The Difference Between Islamic Banking Financing and Conventional Banking Loans

I know the title of this post is a mouthful, but I am insisting on the title. Simply because today I came across another round of bashing by individuals on Islamic Banking. Again, the contention is that Islamic Banking is no different from conventional banking; worse still it is claimed that Islamic Banking is more detrimental than conventional banking. How can this be? I watched the video and aghast by the level of ignorance to the nature of Islamic Banking. And gauging from the response by the rest of the audience, it seems that the audience themselves knows no better.

It seems that a lot of individuals are still unconvinced about Islamic Banking. Furthermore, the impression that it is worst-off than conventional banking needs to be addressed. Islamic Banking, while on the surface is still banking, but it is built on a totally different foundation. There are significant difference which is brought about by a single requirement; Shariah-compliance.

THE STRUCTURE 

The basic difference between Islamic Banking and conventional banking is the structure of how the Bank is set up. For a conventional banking, the purpose of set up is to collect deposit and to give loans. This is the shareholders understanding of what it should be. 2 very distinct function ie Collect Deposit and Give Loans, and the arrangement is managed by a Treasury function which tries to balance the returns to shareholders’ funds.

Conventional Banking Structure (Diff)

But what is Islamic Structure then? In essence, how an Islamic Bank is supposed to be set up is based on the theory of “Sources and Application of Funds”. There should be a single flow between the deposits and the financing / investment use of funds; this means there is no distinct function. It is a single function where customer deposits or investment pool is used to fund financing portfolio or deploy into investment instruments, from which returns are derived and recognise. Once the returns are determined, these returns are “shared” between the Bank and the customers (deposit/investment). This “Profit Loss Sharing” structure demands a different way of managing the Bank, although not all Islamic Banks are able to successfully pull this off 100% (especially when the Islamic Banks are still under the parentage of a conventional bank).

Islamic Banking Structure (Diff)

In my personal view, the structure of an Islamic Bank is most suited if it is built around the Mudharabah structure. It fits perfectly on how the Bank is to be managed. It should be the backbone of any Islamic Banks, where the set-up is linked end to end resulting in sharing of actual returns arising from a Shariah-compliant financing/investment activity.

Finally, the processes in an Islamic Bank and conventional Bank are also different, simply due to the structure of which it has been set up. There is a broader requirement for oversight and research required to ensure the Islamic products and services meets Shariah requirements. A lot more layers to comply with, a lot more details needed.

Islamic Banking Diff (Structure)

THE SHARIAH COMMITTEE

Shariah Committee is the most important difference between an Islamic Banking business and conventional Banks. It provides an oversight accountability in ensuring that all the operations of an Islamic Bank is consistent with the rules of Shariah.

Shariah Committee (Diff)

There is a huge layer of governance surrounding an Islamic Banking proposition. Whatever features that it offers, it goes through regulatory oversight by the Shariah Advisory Council of BNM, and stricter scrutiny  by the Shariah Committee whom are not under the jurisdiction of the Bank but reports directly to the Board of Directors. The decisions (or “fatwa”) given by the Shariah Committee will be held solely by the committee themselves, therefore there is a huge responsibility for them. The Shariah Committee must ensure their decisions have taken into account all requirements of justice, customer protection, compliance to Sharia, interpretation to customary civil practices as well as practicality of implementation. In short, decisions must be clear, defensible and without any doubt to its validity.

SUSTAINABLE MAQASID OF SHARIA

In Islamic Banking, matters really are determined by intentions. And the intention is to ensure the Maqasid (Objectives) of Shariah are met.

Maqasid

These Objectives are a key consideration in setting up an Islamic Banking operation. But it does not mean the operation of Islamic Banking and the deployment of its funds are for charitable purposes. It is still a business that needs to be sustained by investing in Sharia-compliant economic activities, therefore it is misleading to assume Islamic Banking is a holistic endeavor that “should not charge interest” or merely to “provide assistance to the ummah”. There are costs for running an Islamic Banking business, and as far as possible it should be at par to the costs of running a conventional banking business. Returns on Shareholder capital is also important to ensure that capital is continued to be invested into Islamic Banking for it to grow. With growth comes the ability to continue supporting the ummah. The key word is sustainable banking. You cannot grow or even survive if you are not competitive.

THE PRODUCT & CONTRACTUAL RELATIONSHIP

Designing and launching an Islamic product is not easy. The amount of work that needs to be done in relation to the fundamental difference between an Islamic Bank and conventional Bank. The fundamental difference is the totally different outlook on what happens after entering a contract. The contract between a customer and a conventional bank is simple; a loan where interest is charged upon over a period of time.

Key Diff - Product (Example)

But look at an Islamic contract. It is much more complex structure, but once determined, it really makes total sense. The contract defines the relationship, the relationship defines the responsibilities and subject matter, the subject matter defines the sequencing and ownership requirements for the use in an economic transaction, the transaction defines the rewards and returns on the completion of the contractual obligation. Cause and effect, risks and compensating return, action and rewards.

