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Dealing with a double life

By Primrose Skelton


Islamic banking and finance is one of the world’s fastest-growing economic sectors with more than 400 institutions looking after assets in excess of $1 trillion (Dh3.67trn).

In the UAE, Dubai Islamic Bank is driving this division with branches across the Emirates and a separate women’s sector called Johara.

At the helm of Johara is Rana Al Hindawi – the company’s project manager and go-to girl on all things to do with women’s finance.

She recently led the way in developing the service with the launch of two new products for its female customers – an Islamic credit card and lady-only motoring finance.

With the expansion of Johara already under way – four new branches are planned for 2008 alongside more specially targeted financial products – Al Hindawi sat down with Emirates Business to discuss her role and how she juggles her high-powered career with looking after a large family.

As she rushes from one meeting to another explaining the purpose of Johara (which means jewel in Arabic) her phone is constantly on the go as one by one her children, the nanny and family members ring to grab five minutes of her attention. It’s 11am when we meet. On arrival she looks immaculate – perfect make-up and not a hair out of place – there are no signs of the frantic morning she recollects.

“I have five children aged between 10 and four and have to fit them in with work, meetings and evening classes; I am currently learning French,” she reveals.

During her two years at the company she has placed Johara firmly in the minds of wealthy females in Dubai and created a section dedicated to women’s personal finance. She has also gained the respect of many above her. It’s hard to believe she is only 30.

“In just a year-and-a-half my team and I have done a phenomenal job boosting our portfolio. It’s been tough at times, getting people to listen, but we’ve succeeded.

“For many years it was difficult getting people to accept that we needed a separate banking service. Women have different needs when it comes to money and finance and we want to reach out to all types of women, including professionals and housewives,” she says.

The bank is currently undergoing a re-branding with a new name and new products already launched. Yet she believes despite the progress the company has made, it is still “in the early stages”.

“Ladies’ banking is still quite immature in the UAE. There is a huge virtually untapped market of wealthy women who need services such as ours, so we’re working hard to develop and bring it up to European standards.”

At present the bank offers specific products and services for the more discerning female clients, such as women-only banks with all female staff and free personal financial advice, as well as a special concierge service and discounts on everyday goods and amenities, such as dry cleaning and big-name retail brands. It also offers special rates for breakdown cover and insurance quotes and offers help with health cover and education.

In the future it hopes to expand into female-only loans.

Dubai Islamic Bank was founded 30 years ago with DIB’s first dedicated Johara branch opening in 2003 followed by Abu Dhabi in 2004 and Sharjah in 2005.

“We looked at wealthy women’s needs and the issues affecting them,” explains Al Hindawi, who is currently in talks with Merill Lynch to develop friendly female financial relations across the world.

“Banking is no longer a male dominated field. Very few wealthy women, of any nationality, will sit back and allow their husbands to control their money. We want women to be able to handle their own finances and for them to learn how to get the most out of their earnings. This is what Johara offers.

“It’s about empowering women and their finances,” says Al Hindawi, who cites Sheikha Lubna, UAE Minister of Economy, Margaret Thatcher, former British Prime Minister and Tina Turner, pop singer, among her role models.

The bank also offers special property deals and investment tools especially for women – something no other bank in the UAE does at present. “Many women don’t like taking risks with their finances and jeopardising their capital, that’s why we offer other ways to invest, such as buying property,” she says.

Recently the bank joined hands with Nakheel to develop Fujan – a new project for families, where Johara clients receive a discount. “We want to offer the best value we can to our customers in whatever commodity they have.”

Al Hindawi’s career path has been nothing short of textbook. She grew up in Dubai and attended Sharjah University where she graduated with a degree in Business and Management. Already a mother of one and with another baby on the way, a determined Al Hindawi continued her studies during the evening, gaining a certificate from the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII) – the premier professional organisation for those working in the insurance and financial services industry. Following a brief stint in the insurance field she landed the job at Dubai Islamic Bank in 2006 and hasn’t looked back.

It was initially pretty tough. “People weren’t used to seeing a female around and I felt like I was under the spotlight,” she recalls.

But things soon improved and she was promoted to product manager of retail and business banking. “I have been brought up to believe in women empowerment and that is what I have tried to bring into the bank. When my father died, my mother brought me and my two brothers up alone. She is an inspirational woman. She is educated and dedicated to her family, something I admire a lot.”

As mother to Hamad, 10, Fatima, eight, Noura, seven, Sara, five and four-year-old Salama, it is any wonder she has time to work, let alone learn a new language, read business-related books and spend time with her loved ones.

“Yes it’s hard, but I want to work, my career is important to me. Some people might think I am selfish not being at home with the children all day, but I am helping them by working and giving them someone they can look up to.”

The division not only invests time and services to the rich, it also offers people with a lower income the opportunity to let their finances grow. “Specific savings schemes and property investments are in place for everyone. In fact, we try to cater to all women whatever their financial circumstances are,” says Al Hindawi.