Employee Provident Fund – Becoming Shariah Compliant

Simpanan Shariah

8th August 2016 was the date the Employee Provident Funds (EPF) in Malaysia announced the opening of its registration counters to move t he existing funds into Shariah-compliant Employee Provident funds.

The response was monumental where people came to line up to register since 7 am and lines can be seen snaking out of the offices. People had to come personally to sign the conversion form (which includes Agency appointments as part of the Aqad) and agree to the terms. There’s great relief that finally there is a Shariah compliant fund for contributors, although it will not happen immediately. Conversion starts 1 January 2017.

As to date, about 45,000 people have signed the conversion.

But many questions still arise from whether EPF will really pull it off. As usual, the suspicions and sarcasms arise on the whole process of “complying with Shariah” and what is required. The common questions are whether they have the infrastructure to manage such a big fund in an Islamic market which is perceived to be not that huge. Can it support the whole fund, or will any excess funds not invested in Islamic instruments “flow” back to the mixed market?

I am sure EPF have able fund managers. But I am surprised to hear questions whether EPF is really going “Islamic” or just another ploy to hoodwink the public. Questions such as, do they really know which company is Shariah compliant, are the Shariah Advisors reliable, do they just advice or do they have any authority or power to influence the investment strategies of EPF to comply. Can we trust them?

Before I write further, I have to say that the Shariah Advisory Committee of EPF consist of 5 heavyweights in the industry. Dr Aznan, Dr Akram, Dr Zahar, Dr Engku and Dr Kamaruzaman. Someone implied that they will eventually cave in to organisational pressure when “tough investment decisions” have to be made, but this comment do not fully appreciate the role of SAC in any Islamic Financial institutions. The SAC has a huge responsibility to ensure the operations of the funds are Shariah compliant, the income is Shariah compliant, and the distribution of dividends are Shariah compliant. Consistently. Continuously. Automatically.

So what is the process that usually happens in an Islamic Financial Institution (IFI)? How influential are the SAC to the operations of an IFI? I cannot fully vouch for EPF but the governance framework should be consistent throughout the industry. The following is what usually happens in the process of determining Shariah compliance investments for EPF to enter into, and the control processes to ensure it remains Shairah compliant.

Shariah Compliant Investment Selection, Deployment, and Dividend Distribution.

In general, the SAC and IFI must start to build a framework that meets the Shariah rules to invest and deploy these Islamic funds. The following steps usually applies:

  1. The IFI first start identifying Shariah compliant counters, companies and investments that meets the criteria set by the SAC. There are several benchmark in the market that guides these criteria such as the Securities Commission criteria for Shariah Compliant Companies, BNM listing of Shariah Prohibited Activities, or even using the Accepted Bills-i which lists non-Shariah compliant goods (if a company trades in these goods). Based on the above, the benchmark of what is acceptable is decided by SAC. Deliberated and discussed. SAC will also decide whether to follow market benchmark or adopt a more stricter stance than the market.
  2. For mixed counters or companies, SAC will also decide on an acceptable benchmarks. For example, companies which has more than 5% clearly non-Shariah compliant activities are excluded from the “approved” listing. If the activities are not clearly identifiable, the “unidentifiable” activities should not be more than 20% of all the company’s activities. Different IFI adopts different benchmarks. Looking at EPF SAC, it is likely the benchmarks are stricter.
  3. An Investment Mandate, based on the rules defined by SAC above is then formulated to outline the type of acceptable counters/companies/investment, the deployment strategy, the monitoring and reporting requirements, escalation processes, calculation and declaration of income, distribution of dividends and finally the financial disclosures.
  4. The Investment Mandate should be guiding instructions for Treasury to follow in managing the funds. Based on the mandate, Treasury finds the companies/counters/investments that meet the criteria and manage the funds accordingly.
  5. The list of the investments / companies are reviewed regularly to ensure they still remain as Shariah compliant throughout the investment period. Any companies that fall out of the criteria will be removed from the lists. Any non-compliant incidences will be escalated to the SAC.
  6. On an interim basis, Internal Audit (reporting to Board of Directors) and Shariah Review (reporting to SAC) will do their periodic audits to ensure that the Shariah parameters are always met and adhered to. Any incidences of non-Shariah compliant investments will be tabled to SAC for a decision. The decision will be whether to exit the investment, make rectification, or worse case scenario, deem the investment non-Compliant and remove the dividends received from the pool and pay them out to charity.
  7. At the end of the investment period (declaration dates), the SAC will look at the financial results, the investments made, the exclusion of non-Shariah compliant income/dividend, and overall operations of the funds. Once satisfied, the SAC signs off and income/dividend may then be distributed.

