Steering a Shariah Decision

Click on above picture to download the article in pdf

HIDDEN TRAPS IN SHARIAH DECISION MAKING

I came across an interesting article titled Hidden Traps in Shariah Decision Making by bro Ehsanullah Agha (click on picture for full pdf article). The article summarises what we product developers have known for quite some time now, and has now become necessary tools in ensuring the products we design are approved by our Shariah Committee. It summarises the involvement of Shariah in decision-making in an IFI, as well as some of the “traps” that Shariah Committee falls into when making decisions.

The 4 “traps” mentioned are:

  1. Anchoring an opinion
  2. Adhering to the Status Quo
  3. Confirming Evidence to support a decision
  4. Framing of information

While the above is referred to as “traps”, I would rather refer these as “approaches” to solicit a decision, and perhaps all the above can come together (not exclusively) in considering a decision. Reading the above exclusively may give the impression that a product team can resort to a specific tactic in order to extract a certain decision. Admittedly, there are such cases, especially where management requires a specific decision to support a business. But Shariah Committees are often expected to be the gatekeepers for such decisioning.

A quick comment on the above points:

  1. Anchoring. While product teams do not consciously try to anchor an opinion before presenting to Shariah Committee, we often do so to provide perspective on the rationale for such proposal. This can be done by highlighting a crisis or regulatory danger to support the proposal. It becomes the baseline discussion point during the deliberation stage. And we do it to keep the discussion in focus to achieve the objective ie resolving the crisis.
  2. Status Quo. By far this is one of the main consideration of an approval by Shariah Committees. Usually we call it Urf ie customs or acceptable market practice on a certain product behaviour. Personally, decisions based on Urf is not something I prefer but it is sometimes necessary to quote as such, especially if there is no major criticism on its usage and practice by the public (which also includes religious scholars). There is nothing wrong with accepting the norms of the society; my only contention is that I may not fully understand the deliberation points when such decisions are made by other parties for the fear of missing out a critical argument that should have been known and resolved by my team. Two things come to mind; Ignorance is bliss, and Blind leading the blind.
  3. Confirming Evidence. This is also a key point where a certain decision is preferred over the other. When there is a bias for arriving at a certain decision, the product research, analysis and design (including practicality in operations) are equally biased in finding evidence to support reaching of that decision. Rightly so as mentioned in the article, the evidence to support the contract of Bai Inah in Malaysia is generally extracted from the Shafie school of thought while sidelining the rest of the opinion that is equally valid. The evidence provided for the acceptability is biased to enable the consideration to approve the structure.
  4. Framing. In my opinion, framing is a necessary tool for product development teams simply due to the amount of information available in the market. While we understand the need for a robust deliberation session with the Shariah Committee, the forums available to us (and the allocated time given) are usually restrictive. To go into full academic and technical discourse will be challenging especially when a quick decision is required. The information that we provide are those we deemed most relevant to support the proposed solution. There may be other decisions that the Shariah Committee can arrive at, if only we had provided more information. But the danger lies where the inclusion of too much information may result in indecisiveness or confusion. Sometimes too much information clouds the real issue further, and it takes time to bring things back into focus. Therefore, we frame the information relevant to the issues. The intention is not to exclude, but to include what is relevant.

A GOOD DECISION COMES WHEN ALL PARTIES ARE ENGAGED

When a product team goes into a proposal, discussion or request for a certain decision, the Shariah Committee is expected to be conversant with the topic at hand to be able to engage in a meaningful discussion. The product team brings in the technical requirements, with some general Shariah background information, market analytics and practical implication on process requirements expected by Shariah. The Shariah Committee must bring in their expertise in Shariah knowledge to dissect and analyse the team’s proposal, not just what is being presented as information but also the rationale, the intention and the technical nuances proposed for the product.

