Revisiting awards in Islamic finance
‘Hollywood has its Oscars. Television has its Emmys. Broadway has its Tonys. And Advertising has its Clios... And those are just the big ones...’ Joanne Lipman.
Its well accepted awards reward individuals and institutions for innovation, invention, performance, etc., based on absolute or relative (peer) basis. The recipient often issues a Press release and the award photo-ops, especially in competitive sectors like banking, which are incorporated in marketing and public relations (PR) campaigns.
In Islamic banking, deemed to have too many conference organiser/magazine awards, award winners, categories, etc., are the public, exiting and potential customers, influenced by the recipient’s award?
The question on the jaded minds concerning awards is not:
1. The Islamic banker of the year award? or
2. Best Islamic banking, takaful or asset management institution? or
3. Best ‘Islamic’ regulator?
But, ‘does the Islamic finance award recipient have a responsibility to the award category, especially high level awards, like the Royal Award for Islamic finance in Malaysia?’
Thus, much like the Pulitzer Prize (for journalists), Noble Peace Prize, or, even, the Miss Universe/World contest (probably not ideal example in this context), the recipients of such awards, typically, travel, talk, reach out to the public at large to convey the ‘values’ espoused by such honours. The interactions are meant to not only encourage the message of the Pulitzer or Noble, but also to inspire others to achieve such awards.
The follow-up question is, ‘should the high level award recipient be mandated to take time off from their ‘day job’ for, say, three (3) months, and talk, travel and reach out?’ This would be part of the corporate social responsibility of not only the person, but also the institution they represent that would sponsor the ‘tour.’
Yes, its disruption at the very top, but it’s also a smart strategy as addresses key man risk and establishes a track for potential successors. Thus, it also has corporate governance benefit as it reduces some uncertainty (on successor) for shareholders.
The tour in emerging Islamic finance markets like certain African, CIS, or even G-20/OECD countries would be like the inaugural Islamic finance conferences in these countries.
The first Islamic finance conference is almost always well received in new jurisdictions. The locals want access to practitioners and scholars they have read about; they want to ask questions that locals cannot answer; they want to discuss opportunities with outsiders, etc.
The tour would allow the executive to (1) connect with people, (2) hear their words and spread his/her own words via one on one, town halls, etc., (3) gain insights (first hand) into business development opportunities, partnerships, joint ventures, etc., and (4) provide great pictures for marketing materials and public relations with real people in real situations. For example, His Highness Shaikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, is one of the few leaders from the 57 Muslim countries that is not only a key stakeholder of Islamic finance, but also a supporter of the movement before it became fashionable to support it.
Obviously, an Islamic finance executive would not generate the same level of enthusiasm as Shaikh Mohammad visit, but they can learn from His Highness’ trips.
IF award for environment
Islamic banks need to think outside the real estate box, and address something impactful that is local. For example, the GCC has a very large carbon foot print, hence, an opportunity to be part of environment, sustainability and governance (ESG). These are the ‘positive’ screens that build bridges to the ‘conventional’ ESG communities and movement.
It’s well-known that not one dedicated Islamic bank is a signatory to the carbon, climate or equator principles. Where are their stewardship responsibilities to the planet for future generations?
The global excitement created by the announcement of the massive Mohammad bin Rashid City, compromising of culture, entrepreneurship, retail and tourism (CERT), will augur well for Islamic finance, much like Qatar winning the FIFA 2022 mandate.
The leading Islamic banks have the opportunity to ‘green finance’ all aspects of CERT of the new city, including artificial turf golf courses and parks.
For example, turf does not huge amounts of water (especially summer), spraying of chemicals, carbon monoxide and dioxide emissions associated grass mowing, etc.
Conference organisers need to examine awards with not only recipient commitment to the category, but also expanding it to include pressing issues, like the environment with, say, a ‘Green Sukuk’ to build the Mohammad bin Rashid City.
The writer is Global Head of Islamic Finance & OIC Countries for Thomson Reuters. Views expressed by the author are his own and do not reflect the newspaper’s policy
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