Halal Money Matters

Episode 7: Making The Switch

Special guest Haitham Al-Sayed joins podcast hosts Christopher Patton and Monem Salam to discuss Haitham's personal journey from traditional finance to Islamic finance.

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Halal Money Matters Podcast

Episode 07 – Making The Switch

CHRISTOPHER PATTON: Welcome to Halal Money Matters, presented by Saturna Capital. I’m Christopher Patton.

MONEM SALAM: And I’m Monem Salam. It’s good to see you. We have a special guest here today, again: Haitham Al-Sayed. And he’s a Regional manager for Saturna Capital. Lives in California. Haitham, welcome to the show.

HAITHAM AL-SAYED: As-Salaam-Alaikum. Thank you for having me. I’m really happy to be here.

MONEM SALAM: Tell us a bit of background before we dive into the show.

HAITHAM AL-SAYED: Yeah, absolutely. So, my parents came from Iraq in the 1960s, Fulbright scholars, and they were both professors. They taught all over the United States. I was born in Ohio, a little town called Xenia but only stayed there for a year because there was a huge tornado that scared my parents.


HAITHAM AL-SAYED: And after that, they decided to move to Morocco. So, I was raised in Morocco, in Saïdia. And then they retired in California in the late 80s, early 90s. I did pre-Med at the University of California, Irvine.


HAITHAM AL-SAYED: And I worked in the field for two years in health care and decided, you know what? This is not for me. And so back in what was it, 98 or so, the finance light went off and um, went into the finance.

MONEM SALAM: Plus, that was a good time to be in the market at the time, too, right?

HAITHAM AL-SAYED: Absolutely. I got licensed through Charles Schwab in Colorado. At the time I was, you know, on the desk fielding all these calls from institutions and clients and I was like, “Man… I only have a half hour to eat. I gotta get back and this is crazy. I like this.” 

CHRISTOPHER PATTON: Tell me a little bit more about what you do for Saturna. What’s your day to day like, now?

HAITHAM AL-SAYED: Yeah, great. So, I’m focusing, currently working with high net worth clients as well as the advisory group, the community advisor groups, around the country. So, what that means is I travel the country to educate advisors at different firms, broker-dealers, registered investment advisors, on, you know how to educate their clients about the Amana Funds and Saturna Capital. And dealing directly with clients and we also are involved, or I’m involved, with doing presentations at local Masjid, Mosques, communities and so forth. And you know, because education is so big in our family and in our DNA, I’ve always felt, you know, this is the best way to be in this field is to educate people and give them their options. And Hamdullah, from that day til now, even today, I still believe in the education piece.

MONEM SALAM: What do you find with most advisors? What stage are they at and where do they particularly need help?

HAITHAM AL-SAYED: So, the majority of the advisors… There’s a spectrum. There’s folks that I meet who are brand new to the industry and I have a passion for this stage, because you know, I get to really help them not only focus on educating them on the Amana Funds, or our funds, but also educate them on how to grow their business. From my experience in managing the wealth groups for other institutions, I really try to seek and add value to them in growing and starting their practice. But I also meet advisors who have been in the industry twenty, thirty years, and they’re so accustomed to doing their own thing, and when either they don’t know or have not heard of Amana before and I see the light glow in their eyes, like, “This is something new I can focus on, or something I haven’t focused on, I’ve always wanted to focus on.” It’s nice to see that light and spark in them, even though they’ve been doing this for twenty, thirty years.

MONEM SALAM: Yeah so you, you used to be an advisor, right? Or, is that true?

HAITHAM AL-SAYED: Yeah, correct. So, when I went into banking because I thought, you know, no matter what the economy is doing, someone is writing a check, in good times or bad times. Then, eventually part of the role was to be an advisor, so I did that, and I built a good, sizable book of business and was tapped on the shoulder to go into management. I’ve always been dealing either in production directly or managing producers in the advisor space.

MONEM SALAM: How did you decide to make the switch over to, uh… on the Islamic side?

HAITHAM AL-SAYED: At Wells Fargo, I used to work with a brother by the name of Owaiz Dadabhoy, who is…

MONEM SALAM: …who we’ve had on our show before.

HAITHAM AL-SAYED: Yeah. He is well known. I always used to see him at events with the Amana booth. At different non-profits and so forth. And my curiosity… as I said, learning, I’m always a learner, so it’s in my blood, all the time.

MONEM SALAM: So, at that time when you were at Wells Fargo, did you know anything about Islamic investing?

