Feb 10

IMG_20150202_171231 (640x640)When I left Kabul at the end of October 2013, I seriously thought it was the last time. Little did I know. It is now February 2015 and I am yet again on my way there. It’s end of project phase, so there are only few expats left. and they had to leave the comfortable villa and are now staying elsewhere. No funky light features that make you smile, but the curtain hanging is quite innovative.

Apparently the laundry services are nothing to write home about (unless you like your clean clothes to still have traces of soap) so we take that to the office and the ladies will take care of it…

Stay safe,

Oct 10

In Afghanistan you still see women wearing a chador – you know the one I mean, the light blue top to toe cover-all that makes them walk funny because they can’t see the pavement very well. Bit of asking around learned that probably around half of them do it because they choose to do so. Basically they want to avoid being pinched and groped by the men. Now, where I come from that is not acceptable behaviour and as my father always said, no man has any right to do that. One of the local girls I spoke to relayed the story about going on the bus during Taliban time. Girls would sit in the back behind a divider which could be just a sheet or a curtain. Men would sit in the front. Unsurprisingly, men would like to sit as close to the divider as possible and try and touch one of the ladies up. She told me how she developed a very accurate aim with a handbag. If it wasn’t so sad, it’d be funny.

Is this the right approach though? Surely it’s not the women who should be worried about being pinched and groped but the men who should be told that this is unacceptable and, more importantly, very disrespectful.

Then again, some of the girls in the office I work complain about the other girls because their clothes are too bright or revealing. But there is a glimmer of hope. One of the girls I work with always wears dark colours. Her husband makes her do it. But she showed me some pictures from a few years ago and boy is this girl making progress changing her husband’s and his family’s perception. Few years ago she wasn’t allowed to work and had to wear baggy shapeless things. Now she has a pretty good job and wears decent work outfits. Nothing particularly revealing, but still a major improvement. On top of that she managed to convince the family that the girls in the family – nieces, sisters in law, all part of the same household – should be allowed to go to English class and have a good education. You go girl!

Dr Natalie Schoon, CFA

Sep 28

One of the most heralded characteristics of social media is that it is now so easy to maintain contact with all your friends or business network in one handy place. Keep in touch with everyone, tell them what you are up to and be in touch with every part of their life. Now, I am all for the use of social media although I can see some pitfalls.

For starters, I quite like to keep my private life separate from my professional life. So I have a very private facebook account, but every time I change the settings to keep it that way, they come up with some newfangled invention to make sure I will share everything with everyone I don’t necessarily want to share this with. I’m certainly seriously considering leaving facebook again.

Professional networking sites are, at least for me, different. I still don’t post much, but do occasionally participate in a discussion and voice my opinion. Thing is, even though you are ‘talking’ to people from behind a picture, you still have to be carefull no one is biting your head off. I’ve recently been following a discussion that is a prime example of this. It’s gone down hill from the start with only a few participants, but boy oh boy, you should see the comments. Talk about mudslinging and then some. The way not to fall foul of this is, of course, by being a lurker or someone who follows conversations but never participates. Seems to defeat the purpose, but it works for quite a lot of people.

As with everything, the thing is to use it sensibly. If I would read everything everyone posts on any of the social networks I use, I would not have any time left in the day to do anything else. I guess that’s how people end up with thousands of virtual ‘friends’ but no one notices when they go missing. Personally, I use social networks as a means to meet up with people and needless to say, I rather enjoyed the commercial for the Toyota Venza showing a girl behind her PC all the time and the parents being out and about. (

Dr Natalie Schoon, CFA

Sep 19

It’s all kicking off again around the Middle East at the moment, apparently all because of a movie that is deemed to be insulting. Whether this is the case or not is irrelevant for this topic, suffice to say it is equally often just used as a handy excuse. The media coverage and political outrage is significant. There are certainly some similarities with the London Riots of August 2011. Perhaps there is nothing else to report. Or is it because reporting violence sells news and thus, is good for advertisements. In any case, both strike me as sensation seeking.  A lot of media attention which only puts fuel to the fire. It makes me wonder what would happen if the global media en masse decided to stop reporting on any attacks, suicide bombings, rioting etc. If those that are behind it, whom are most certainly not the same as the ones risking their own lives as much as that of others, would not receive the attention they so seem to crave would they stop? Would the whole thing just lose its attraction? I’m not sure but it seems to me that it might be worth a try.