In short, the SAC not only outline the mandate for Shariah compliant investments, they are also responsible in the various aspects of the management of the funds to ensure what is paid out are “clean” dividends not tarnished by non-Shariah compliant components. There is a huge responsibility for the SAC towards the general public who rely on them to formulate the right investment mandate for them. I don’t envy such position; the burden is great but I have to say EPF had it right by appointing such heavyweights to their SAC.

May Islamic EPF continue to be a choice that is taken by the public. Wallahualam

For a full collection of the videos on Shariah Compliant EPF, click on this link: EPF-I http://www.kwsp.gov.my/shariah/videos.html

 

German Banks: More Islamic than Islamic Banks?

In one of my engagements a couple of years ago,  I had the fortune to present my views on the Islamic Banking industry and its challenges in front of an audience in INCEIF. One of the bright participants there had subsequently proceeded to complete her MSc Research and recently gotten in touch with me. I had a read of what she had published, and it is a remarkable piece of academia. I have since asked for her permission to publish it on this site, for the benefits of other readers. Good food for thought.

Thank you Ms Rosana Gulzar Mohd, for your allowance to this request.

Overall, I find the research quite enlightening and overall accurate. It is also a good reminder of what we still need to achieve to ensure Islamic Banking remains focused and strong for the foreseeable future. Happy reading and do give your constructive feedback on the paper for our discussion.
Note : Ms Rosana was a student from INCEIF : The Global University of Islamic Finance and recently finished her MSc thesis concluding that a) Islamic banks are not really ‘Islamic’ and b) the recommendations for reforms. The analysis centres on the industry in Malaysia. She is keen to pursue her PhD. (Click this link for alternate site to download research)
Middle East Institute – National University of Singapore
Abstract:
This study, which compares the German system with Malaysia in the hope of improving Islamic finance, uncovers four paradoxes. Germany is chosen because its focus on mutuality and small enterprises, at the expense of profit maximisation, not only embodies the Shariah principles of justice and social welfare but also makes the system more stable. The banks’ profitability and stability between 2006 and 2014 are compared. This covers their performances before, during and after the global financial crisis. The indicators used are the banks’ return on average equity (ROAE), return on average asset (ROAA) and net loan to deposits and short-term funding. While this study finds that Malaysian banks, including Islamic ones, are indeed significantly more profitable and efficient than German banks, it uncovers four paradoxes. Firstly, it is ironical that Malaysian commercial banks are less aggressive than the Germans in their loans-to-deposit ratio. Secondly, the profitability of Malaysian development financial institutions (DFIs) and banking cooperatives are comparable, if not higher, than its commercial banks. Thirdly, the ROAE for Malaysian banking cooperatives rose 41% during the 2008 crisis when other banks’ fell. The last paradox is that while Malaysian commercial banks seem prudent in their lending, the DFIs and banking cooperatives are leveraged to an alarming extent. This study concludes with two reform recommendations: a rethink of the economic drivers in Malaysia and a sprucing up of the DFIs and cooperatives’ balance sheets towards national standards.