Asking the right question is important for the Shariah Committee, just as providing the right context and intention is also important for the product team. In general, the product team must not go into a Shariah proposition with the intention to manipulate, coerce or blindside the Shariah Committee into a “business” decision. The effort must show full consideration in compliance with Shariah. As much as the heavy burden placed on the Shariah Committee shoulders are real (with fines and jail-time outlined under IFSA2013 when there’s failure to execute their duties), the same burden must also be felt by the IFI’s product team whenever a product is being designed and launched. The people I work with, I see strong commitment and awareness on the need to do the right things, all the time.

WISH LIST FOR 2019

It is easy to expect Shariah Committee to be well versed in all aspects of banking and finance when the decision is required. And it is also easy to expect product development teams to be fully aware of all “relevant” information to be able to share them objectively with the Shariah Committee. Such an ideal scenario will mean all parties come to the table fully aware of all the potential issues, with sufficiently extensive information and in-depth theoretical research to support all the argument. This does not always happen in real life.

I believe the only way to bridge this expectation is to significantly increase the knowledge of all parties. We see this starting to happen at the Shariah Committee level where BNM now encourage at least 1 industry expert to sit in the Shariah Committee, even without a Shariah background. This is to promote knowledge sharing and a different point of view during decisioning, and take notice of any attempts to coerce a decision.

On this same vein, I believe the next natural step is to have Shariah-trained individuals to become product developers in IFI. Most Shariah-based graduates that we see, enter into the banking world via the Shariah department. But how about entering other departments such as sales, credit or more importantly product-development? Such background knowledge in Shariah may itself force a self-regulating approach when designing a products. The Shariah arguments will be the first filter when assessing a product; if it fails at that filter, it will not see the light of day. And Shariah Committee can take some comfort that the Shariah deliberation has already started at the onset of the product development process.

I have seen some impressively good work done by Shariah-based product developers. This should be the way forward in finding new Shariah-compliant banking solutions. Hope I get this wish next year. Looking forward to 2019.

Another Good Site : Islamic Finance Resource

Click on picture to jump siteOnce in a while, friends ask me if there are reports or articles on Islamic Finance, and as much as I would say my site has it all, I know for certain my site contains mostly my musings on Islamic Banking. It is certainly my resource centre for my field of work, but there are other sites that are maintained and organised more systematically.

One of the sites that I do visit once in a while is Islamic Finance Resources, which contains a lot of updated news and latest industry reports. A good place to find statistics and some discussions on interesting Islamic Finance structures, and useful information. Mostly excerpts from the IFN and Reuters news portals. Certainly an additional place for us to seek information.

Do have a check on the site and hope you find the site useful.

Report : Islamic Finance Development Report 2017

Click on picture to go to report

Information on Islamic Banking and Finance performance has always been an interest of many practitioners, myself included. Yearly we scour the best looking and informative reports on the internet that is full of data on the industry, especially when it covers the global markets as well. Sometimes we find an average one, but nowadays there seemed to be an abundance of available reports. Some have “good” contents, but when I come across “great” one, I am tempted to put it on my site. For future reference, off course!

What we always love to find out is the performance of the Islamic Banking industry locally and globally, as it will provide reliable data to management on the latest trends that contributes to the bottom line. And presented in simple and clear infographics will only ensure some of the slides will be “cut and pasted” for speaker presentations, being quoted in many sessions. This reports provide all those opportunities.

More interestingly, this report provides insights on what has been going on in the world. For example, items such as Value Based Intermediation (VBI) espoused by BNM was also mentioned. There is talk about Islamic Fintech, Awqaf Funds and other local going-ons, including CSR initiatives. I would say this report covers many new areas of interest in Islamic Banking and Finance.

It also has a four-slide presentation on the most recent dispute on Sukuk involving Dana Gas. This was a real concern by many many parties over an extendable period of time. Nonetheless, this report make a good job summarising the key issues about the Dana Gas case, until its resolution. What a good write up for layman.

I hope these kind folks don’t mind me posting their report on my site. As mentioned, this website was maintained aimed to be a repository of the many discussions on old and new issues. If you want to download the report yourself, click REPORT : ISLAMIC FINANCE DEVELOPMENT REPORT 2017. Also find other reports and this report in the Knowledge Centre.

