Gatehouse Bank legal head Adil Hussain has big ambitions – both for the fledgling bank and for Islamic finance. Tom Phillips reports.
Full of ambition, Gatehouse Bank is the latest Islamic bank to open in London.
Owned by Kuwaiti investment company Securities House, Gatehouse was granted its licence to operate in the UK by the Financial Services Authority (FSA) in April last year, joining four other Islamic banks backed by wealthy Middle Eastern parents.
The ambition of this new sector can be seen after five minutes spent with Gatehouse legal head Adil Hussain, a former Norton Rose lawyer who joined the bank just after it opened.
“I love my job,” says Hussain, adding that you do not need to be a Muslim to be passionate about Islamic finance.
Hussain reflects on a short spell with the bank that has already seen him finalise a $1bn (£670m) sukuk platform in Jersey, secure Treasury documentation and chair a scheme to standardise Islamic documentation in the UK and across Europe. All this was done alongside switching from private practice to in-house and setting up a legal function from scratch.
“I’m revelling in the fact that it’s a start-up – there are no restrictions and I’ve been creating a role for the legal team so the whole bank can benefit,” explains the fast-talking Hussain.
Setting up legal procedures using a blank piece of paper has been a positive experience for the former Islamic finance lawyer, who says that understanding the personalities of the key people and what they want from the legal team has been a priority.
He has had to learn quickly – his first job came straight from the top when he was given three weeks to finalise the paperwork for Jersey-based protected cell company Milestone Capital in time for a presentation by the CEO.
“We had to deal with English, Jersey, Kuwaiti and sharia law,” says Hussain, who gladly takes his hat off to Ashurst for its help with the complex work. “They were really good – they have a good understanding of our business and how it works,” he says.
Norton Rose also comes in for praise, with Hussain crediting his former employer with securing the Islamic Treasury documentation on the initial £40m liquidity investment made by the bank to the start-up business.
However, it is the complex documentation surrounding Islamic finance that saw Hussain chair a meeting last summer that brought the legal heads from London’s other Islamic banks around the same discussion table.
Explaining the reasons for this meeting, Husain says: “If we want to deposit with a bank in Bahrain, for example, they have their own contract that they want us to sign, but their contract is drafted for their domestic market and isn’t suitable for us. We’d end up changing all our documents into theirs – extend this to 40 banks across the Middle East and it’s an extremely time-consuming process.”
Hussain says his frustration is shared by his peers at the Islamic Bank of Britain, European Finance House, EIIB and the Bank of London and The Middle East, which met to discuss the standardisation of Islamic Treasury documents – a project that if successful could bring all UK and European banks into line.
“If we came up with standard documents we could distribute them across the banks and give something back to Islamic finance,” says Hussain. “We’re happy to share this knowhow among the other Islamic banks and reduce all of our legal spend – there’s no point in us duplicating the work.”
Hussain’s plans for Gatehouse and Islamic finance mirror the high ambitions he sets for himself. He admits he has an eye on the role of general counsel, although the fledgling Gatehouse is so new it only has a legal team of two and no turnover figure as yet.
His role model is Mohammed Paracha, Islamic finance figurehead, former Assistant Solicitor of the Year at The Lawyer Awards and now executive vice-president and head of Europe at Al Salam Europe.
Hussain worked with Paracha at Norton Rose, where his passion for Islamic finance grew until he filled his mentor’s shoes in Bahrain. Now that Paracha has moved further into the boardroom, Hussain admits he too has an eye on making it big in business.
“Norton Rose took a punt on me and Paracha trained me up. I have a lot of respect for him; he’s a good person to look up to. I came to this role to get more involved in the business side of things,” he explains.
And where better to start than with a new legal team at a new bank? “When the deals start coming in we’ll be on the lookout for a mid-level lawyer,” he says, “then we’ll see where we go from there.”
Name: Adil Hussain
Organisation: Gatehouse Bank
Position: Head of legal
Industry: Islamic Finance
Reporting to: Chief financial operator James Bagshawe
Company turnover: Figures not available
Number of employees: 40
Total legal capability: Two
Main external law firms: Ashurst, Herbert Smith, Norton Rose
Total legal spend: £500,000
Adil Hussain’s CV
1997-2000: School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
2000-01: College Of Law, London
2001-03: Trainee, Penningtons Solicitors
2003-05: Solicitor, Penningtons
2005-08: Islamic finance associate, Norton Rose
2008-present: Executive vice-president and head of legal, Gatehouse Bank