Types of Murabahah

One of the common questions I get with regards to the Murabahah Standards issued by BNM is on the types of Murabahah covered under the standards. Murabahah is essentially a Sale of goods (cost plus profit) where there is a “deferred” element which validates the profit earned arising from the sale transaction. To understand the difference, it is key to analyse the “deferred” elements, and the risks associated to the deferment.

Essentially, there are two types of deferment in a Murabahah i.e.:

1. Deferment arising from future settlement of Sale Price – This is the most common form of Murabahah where risks to the Seller is minimised by the almost immediate transfer of ownership of the goods.

Murabahah Deferred Sale

This is generally used for debt creation where the Seller (usually a Bank in the case of financing products) purchase goods into its ownership and quickly Sells the goods to the Buyer (usually customer) where the Sale Price (inclusive of profit) is concluded with the future settlement terms agreed. Once the debt creation is completed, the ownership transfers from the Seller to the Buyer and the Buyer will start to make payments on the agreed Sale Price.

All risks on the goods (valuation, pricing, ownership) are transferred quickly from Seller to Buyer; the Seller only holds the credit risk of the debt i.e. the risk that the Buyer may not able to pay the Sale price at the future date as agreed.

2. Deferment arising from future delivery of goods sold – This structure is more riskier than the earlier mentioned deferment of Sale Price settlement. Deferment of delivery of goods means the Seller purchases the goods now but do not enter into a Sale transaction with the Buyer until much later.

Murabahah Deferred Delivery

Instead, the Seller holds the ownership of the goods for a period of time and enters into a contract at an agreed future date. The Seller will carry the ownership risks and valuation risks until the goods are sold at the Sale Price (inclusive of profit). Once the Buyer enters the contract, the ownership of goods is transferred on settlement of the Sale Price at spot (either a Murabahah arrangement or Musawamah Simple Sale transaction).

Due to the riskier nature of the above, the Buyer is usually required to undertake to enter into the Sale contract (via Letter of Undertaking in favour of the Seller).  On then the Seller procure the goods from Supplier, creating a legal obligation on the Buyer to complete the sale at the agreed future delivery date, even if the Buyer decides not to complete the Murabahah transaction (default on the arrangement). By this undertaking, the Buyer takes on the pricing risks as at the date of Sale transaction; the price of goods on the open market may be higher or lower than the contracted Sale Price.

Additionally, with the Letter of Undertaking, the risks on the Seller is mitigated, resulting the credit risk of the Buyer to be similar/equivalent to the “debt” structure of Murabahah arising from deferment of Sale Price.

This arrangement is commonly referred to in the market as “Murabahah Purchase Order” or MPO where the Seller will only proceed to purchase goods to hold it for a period of time with the surety of the Letter of Undertaking as a risk mitigant.

Both the structures are sufficiently addressed in the Murabahah Standards issued in 2013.

 

Best Wishes for Ramadhan

It has been quite some time since I last posted here and I do apologise for that. I have recently joined a new organisation at the moment heavily in the midst of launching an Islamic Banking proposition to their customers. Safe to say that the amount of work is monumental but launching an Islamic proposition is always the good fight for me. We expect then “live date” to be sometime July 2016 and hopefully I will have a bit more time thereafter to finally complete the various drafts laying in my box.

So in the meantime, I have added the various guidelines issued by BNM these past few months into my repository. The guidelines issued lately by BNM as follows:

  1. Wa`d Concept Paper (11 April 2016)
  2. Statutory Reserve Requirements (26 January 2016)
  3. Financial Reporting for Islamic Banking Institutions (05 May 2016)

But nonetheless, I would like to take the opportunity to wish my friends, colleagues, subscribers, supporters and casual visitors the best of Ramadhan’s blessings. May we all have good tidings and good health for the many years ahead of us all.

Ramadhan Kareem, and please accept my humble thanks for visiting.

New Ethica Institute Handbook

I have always had admiration for these guys ever since they published their handbook in 2013 for general reading. It has some interesting articles as well as explanation on Islamic Banking contracts, samples of the contracts itself and Meezan Bank’s Guide to Islamic Banking, which I always find useful as a reference. As for their website, I go there for the Shariah fatwas and the Q&As, which discusses latest concerns in Islamic Banking.