One thing I do know. I’m by no means saying it’s all a walk in the park, but it’s never as bad as what is reported in the news.

Dr Natalie Schoon, CFA

Jul 30

On a regular basis press releases and articles are published stressing the fact that there is a lack of skilled staff within the Islamic financial industry. On an equally regular basis I speak with people who have significant experience that could be useful in Islamic financial institutions, but can’t find a job in the field. Fair enough, in some cases their experience is in the conventional financial industry. However, as long as they are willing to learn, which most of them are, their skills and expertise are easily transferable. Why is it then that they are not able to secure a job within the Islamic finance industry? The most heard reason for this is that there is nothing being advertised. Bearing in mind that these are people who are not adverse to moving abroad, the question is where the discrepancy comes from. Perhaps jobs are being filled without being advertised, or firms just work their current staff harder in case they can’t fill the positions. On the other hand, it is possible that the lack of skilled staff is used as a convenient excuse or for training companies to generate a little more interest in their courses.

Dr Natalie Schoon, CFA

Jul 30

Contrary to my earlier plans I find myself in London during the Olympics. Fair enough, the city is looking its best at the moment. It’s buzzing and, as long as you’re not in a hurry to get anywhere, fun.  More visitors than normal and they do keep on asking directions to London Bridge when they mean Tower Bridge. Some even argue with you when you point out the pretty looking one is called Tower Bridge and not London Bridge.

The American kids I overheard the other day topped it all though. Walking on the Southbank I recognised a distinctly American sounding person saying ‘You know that building over theeeerrrre? It’s modelled on the White House’. I’m facing east wards towards the City of London and there is honestly not a single building either north or south of the river that I would recognise from that description. I slow down a little to see what they have to say next. A bit of flicking through a guide book ensues. The answer? ‘It’s called St Paul’s’. Alright love, back to school with you. St Paul’s cathedral was (re)built after the Great fire of London in 1666. Only just a century or two before the White House…..

Dr Natalie Schoon, CFA

Jun 26

More often than not innovation is driven by small companies. They are less set in their ways than big ones and don’t have elaborate processes in place that stall their pace. The most important driver for innovation remains an ability to think outside of that much mentioned box. Not in consultant speak, but for real.

Micro finance was not invented by large financial institutions, and for a long time it was not embraced by them either. Just the thought of getting all these peasants coming into their immaculately marbled banking halls was enough to make them run a mile. Product innovation within agricultural finance is experiencing the same. Farmers coming into the bank? ‘No thanks’.

To be fair to the banks, they are required to operate within the confines of the local laws and regulations, and product innovation is often a long and cumbersome process. The Islamic financial industry is no different there either and they generally have a tendency to invest in the same type of transactions and sectors over and over again.

The banks desperately want to show they can play a role in the international financial industry and keep on placing money with other financial institutions using commodity murabaha which is by far the most popular instrument and not only for interbank placements. Investing in and lending to local enterprises is often dismissed as risky, but let’s not forget that one of the more important reasons often is that it’s just not as snazzy. It’s not glamorous, does not show global reach, and generally is not really something to brag about. But it does benefit the local economy, allow for diversification an innovation, and has a strong potential to reduce risks.

Just a thought.

