Lives: Dewsbury, West Yorkshire.
Born: 1972, Dewsbury.
Education: Degree in economics, University of Greenwich.
Career: 1994 – clinical auditor, Leeds NHS, 1995 – telesales, 1997- travelled extensively before joining Parsoli.
Career ambition: To become the leading provider of Islamic financial services.
Personal ambition: To take the company to being fully international.
Likes: Playing football, Manchester United.
Dislikes: Bad manners.
Peers say: “Keeps cool-headed in a crisis and takes very good care of customers.”
Drives: Audi A6.
For many Muslims, the West Yorkshire mill town of Dewsbury is one of the most spiritually vibrant places in the world today. The town is known to Muslims globally as the home of the Tabligh, a flourishing revivalist movement.
“It is our claim to fame. All over the world, people know about Dewsbury when they might not have heard of any other town in the UK,” says Habib Akudi, a director of Dewsbury-based company Parsoli UK, which is planning to corner arguably the fastest-growing mass-affluent market in the UK, its two million Muslim population.
If readers think they recognise Akudi, it is because he has been interviewed by the likes of Sky and Bloomberg on what many see as one of the biggest opportunities in the UK financial services market. “I also always find myself being photographed at Muslim financial conferences. That is often because I am the only delegate they can find who looks typically Muslim,” he laughs.
Parsoli has been making waves recently by launching what is believed to be the first pension plan which complies with Islamic law. It says the Islamic self-invested personal pension’ investment strategy meets with stringent criteria set out in the Koran and Islamic law, which forbids investment in fixed-interest securities and in areas such as gambling and alcohol.
It is argued that every British Muslim investing in a pension plan has until now been forced to compromise their beliefs, as even most ethical funds do not comply with the strict standards.
Demographic evidence suggests the market for Muslim-designed investment products is one of the fast growing in the entire financial services sector. This section of the population is enjoying fast population growth as well as boasting an increasingly high concentration of high-net-worth individuals.
Habib also says emerging generations of British Muslims feel less pressured to send money “back home” to their previous generations’ countries of origin. So younger Muslims have more cash to invest in financial services products in this country.
Akudi says some Muslims have been willing to invest in ethical funds but these include unacceptable ratios of fixed-interest securities. He says more British Muslims want to put down their roots and that economic integration is the last but arguably the most important element of feeling truly settled and part of the UK.
The conflict between strict principles and investment is something that Akudi has had to face in his own life.
In many ways, Akudi is a typical Dewsbury boy. Born in 1972, the son of a mill worker, he lives in the town with his wife and three children. What set him apart from his contemporaries was an early fascination with the yuppie lifestyle of the 1980s.
“As a teenager growing up in the 1980s, I suppose I was a product of the Thatcher years. There was a lot of inspiration in the glamour of the City,” he says.
At first, the teenager’ religious principles were sidelined by his desire to get a piece of the action. “I just really wanted to get into the culture. I was not really concerned about Islamic principles. But as I grew up, my Islamic principles came to the fore and I had problems reworking Islamic beliefs into the idea of a City job. I would always be compromising my beliefs,” he says.
In 1994, having followed the bright lights to London, he graduated in economics from the University of Greenwich. He then worked as a clinical auditor for the National Health Service in Leeds, which involved reviewing the practices of doctors and nurses. This was followed by a spell in telesales.
But after meeting with Zafar Sareshwala, the director of what was then the burgeoning Parsoli in India, at a conference in 1996, a correspondence was established. A year later, this would lead Akudi to securing his dream job at Parsoli, reconciling his Islamic principles with a role in finance.
While Parsoli works closely with a number of high-street banking brands, they have been noticeably reticent in associating themselves publicly with the company since the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US.
“Since September, there has been an increasing recognition of the Muslim community and a realisation that the value system is different but that there is also a desire to integrate. No one wants to be branded as a Muslim bank in the market since September 11.”
But Akudi says IFAs have given the company a great deal of support. “IFAs have been brilliant. They can see a huge Muslim market but they cannot tap into its potential. The first thing an IFA might try and talk about is guaranteeing their life, which is totally contrary to Islam.”
It is for these reasons that Parsoli invests in providing IFAs with training packs. It is also planning to run a series of roadshows and seminars in the near future and intends to expand its product range for both the UK and international markets. IFAs can expect to see an increasingly visible Parsoli brand, enabling them to better meet the needs of Muslims nationwide.