Interview: Alderman Fiona Woolf

How can Bahrain’s experience be applied as London aspires to be an Islamic financial centre?

ALDERMAN FIONA WOOLF: Bahrain has established itself as a leading centre for Islamic finance, and the UK is of course keen to discuss how we can work even more closely together for our mutual benefit. That is why we were delighted to host the first UK-Bahrain Islamic Finance Summit in London in 2013. This provided a platform for us to discuss and coordinate our regulatory experiences through a new working group, which will offer an important forum to think through the next steps ahead of the UK sukuk(Islamic bonds) being issued later this year.

Bahrain is an established innovator in this area having issued the first international sovereign sukuk in 2001. Both our countries have unique strengths in Islamic finance education, training and practice. The asset-based nature of sukuks makes them good financing options for infrastructure. We believe there is considerable scope to deliver growth and innovation to the Islamic finance industry by partnering with Bahrain.

What government policies could increase Bahrain’s competitive position within the region?

WOOLF: The success of any country or business comes down to the quality of its people. I know from my time in Bahrain that there are incredibly talented individuals located across the country. It is vital that this pipeline of talent is developed through the education system so that there is a skilled workforce available to drive growth and meet the requirements of various industries. I know there is a real commitment to achieve this from Bahrain’s policymakers, and the UK would like to share its international expertise of delivering education, training and qualifications across the globe.

Why is the launch of the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC) so important and how can the GCC region benefit from its implementation?

WOOLF: The IIRC will provide a model that could provide much more useful information for companies to look forward and deliver sustainable, long-term growth. The problem with the traditional approach to corporate reporting is that it is like weighing yourself every quarter and using it to predict your weight later, sometimes considerably later. Such an approach does not tell you is if there is a systemic problem with your weighing scales, or what exercise or dieting plans you need during this period. The IIRC aims to tackle this issue by catalysing changes to business and investor behaviour. I hope policymakers and businesses across the GCC will consider this approach to encourage corporate citizens and remain globally competitive.

How can regional governments align their economic policies toward people, the planet and profits?

WOOLF: As we face up to the “new normal” – a world with increasingly finite resources, fast growing urban populations and climate change – the world needs sustainable solutions to do more with less, if we are to rise to these major global challenges. This means tackling the triple bottom line: people, the planet and profits. London has a track record of innovating to deliver long-term value creation, and we want to be the GCC’s partner of choice as it plans to confront the challenges of rising urban populations and social expectations.

How can female participation and diversity in the financial sector be improved and encouraged in both the GCC region as a whole and in Bahrain?

WOOLF: In order to succeed in this increasingly competitive globalised world it is critical to capture the benefits of diversity. A country or company is only as good as its people, which means those embracing a broad and deep talent pool are far more likely to attract the skilled individuals needed to prosper over the long term. Education is key to this, and we have seen some countries make considerable progress in this area in recent years. Bahrain is taking a prominent role in this area by hosting the International Leadership Conference in 2013, and we hope this progress will continue.