Dr Natalie Schoon, CFA

Jun 13

Personally I always thought I am pretty generous when it comes to (dinner) parties. Always making sure there is enough food and drink for everyone and to everyone’s liking. Recently I have had to admit defeat when it came to organising a dinner party. This one was catered for (bliss) and I was discussing the requirements with the cooks. The mathematics are mind boggling. Once we had decided on the menu, we came to the critical point of deciding on quantity. Having uttered: “seriously? you’re joking right?” a number of times I finally figured it out. You cannot run out of food. It’s not polite. So what you do is the following. Start with the number of people in your household (let’s call it 4). Then add a little to be safe. So we are now 6. Take the number of guests which in this case was 6 and multiply by 3. Ok – we are now looking at 24. Then add a little just to be sure. Right, this party was catered for 28 people. We were 10. The food was splendid, the cakes to die for. But three days later we were, of course, still enjoying the left overs. Except for the cakes, they finished on the night. Funny that…

Dr Natalie Schoon, CFA

May 29

The current financial and economic crisis is no different from any other when it comes to apportioning blame and apathy. Politicians and the general public blame the banks, banks point their fingers back to the regulators, and the regulators blame the economy. The economy, being an abstract science, has no one to blame. It collectively makes us feel good. If only it was this easy.

Unfortunately there is not a single party to blame. It was, in the end, a perfect storm of greed and stupidity. Banks took too much risk and speculated. Regulators, shareholders, politicians and the general public did nothing to stop them since they quite liked the higher interest, high profits, or increased contribution to the tax coffers. Hands up who thought putting money with an Icelandic bank was a good idea and did not for one minute think that if it sounds too good to be true it probably is. Anyone who did is in good company though. Just in the UK, local government, charities, and public pension funds lost a combined £1 billion.

The net result is that banks now sit on their hands when it comes to lending money unless the client can prove he doesn’t need the funds which in turn harm economic progress.

As Hugh McCulloch eloquently put it in his “Circular letter of the Treasury Department”:

“Pursue a straightforward, upright, legitimate banking business. Never be tempted by the prospect of large returns to do anything but what may properly be done under the National Currency Act. Splendid financiering is not legitimate banking and splendid financiers are generally either humbugs or rascals.”

Although issued in 1863, it is equally applicable to every single financial crisis that has occurred before and after and interestingly enough what we do see is that financial institutions built on a strong set of principles have survived remarkably well. Think, for example, about the building societies, credit unions and cooperative banks. When times were good, they never made excessive profits, but when it all went belly up, they were still doing swell. They know their clients inside out, take calculated business risks, and don’t speculate to nearly the same extent. Bit like old fashioned merchant banking.

Perhaps it is time to stop the blame game, and start considering social responsible finance for all. And this time around, when the going gets easy again – don’t give in to relaxing the rules.

Dr Natalie Schoon, CFA

May 19

The current trend seems to be that capitalism and, by implication, large corporations are bad. Small companies are seen as better from both an economic and social perspective. The justification for these bold statements is generally the financial crisis and fat cat bonusses. Is small always beautiful and big always bad? Perhaps not. Surely, small companies create jobs in the short run, but out of those that survive only very few create more jobs then the ones created in the start-up phase. This is in part attributable to the fact that only very few get past the paternalistic leadership style. The lack of succession planning and fear of handing over control are two of the main challenges with this. In addition, small companies tend to be inefficient in their use of resources due to the fact that they are often redirected to – or perhaps distracted by – less important tasks.

Now surely, if small is not beautiful than big must be. Not particularly true either. Because of their growth capacity they will often create more jobs in the long run, and have the resources for innovation and large Research and Development departments. True innovation, however, often comes from small companies with a larger capacity to think outside the box since they are not institutionalised.

The solution? I don’t know, but there might be some merit in big companies monitoring small ones and, once they get to a big enough size absorb them. It will work for the entrepreneurial types among us since after all, they won’t have to worry about managing a company and can just focus on what they really like to do. Equally it will work for large companies who, for a potentially lower cost, will be able to buy-in a higher level of innovation.


Dr Natalie Schoon, CFA