So I quickly signed up for the free webinar scheduled for this week and found that I was not able to sign up as there were only 500 places for it available. Sigh, but anyway better luck next time. But at the same time I am given the link to the latest pre-launch handbook, presumably an update of the free handbook they issued in 2013 (click this link to go to that earlier posting)

Hopefully you can benefit and share the ebook with your friends as well. Do visit their website at http://www.ethicainstitute.com/ as there are many interesting stuff there. This includes “Ask an Islamic Finance Question” and “Search Islamic Finance Q&A”.  Check it out!!!

 

Happy reading and have a blessed year ahead in 2016. Wasalam.

 

Life as an Islamic Product Developer

Recently I have been asked on the function of developing Islamic products for the Bank, from one keen graduate looking to start a career in the industry. The graduate was not confident in the future of the industry and was seeking some advice.

 As a career choice, Islamic Banking remains a good option for many reasons. In my view, the industry is still a growing space, with discussions and researches still being done and far from finished. Slowly scholars are going to the forefront, and arguments on structures are becoming more sophisticated. So, it is an exciting time to be in the industry.
But how about product development itself? Is it worthwhile to enter this fray?

Life as an Islamic Banking product developer is not easy. Simply because not many knows what we are doing, and what it takes to be one. I always viewed being a product developer is as hard as being an imam in a community; you hold on your shoulders the responsibility of launching a product that the community must trust to be Shariah compliant. There is no heavier burden than this, and you must be willing to shoulder this responsibility. Not everyone willingly do this.

But being a product developer has its intrinsic advantages. Rarely a position in the Bank affords you access to all types of functions. As a developer who have to design, develop and launch an effective and successful product, you need to engage ALL parties in the Bank as your product needs to flow throughout the organisation. The detail involved is enormous and you are expected to be an expert in most of the touch points. Hard questions are asked by stakeholders in the Bank, and you are expected to be able to satisfactorily answer these. They won’t sign off the approvals if you fail this.

That’s why sometimes it takes a long time to develop and launch a product. Many people criticise us for being slow, unresponsive or too technical. But to reach the stage we can satisfy all parties, including Shariah Committees and Central Bank, a product will just remain a concept that is not developed and launched.

In addition, Product Development requires us to be experts in various fields after a product is launched. This includes after sales support and damage control, especially if there were mistakes made, misselling of a feature or just general queries by customers. We also have to continue ensuring Shariah requirements are being met, as well as balancing the business requirements (which is generally profit driven).

Life is not easy here, despite appearances. It takes a lot of grit to survive as a developer, and you do need a certain amount toughness to handle the day to day tasks. But the rewards are great as it builds you into a competent and wholesome expert in the field after a few years. Patience is also needed and so is hard work.

To all the graduating students out there, do your best in the industry and fight this good fight. There is a bright future out there, as bright as you want it to be.

Presentation on Careers in Islamic Banking

VideoBlog : Islamic Finance

One of my ultimate dream is to have VideoBlogs for this site. I have dreamt it for quite some time but it has been hard to find the opportunity to create one according to what I envision. InshaAllah that day will come, although I am not sure I am photogenic enough to be on “TV”.

CDIFBut a friend has managed to realise that vision. Hussain Kureshi whom became an acquaintance a couple of years ago, took that bold step to make a difference. He self-produced a series on Islamic Finance, following the launch of his book (Contracts and Deals in Islamic Finance) and I must say I am impressed.

So when Hussain asked me if he can feature his VideoBlogs on this site, it was my absolute honour to have it. Please do visit and take a listen to the various topics he has elaborated upon. As at yesterday, there’s already 20 VideoBlogs (YouTube) that you can go through. Looking forward to more additions in the future.

Click on the picture of the book to go to the VideoBlog page. Happy listening.