HAITHAM AL-SAYED: No, I had zero, zero, zero knowledge about what it is, really. And it wasn’t, you know, a wide-spread type of business. And so, just thinking about it, it sparked my curiosity and then, finally, the time came where the opportunity was right because, you know, Amana and Saturna was looking for somebody that had the wealth management experience as well as the advisory business and we had lunch with Owaiz and we talked about making the switch and I’m so happy. And I, you know, sometimes you say, “I wish I could have done this a long time ago,” and this is one of them. Where I wish I did this a long time ago.

MONEM SALAM: Was it just a job opportunity? Is that what it was for you?

HAITHAM AL-SAYED: No, no, no. This was a biproduct to be honest with you, was the job opportunity. Me, just, you know, being involved with the faith more and going back to, I would say, the straight path, if you can, and any option that you think of, any decision that comes across your desk, or your life, if there’s a better option to take that gets you closer to the religion, you take it. And this was that point, where I was very successful in my career and I was really doing well, but you know, at the end of the day, I felt more comfortable and I felt, “This is the right thing to do.” And Hamdullah, this opportunity came.

MONEM SALAM: So, do you think that the faith part came first or was that a biproduct of you getting into Islamic investing, or was it the other way around?

HAITHAM AL-SAYED: I think it was a moment in my life where there was a lot of things happening at the same time. And I think it’s a blessing from Allah, subhana wa ta'ala [God, glorified is he], that you know, this was written for me to make this change in my career and to answer your question, obviously the common denominator is the faith. For the last 8 years, I’ve been trying to make the switch and wasn’t able to for various reasons, but the timing was right, and I think that the decision to do the change inherently inside. Just, there wasn’t the right opportunity to do so.

MONEM SALAM: You mentioned that you were trying to do it for a long time, like 8 years I think you mentioned. You just didn’t find the right opportunity. I mean, in your experience, even from advisors who are maybe thinking about doing it, let’s walk through the story. What were some of the impediments and how did you get over them?

HAITHAM AL-SAYED: Yeah. There’s always gonna be noise around anything that you do or decision that you think of and you’re gonna have different schools of theory about what it is. Some people say, “Oh, they say it’s a halal thing, but it’s not really halal. They just call it something else.” So, I don’t know if those were really impediments for me to make a decision why it took 8 years, but I didn’t understand what Islamic finance is, to be honest with you. And until me talking more and more with people and learning more about it and I give credit to Owaiz, a lot, because, you know… But he took the time to kinda give me a little bit more insight, little drips here and there and as I understood it more and more it dawned on me to say, “You know what? What am I doing? The purpose of life, in general. What am I doing?” And if I can improve the way how I finance my home, or how I do my investments, or how I better my career, that aligns closer to the religion? Then, I’m gonna try to do that.” The other part is the myth of, “Socially responsible or faith-based type of investments do not perform well, and blah blah blah blah blah.” And there’s a lot of myths out there and the only way to decompose of the myths is to educate yourself.

CHRISTOPHER PATTON: So, it sounds like we’re kinda talking about two different things here. One is your personal journey and one is your professional journey. But it sounds as if they are pretty closely tied together.

HAITHAM AL-SAYED: Yeah. Chris, so that’s a really good question and good point. It comes down to… what path are we trying to be on? And we’re trying to be on the straight path. And whether it’s professional or career, it’s no difference, in my opinion. Every decision, now, that I do, professionally or personally, I do have this faith lens around it.

CHRISTOPHER PATTON: You mentioned the way you’re financing your home, for example. So, what other kinds of practical considerations are there that, at a certain point, could you feel so entangled with traditional finance that it would seem like an insurmountable task to some people, or…? 

HAITHAM AL-SAYED: First, you have to be in the right environment, or you have to know the right people to connect you to the right places and the right firms that offer these things and these services. But, you know, when you talk about, you know, is it a big task to deal with all of this? Not really. And you think it might be, but it’s not because the process and the controls are all laid out that these firms, who have been doing it, like for example, Amana, I didn’t know this was going on for thirty plus years when I learned about it. And I wish I had known that I could have told a lot more people from the past about their options. I do want to share something personal. In the last couple years, personally, I have been closer, more, to doing my daily prayers, you know, doing it on time, so it’s not just financing. It’s not just about work but there’s a lot of other things that have made me a better person by just being closer to it, so…

MONEM SALAM: And do you think that’s a direct relation? Do you think you could have done the same thing by just working in the conventional field?

HAITHAM AL-SAYED: I honestly can say no. Because you get so wound up in the daily routine of things that… No. I would have done it before if that was the case.