Happy Reading

Sustainable Vs Halal Practices

Today I had the privilege of attending the Sustainable Development Goals Forum at Sasana Kijang, and it is interesting to have a different perspective to the idea of Islamic Banking. I have always had the impression that Islamic Banking is the means of reaching the Maqasid of Shariah (objectives of Shariah). However, listening to the forum, I realise Islamic Banking is probably only the START of the journey to the Maqasid of Shariah.

THE MAQASID OF SHARIAH

In general, the development of Usul Fiqh is to ensure the 5 objectives of Shariah are met, and the legal framework revolves around these understanding. To remind ourselves what those are:

  1. Protection of Religion
  2. Protection of Life
  3. Protection of Intellect
  4. Protection of Lineage
  5. Protection of Property

In the same breath, it is envisioned that Islamic Banking is also designed to help achieve the Maqasid of Shariah. But if you really look into it, banking per se has been so far developed to mainly fulfil the 5th objective which is “Protection of Property“. It deals mainly on the Muamalat element (economic relationships) of humans in daily life. Thus so far, most of the objective elements in a banking perspective revolves around:

  • Are the funds deployed by bank used to finance Shariah compliant activities?
  • Are the transactions valid and follows the minimum tenets of the contract?
  • Are the processes following minimum Shariah requirements that avoid Riba (usury), Gharar (uncertainty) or Maisir (Gambling) elements?
  • Are the features of the products and services resulting in justice and fairness to the customers?
  • Are the products and services deliberated and assessed by the Shariah Committee to be in compliant to Shariah law and its veritable sources?

A lot of banking activities aims to comply with “Shariah requirements”. However, this is a snapshot of just one portion of the whole Islamic value chain, which simply looks at only the part where the bank’s processes and practices satisfy the minimum requirements to ensure transaction validity. This makes the process “Halal”. But is being “Halal” enough?

WHY IS HALAL NOT ENOUGH

In a Muslim’s daily life, many aspect revolves around “Halal”. In particular we prefer Halal food, which means the food is prepared the right way according to Muslim traditions, which excludes liquor, un-slaughtered animal meat, and pork or lard. In the banking proposition, these are Riba, Gharar, Maisir and unjust practices. But these are still within the control of the banking institutions. Avoiding these, surely Islamic Banking practice equals Shariah compliance.

But is merely being Shariah compliant sufficient to meet the objectives of Shariah?

Halal, in my view, only corresponds to the minimum requirements in meeting Maqasid of Shariah. Stopping at “meeting Shariah compliance in terms of products, services, and operational requirements” does not necessarily satisfy Shariah in a larger worldview.

One of the reasons of why I posted the picture of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) by the UN is that business activities should also take into consideration the environment in which it operates. The idea is to practice the business in a way that it provides a “Social Impact” to the community in particular and even for the country. Using propositions such as SDG provides a starting point beyond just “Halal”. It talks about taking responsibilities and accountabilities to the local community to ensure that the product on offer are not just “Halal” but also helps the community with meaningful improvements.

This is where “Sustainability” suddenly moved to the forefront.

SUSTAINABILITY : BEYOND HALAL

The idea is not new. It has gone through various incarnations, and the more popular terms are Ethical Banking, or Sustainable Banking. These ideas however, are still very much internal arrangements, but rarely a view of the whole value chain. The idea is that not just being halal, but also being clean, fair, compassionate, helpful, and humane. This is where the objectives of Shariah can be met.

A fair illustration of the above (which I picked up at the forum and it is a good one) is the conditions of rearing chickens. You have a chicken farm to supply chicken to your area. You supply the chicken which have been halal slaughtered and as far as your are concerned, you have met the “Halal” requirement ie slaughter in the traditions of Islam.

But how about the value chain of chicken rearing? Yes, the minimum requirement is met i.e. halal slaughter, but the end-to-end practices in this single transaction have not been looked at. Will it meet the standard that will be imposed by Shariah if they are made aware of it? Let’s look at the value chain of chicken rearing.

