Johnson Diversity Series - Dr Imran Lum

May 2020

Growing up in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious family in Adelaide, Dr Imran Lum experienced racism first-hand as a Chinese/Malay in the 1990's and discrimination post September-11 as a Muslim.

During this latter time period, Imran completed a Bachelor of Health Science with plans to become a Chiropractor. However, having seen the impact of Islamophobia on Muslim communities, he wanted to develop a greater understanding of what it meant to be living in Australia as a Muslim minority and obtained a Master of Arts in Islamic Studies. Studying the same Masters discipline as his wife, together they went on to complete their PhD's, as well as learn Arabic. 

Imran’s chosen specialisation as part of his PhD was in Islamic finance.

Imran’s corporate success and community work has been recognised with a scholarship for the Asialink Leaders Program, selected as one of 20 participants for DFAT’s Australian-ASEAN Emerging Leaders Program, and his appointment by the Foreign Minister to the board of the Australian-ASEAN Council (AAC), which increases people-to-people linkages with Australia and Southeast Asia. 

Imran is also an Honorary Research Fellow at the Institute for Religion, Politics and Society at Australian Catholic University. He is writing a book on Islamic Finance in Australia and the UK which will be published by Routledge later in 2020.

Imran’s life passion is to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of different languages, cultures and religious traditions. This passion has led Imran and his wife to be part of the founding team that established the Islamic Museum of Australia in Melbourne through to its completion in 2014. 

It is this life passion that also led Imran to Islamic Finance, a participatory and trade-based financing centred around religio-ethical principles. 

In his opinion, trade is where people connect. It creates a level playing field, and assuming each party has equal parity, it enables them to put aside their differences and work towards something that both parties will benefit from.

Imran joined NAB in 2008, with little formal banking experience but a lot of passion. He quickly developed in-depth knowledge of financing, tax and the law. 

Prior to leading the build-out of NAB’s Islamic finance capability, Imran was national product manager for NAB’s multi-award winning Microenterprise Loans, and during his time in the role, the product was awarded Money Magazine’s Best Socially Responsible Product in 2009.

In the move from microfinance, Imran has helped bridge the gap for Islamic investors and together with his team at NAB, structures innovative Islamic finance solutions for clients. 

All Islamic Finance transactions need to be compliant with both Australian and Islamic law and signed off by a global Sharia board. Islamic offshore investors in Australian property and construction were financing projects from Islamic banks that required expensive foreign exchange swaps so NAB developed an innovative Islamic Finance solution for these clients. 

There are unique complexities in these transactions and relationships, including aspects of Islamic law and corporate structures, and Imran’s community work supports the work he does at NAB. Prior to this, these investors were not able to procure the specialised finance structures that fit their mandates and religious considerations from any other major bank in Australia.

In 2019, NAB was awarded the Islamic Bank of the Year, Australia by The Asset Magazine’s Triple A Islamic Finance Awards. Imran has also been ranked in the top 500 people who make the Islamic Economy by ISLAMICA 500 for the past three years (2017-2019). 

Islamic finance is a new and innovative concept in the Australian market, and Imran is proud to evolve and grow the work in this space. 

In Imran’s experience and through his formal studies, unconscious bias can sometimes cloud encounters in the corporate world. Leaders may be unaware of cultural differences. For example, some of Imran’s Asian and Muslim friends feel uncomfortable about going to Friday night drinks for personal and religious reasons. If those events are a key opportunity to bond, Imran notes that there will be members of the team that would be excluded. 

He believes there is a lot we can learn from Asian Australians, with Southeast Asia as a case in point with its rapid economic growth. Studies have shown that Asian Australians are underrepresented at senior levels and on boards of Australian businesses, meaning businesses have missed out on growth opportunities because they lack the cultural capital to understand the region. It is here that Asian Australians are well placed to navigate the cultural and linguistic nuances of doing business in the region.

Imran is an outstanding role model for both his community and his generation, and the Corporate Category winner of the 2019 “40 under 40” Most Influential Asian-Australian Awards.

See the other category winners and learn more about the 40 Under 40 Most Influential Asia-Australian Awards.