner at law firm Needham & James.
Mr Raza, who launched Aston Science Park-based consultancy IFAAS after a career at the Islamic Bank of Britain, discussed opportunities now available to professional firms in the Midlands, while Mr Hughes spoke of first-hand experience at how medium-sized law practices are now winning business in a sector once-dominated in the UK by large London-based law firms.
Mr Hughes, who said that his firm had established a dedicated Islamic Finance team acting for banks lending on home finance and commercial loans, added: “A lower cost base will help Birmingham to attract work from the Middle and Far East – and London.”
The seminar, held at St Philip’s Chambers in Birmingham city centre, was the latest in a series of events being supported by Locate in Birmingham, the inward investment partnership, and regional development agency AWM. The Agency’s head of inward investment, Richard Butler, said: “Islamic Finance plays an important part in the West Midlands economy, centred on Birmingham, and will be increasingly important in the future. It helps diversify the region’s banking practices, offering choice and employment in the West Midlands – and in the current economic climate, this can only be good news, welcomed by Muslims in the region and other borrowers and lenders alike.
“Banks such as the Islamic Bank of Britain have already decided to locate in Birmingham and Advantage West Midlands actively encourages other Islamic banks to locate here for the region’s future economic prosperity,” he added.
James Watkins, executive director of West Midlands Business Council, believes it is a niche area which can only go from strength to strength. “The two leading cities for the speciality are London and Birmingham. It is the one financial services sector which is still growing and it holds out the possibility of creating quality jobs.”
Mohammad Nazir, of the West Midlands Minority Ethnic Business Forum, who chaired the event, said that more and more interest was now being generated in Islamic Finance, a sector which held tremendous potential for the region’s professional community.
With Muslims forbidden by their religion to engage in the charging or receiving of interest, Islamic finance is essentially based on profit sharing.
Last year the Muslim Council of Britain – representing more than 500 local, regional and national Muslim associations and institutions across the country – and the West Midlands Business Council signed a memorandum of understanding committing the two bodies to work together to further develop Islamic finance.
There are said to be more than 550 Islamic financial institutions and Islamic mutual funds worldwide, with estimated combined assets of £360 billion. Another £130 billion in assets lie in Islamic “windows” at conventional banks and financial institutions. It is estimated the industry will be worth £789 billion by 2010.
• In 2007 West Midlands car maker Aston Martin was sold for £479 million to a Dubai-based consortium using an Islamic financing technique known as Murabaha, which is a mark-up arrangement.