  1. Chicken eggs incubated for chicks or small chicks bulk purchased from suppliers
  2. Chicken are reared in cramped caged farms, or allowed to run free-range within the compound
  3. Chicken are fed for 46 days to maturity with natural feed, or processed pellets which may/may not have antibiotics in them
  4. Upon mature age, chicken are taken to be slaughtered under the Islamic traditions

Therefore, the Halal portion of the whole process is only No (4) which is the slaughter. Items (2) and (3) have the potential of making the value chain “Un-Islamic”. The question will be :

  • If the chickens are kept in cramp places with diseases, is this considered acceptable under the objectives of Shariah?
  • If the chickens are fed continuously with pellets containing growth hormones and antibiotics, is it ethical in the eyes of Shariah?

This is where Sustainability comes into the picture. There is a word that can aptly fit into this : “Thoiyyib” which means “pure”. A bank should look at the whole value chain of things to then decide whether a business activities is only “Halal” or “Halal + Thoiyyib”. This should be the new standards, when we think about achieving the objectives. There are many propositions on Sustainable  practice which banks and customers can take cue from and develop further. Incentives to companies that adopt sustainable practices should be given, as sustainable practices are meant to be more humane, fair, just and gives bigger social impact than just being Halal. It is a skeleton than supports the whole community in sustainable activities. This includes concepts such as environmental friendly, non-polluting disposal, good waste management, people inclusion to jobs and equal opportunities, providing safety and security to communities, involvement in clean / renewable energies, and also providing education and equality in pay and relationships.

THE CHALLENGE

In my view, achieving “Sustainability” is a bigger challenge to overcome. But the rewards can potentially be bigger, as all institutions in the value chain become less “profit driven”. There are too many elements to choose from, and it is expected to take years to achieve. There will be cost to implement this but there is a need to rely on the well-being of the overall community for you to potentially profit. Choosing sustainability suggest choosing positivity, and continuity.

These concepts are also covered under the Value Based Intermediation (VBI) initiative that is promoted by BNM. Click link to see the Strategy Paper for VBI. 

Making the jump from Halal to Thoiyyib takes political will and commitment as well as collaboration with all parties in the value chain. Some sacrifices are needed as there will probably be some costs to the processes. However, with clear objectives to be met, being Halal cannot be the end-game.

Halal” should now just be minimum requirements, but can we be bold enough to take the next leap to take banking beyond Halal?

5 Reasons Why PLS Financing Does Not Fit Islamic Banks

Click on picture to go to point-by-point commentary on the above

Many months ago, there was this posting by Dr Daud Bakar, CEO of Amanie Group and Chairman of Shariah Advisory Council (SAC) of Central Bank of Malaysia (BNM) where he stated Profit Loss Sharing (PLS) structures are not suitable for Islamic Banks. It caused quite a stir in the market as there have been a lot of push by Shariah circles on Islamic Banks to develop Islamic Banking products based on PLS.  People were surprised that such comments were made by the Chairman of SAC, when BNM have been active in pushing Islamic Banks to develop these very contracts.

So what is the story then? Do we want to see Equity Products such as Mudarabah or Musyarakah Financing in the market, and is it feasible as a business model under current banking structures?

As much as I want to say we are ready for it, the reality is that there are other considerations where offering these financing products is maybe not the right fit for Islamic Banks. We may attempt to develop them nonetheless, but we have to be wary of the requirements set out in the Policy Documents and comply with it.

As I have written before in Disruption Islamic Contracts the industry is entering the era of Compliance rather than Innovation. If we were to develop for example Ijarah products, we will not be able to comply fully with the contract requirements (such as ownership risks and force majure), and Islamic Banks will opt for “easier to comply” contracts. The risks inherent in the contracts will also hamper full-blown development of such contracts into workable compliant structures. It is unfortunate; the Policy Documents issued by BNM are very extensively written but a challenge for Banks to fully comply with.

