BIG RAPIDS – Striking a balance between Islamic culture and modern banking practices presented Mircea Dobre and his team of fellow graduate students from the University of Chicago with quite a challenge: to help Barclay’s Bank (based in the United Kingdom) operate efficiently, find ways to profit, while adhering to Muslim beliefs that prohibit charging and collecting interest.
That challenge was issued and eagerly accepted. Dobre, a 2001 Ferris State University graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Finance, traveled with his diverse seven-member team on a 10-week mission to the Middle East, with stops in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and Cairo. The group also journeyed to London, England, during a period from April through June. To accommodate the trip, Dobre was granted a sabbatical by R.W. Baird, a Grand Rapids-based consulting firm, where he is a senior investment consultant.
“We went there as advisers and our function was to assist Barclay’s with a plan that would allow them to function effectively as a bank and accomplish two major things,” said Dobre, who is pursuing his MBA in economics with concentrations in accounting and finance from the University of Chicago. “Number one, we needed to help them to function while not being able to charge interest because there is a prohibition against charging interest. Number two, banking has to be a partnership with risk-sharing between the bank and the customer.”
Accomplishing their goals with Barclay’s Bank meant applying their collective and individual knowledge about finance with a crash-course in Islamic culture with respect to banking practices. Dobre and his team had to find ways to work efficiently between the two.
“We had to spend a lot of time understanding the key features we were going to have to be familiar with to make this project effective,” Dobre said. “We had to understand, also, the different Muslim cultures. We had to understand differences between European Muslims and Muslims from the Gulf. We had to learn not only where differences were, but also where commonalities were.”
Dobre considers the trip that spanned the better part of three months a success based on what he has seen and heard from Barclay’s.
“The bank is going to implement what we advised them of,” said Dobre, who described himself as obsessed with getting “A” grades in his classes while at Ferris. He has continued to use that drive outside the classroom as well during his young career. “I can’t say enough about Barclay’s and how well they worked with us and how accommodating they were of us. I can’t say enough about them as a global bank, and I look at Barclay’s right now as a bank that is going to be successful, globally, more and more during the next 10 years.”
Dobre, who was an Honors student at Ferris, credits his time at the University for building a solid foundation for his future endeavors and career successes.
“What I learned at Ferris were basics that were the building blocks for the future…the foundation of my success,” said Dobre, who both resides and works in Grand Rapids, but travels to Chicago frequently on weekends for his graduate school studies. “When you’re an undergraduate, what you’re looking for is a place that is going to get you started on the path to success and, from that standpoint, Ferris prepared me well.”