MONEM SALAM: That’s a good point.


MONEM SALAM: There’s some people who just have a slow, gradual move towards Islam, but other people have like an “Aha!” moment. So, for you, was it kinda like a light bulb going off one evening and, in the morning, and you wanted to change? Or was it somewhat gradually happening over time.

HAITHAM AL-SAYED: The light bulb went off. But when the epiphany came to say, “You know what? I need to make the move; I need to make the switch.” And at the end of the day, I sleep better. At the end of the day, I have a better relationship with my family. At the end of the day, my family is proud. My kids now, it’s so awesome to take my kids to these large events across the country where not only am I gaining knowledge but they’re also gaining knowledge and they didn’t have this opportunity before. So, it’s a heavy-weighted question for me because personally, it has changed our lives for the better. And this is what the religion teaches you. Any religion. It teaches you to be better. And sometimes, we’re gonna be thrown off course in different stages in our life, for different reasons. But having any kind of faith teaches you to be come back to it and teaches you to be better and make others be better and this is, I feel, what I’m doing today.

MONEM SALAM: So, what advice would you give, right? So, there’s two people, you said you deal with, two kinds of people. One is the advisor that has a book of business.


MONEM SALAM: And the other one is maybe an individual or a family that has their own money.


MONEM SALAM: But I mean, they’re very similar in the sense that they both have to manage it, those type of things, right?


MONEM SALAM: So, going through your own experience. Maybe they are different so you might want to separate them, so that’s up to you.


MONEM SALAM: But what advice would you give to each of those people? About how you begin to think about making the switch, and then how do you actually do it.

HAITHAM AL-SAYED: What’s common to both, whether an advisor managing the money or the client. At the end of the day, we don’t have to answer to anybody except our Lord, Allah, subhana wa ta'ala [God, glorified is he]. And Allah knows what we’re doing whether it’s right or wrong. So, if we’re trying to say that annuities are good and because I like the fix and the guarantees, but we know that anything fixed and guaranteed is Haram. And all we care about is the return or investing in funds that maybe have a better return, but they also deal with more Haram… it’s our personal choice. But who do we answer to? We answer to Allah and Allah knows everything. So, to both, I say it’s a personal decision. It’s a personal choice. On how they want to manage their money. On the advisor side, being a fiduciary, or not, we’re all trying to put the clients’ best interests first. And if we know that this client does have affinity to the faith and wants their investments aligned with their values, then it’s almost a no-brainer that the advisor, in their role as a fiduciary or putting the clients best interest, that they have to be able to offer them these choices, these type of funds. On the personal side, if I’m in a situation where I’m working for an employer that offers a 401(k), as I mentioned before, you can always ask the question, “Are there other options?” Just asking that question to the plan administrator where your 401(k) is, or to the HR/benefits department, and say, “You know what? These funds don’t align with my faith. Are there options that I can do?” That’s your personal duty, I think, to try to do it, if your goal is to align with the faith. It really comes down to, as a leader in your business or as a leader in your family, what type of role model do you want to do? So now, my kids understand that, you know, when they have some money now, they’re investing it in something that is within the faith. They’re giving their own money to charity when they see my wife and I giving money to charity. They’re saying, “Hey, can we help? Can we give this person some food?” So, all these things are all aligned because of certain action or role models, inshallah, that we’re doing for our kids, and hopefully that translates into the advisory world or to the individual world. I’m traveling around the country and with all this phobia and rhetoric, I meet a lot of fantastic people. I meet, on one spectrum, millennials and they have their 401(k) and they’re very, very eager to say, “How do I not invest in the funds that I do?” Because they understand. And I hope they understand because there was a role model for them. And I’m talking on the other end, on the other spectrum, to first and second generation of people who built their businesses, built their practices, and they have a lot of wealth and they’re asking, “How do we bequest this, Islamically? Or how do we do Islamic wills and inheritance.” And we’re working with Islamic estate attorneys around the country that do Islamic wills and inheritance. And the beauty about this is more and more people are engaged, I feel, around the country, with what’s happening, so I really feel there’s a positive trend in this. As I said, we’re here to help people and if we can make people in a better situation than they were before, then I think we have the definition of success.

MONEM SALAM: Well, that was great information and I appreciate you sharing your personal experiences, Haitham. Maybe we’ll have you on another show. But thank you very much for being here.

CHRISTOPHER PATTON: Thanks for giving us such an insight.

HAITHAM AL-SAYED: Thank you guys; it was a pleasure.

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