And when you expand your intention to go into equity-based financing (PLS), the risks would remain with the Bank as these Islamic structures do not allow for transfer of risks from the Bank to customers. This greatly hampers Banks used to mitigating only certain types of risks, or in the best case scenario, Banks are only willing to introduce basic or safe-feature products, with a lot of legal mitigants to protect Bank’s interest.   It is an uncomfortable territory for Banks where the issue of Banks holding “unconventional” risks cannot be satisfactorily addressed.

In Dr Daud’s assessment, he identified Five (5) reasons why PLS do not fit Islamic Banks, in this current, general model:

  1. Banks are set-up as Financial Intermediaries
  2. Fiduciary Relationship resulting in Conflict of Interest may arise from Bank’s participation
  3. Cost Required to ensure compliance
  4. High Cost of Capital for PLS
  5. Re-think of Accounting Standards for PLS

Click this link to go to the discussion page on this topic. I looked at the points by Dr Daud with comments based of my own personal view. Building a Participation Banking Model : Commenting on Datuk Dr Daud’s points

Go to Datuk Dr Daud Bakar's views

Click here to go to discussion

Why do we need to discuss PLS?

Our discussion are now becoming more relevant moving forward. In my view, traditional Islamic Banks and the way it was set-up, caters more for debt-based structures where risks are traditionally understood. The template used for building Islamic Banks was conventional banking. While we have “Islamised” the operations, systems, processes and products, the similarities between Islamic and conventional banks remains prominent. Leveraging on conventional banking infrastructure was a necessity.

That is essentially what traditional Islamic Banking did. Replication, compliance, and competition.

Needing a new Banking model. An Alternative Banking model.

So if PLS is not the right fit for Islamic Banks, where can it exist then?

I believe this is the right time and opportunity to ask this question of where PLS should thrive. With all this talk about Value Based Intermediation (VBI), Fintech, Investment Accounts, Crowd Funding, Private Equity, Venture Capitalists, Participation Banking and Challenger banks, perhaps the PLS structure should be the next inclusion into these discussion. The sandbox is open, and I sincerely believe this opportunity allows for the serious consideration to include PLS. The risk profile you see in these types of Fintech forums cater for a different thinking; banking the un-bankable, understanding of unconventional risks, investment into entrepreneurial ventures and community involvement in sharing of risks.

And more interestingly, most of the structures are already available in this “alternative banking model” and have significantly similar characteristics and behaviour expected from Islamic Banking practices. Especially on the sharing of risks and returns.

It is something that interest me immensely. I believe the next wave in Islamic Banking must be in this new digital world where speed, access, and business model (without financial intermediation) forces a monumental shift in banking practices. As we are starting from ground zero, why not put PLS / equity-based structures / participative banking / as the focus for all these new developments? If not now, then when?

Leave the debt-based structures with the traditional banks, where the familiarity with credit, collateral, sources of payment and audited financial statements will continue to drive traditional businesses.

Let PLS force a re-think into alternative Islamic banking, where entrepreneurial ability, direct investors, sharing of returns, performance of business, risks understanding, speed, low costs, access to the un-bankable population, big data mining, and technology-driven solutions become the main priorities for development.

There is little choice for us where change is now required. If change is needed, why not put PLS as part of the necessary change? The next wave must start. Watch this space. More on Fintech and alternative models soon.

Capital Adequacy Ratio

IBRC100

Page to full collection of articles appearing in the Borneo Posts

While I like to think that I know a sizeable amount of Islamic Banking regulatory literature, I have to admit to procrastinate when it comes to the “ratios in Islamic Banking”. It started with the Liquidity Coverage Ratio guidelines issued about 2 years ago, and also the Capital Adequacy Framework for Islamic Banks, which I promised myself to read by September. And all I know about the Tier 1 Capital is that this capital allows you to continue business in event of losses while Tier 2 Capital is used in a winding up scenario. I know where my gap in knowledge for this topic.

So, finding this little gem written by  Dr Hanudin on the above is a real treat. Reminds me that there is still a whole topic to be digested and written about. Below is the extract, and you can find the full article in his page on this website. (Click Here)

Understanding CAR in the context of Islamic banking

Published by The Borneo Post (Sabah), 19th June 2017

By Dr Hanudin Amin

Extract:

BANK capital serves as a liquid bulwark to warrant the smooth operations of both Islamic and conventional banks, turning the banks into a better likelihood of endurance in the banking market. In general, a bank capital is viewed as the source of funds provided by the owners of the bank, which acts as a cushion to thwart a bank failure’s occurrence.

         This week I draw your attention pertinent to capital adequacy ratio (CAR) in the context of Islamic banking. For this purpose, three questions are answered using an analytical technique: Question #1 – What is meant by the term CAR?  Question #2 – What makes CAR’s components? Question #3 – Does an Islamic bank have a better CAR?

 By definition, CAR is a measure of the amount of the capital owned by the bank that typically captures Tier 1 Capital and Tier 2 Capital and are divided by risk-weighted asset (RWA). CAR plainly acts as an enabler to protect depositors of CASAFA (i.e. current account, savings account & fixed account) in which their deposits are principally guaranteed for consumer protection. In addition, CASAFA is also subject to Malaysia Deposit Insurance Corporation’s (MDIC) protection up to MYR 250,000 limit per account includes both the principal amount of a deposit and the interest/return, separately applied to Islamic and conventional deposits.

For the full article, click on the following link: Understanding CAR in the context of Islamic banking – Borneo Post 19th June 2017

Go to Dr Hanudin’s page : click here

Happy reading & have a good remaining Ramadhan ahead.

Religiosity

Sometimes, as a practitioner, we wonder what motivates a person to subscribe to Islamic Banking products. Is it really based on the attractive features of a product, trying out something new, or is there an ingrained desire to subscribe to a Sharia compliant product? I know many non-Muslims subscribe to Islamic Banking products based on the intrinsic benefits afforded by the products, such as a more fairer penalty terms, transparent fees and charges, and flexibility in settling the accounts early.

But what of Muslims? How can we understand the triggers that encourage a Muslim to subscribe to a Sharia-compliant product?

I came across this writing by Dr Hanudin Amin which mentions a term that I hardly hear in the industry; Religiosity. It refers to the conceptual level of a person’s “piousness” to be marked into different levels (index), and he aptly split it into 3 general categories i.e. 1) Pious Religious, 2) Moderately Religious, and 3) Off-Hand Religious. His paper suggests that the Pious Religious group tends to accept Islamic Banking products more compared to other groups (in his study it’s focused on Home Financing-i). It also proposes that perhaps it is worthwhile to consider packaging Islamic Banking products based on the different levels of “Religiosity” to better appeal to them. This may indeed widen the scope for acceptance as products may be perceived differently by different people, although essentially it is the same product.

To read a bit more on the study, do have a read on the research below.

RELIGIOSITY INDEX FOR ISLAMIC HOME FINANCING IN SABAH

By Dr Hanudin Amin*

Excerpt :Earlier muslim scholars have supported the finding that a consumer’s religiosity has a significant effect on consumption in a muslim context (e.g. Elgari, 1990). Someone who approaches an Islamic bank for a mortgage is endowed with a certain level of iman. Bendjilali (1995) believes that choosing interest-free financing is blessed by Allah (SWT), hence it is rewarded. Bendjilali (1995) points out that:  “A muslim consumer who approaches the Islamic bank to get a loan for a real transaction to be financed through murabaha mode is endowed with a certain level of iman. The degree of iman will indicate the degree of compliance to the Shariah”.

For full Article, click on this link.

Tell us what you think. Should Islamic Banking products designed to a specific level of religiosity or can the one-size-fits-all approach appeal to everybody? Comments appreciated.

*The author is an Associate Professor/Dean at the Labuan Faculty of International Finance, Universiti Malaysia Sabah, Labuan International Campus. He has a PhD from the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) in Islamic Banking and Finance (PG310163). He can be contacted at hanudin@ums.edu.my