What usually confounds practitioners (whom are not well versed in Islamic Banking contracts) are the level of detail. Some may consider the issues discussed in an Islamic Banking forum as “petty” but others expressed amazement in the level on consideration undertaken during discussions. For example, an Islamic Banking forum would discuss the nature of loan (Qard) and responsibilities of Qard, conditions of Qard, transferability of Qard, conclusion of a Qard Aqad (offer and acceptance), dissolution of Qard and implications of Qard when attached to other Islamic contract. This level of discussion is missing from the conventional banking space where in their view is that a loan is an amount given to customer where it is to be repaid back with interest.

OVERALL SUMMARY OF DIFFERENCES

There really are differences between Islamic Banking and conventional banking, and there are some of us trying very hard to make a difference in the compulsion towards Riba’. As a summary, below are some quick differences I have compiled from my earlier days in the industry on the differences between the models.

Difference 1

Difference 2

Difference 3

Difference 4

DNA OF ISLAMIC BANKS

For me, the main difference between Islamic Banking and conventional banking is that the concept of justice to customer is not regulatory driven; it is conceptually driven by the idea of Islamic Banking itself. A lot of conventional banking practices are developed to maximize returns while minimizing risk, and risk-transference is a key consideration for conventional banks. Regulators have to be vigilant in ensuring conventional banking toe the line to protect customer’s interests.

Islamic Banking, in its DNA is intended more than just being profitable. It is meant to be providing service to support the activities of the ummah (Muamalat) defined within Shariah-compliant transactions. There are specific rules that must be followed; breach of these rules means the penalties are non-negotiable i.e. whatever returns gained from these breaches must be given to charity. Care and consideration is a must. Justice and fairplay is always important in a decision by Shariah Committee. Release of customers burden is a priority.

AVOIDING FITNAH

Many customers still lack knowledge of what Islamic Banking is all about. They collate biased and misleading information from truncated and unverified sources on the internet, facebook postings that intends to be malicious rather than presenting the true picture, and comments by individuals who make generalized comments on their experience which may well be isolated cases due to misinformation, misunderstanding or just plain ignorance to the fact. And yet these comments are sensationalized, made viral and deemed to be the absolute truth without further exploration or verification.

Cut and paste seems to be the easy way forward. Yet people forget the discipline that is practiced by the companions of the Prophet; you must verify the information by determining it all the way to the source of the information, up to naming the individuals who made the first comments, and deciding whether the individuals are trustworthy and of good standing. This discipline is lost in this world of over-abundance of unverified information in the social media where direct accountability is undetermined, and it has become increasingly difficult to separate untruth from fact.

I had always advised friends and critics alike to be careful of what they “recommend” when dealing with Islamic Banking due to the huge responsibility of such recommendations. If they are ready to criticise Islamic Banking as “same as conventional” or “open to back-door riba” without full understanding of what it really is, they should be ready to take responsibility for that. If their basis of stating as such is based on “viral whastsapp message” or “comments by third party islamic practitioners” or “explaination by insiders in the industry” or “commentary by blogs”, I do appreciate if we as practitioners can be provided with these “sources” for us to verify its accuracy. Many times I find the comments are based on partial information, taken out of context, outdated writings or information as well as just being malicious without proper basis or discussion. Some are not even Shariah related or relevant to Islamic Banking practices, just operational and processes defects.

Do think of the implications: Should a person make such comments that “Don’t take Islamic Banking products because it is not really Islamic and there is a lot of trickery to it”, and the person listening to that comment thinks “Owh then there is no difference between Islamic product and conventional riba banks’ product” and proceeded to take Riba-based loan products, the implication is that the person who made the comment had directly influenced another person, in my view, in making a wrong and sinful decision. Will that person be responsible for this act of “pushing another Muslim into taking Riba products”? It is a heavy burden to take, not just immediate but in the hereafter. So be careful when a person makes that comment.

And to imagine what will happen when the person who took the Riba product commented to another person (and another) that someone commented that “there is no difference between Islamic Banking and Riba Banking…” . It will become a tree with a massive root, grown by the single seed of the original “defective” comment by the first person.

MashaAllah

Hopefully those doubtful questions on Islamic Banking should be directed to Islamic scholars, Islamic banking practitioners or relevant academicians with stature, knowledge and qualifications before the ummah believes and spread untruth that will, in the end, become a disservice to the religion of Islam by spreading “fitnah”.

ISLAMIC BANKING IS EVOLVING

Evolution

Granted, Islamic Banking is a 30 year old structure, with many building blocks are still in progress. But it has not stopped evolving to existing times as and when new regulations and Shariah decisions comes into discussion. It is not perfect yet, but practitioners are aware of the difficulties of meeting all the requirements without enhancements and considerations to practicality. There is a misguided assumption that academia are aware of all the shortfall of Islamic Banking practices and the industry had turned a blind eye to these. Nothing can be further than the truth. Islamic bankers, Shariah Committees and BNM are well aware of all of the issues raised by academia as well as other practitioners, with the benefit of global awareness as well. In truth, practitioners know more of the issues they faced on a day-to-day basis, as compared to academia where some of the issues had already been resolved by the industry but not made known to academia.

Criticisms are always welcome, but ideally it should be constructive on how to improve. It is a heavy responsibility to ensure the differences between Islamic Banking (based on Shariah) and conventional banking (based on lending) are managed diligently. It is an on-going evolution that I am confident one day will reach its apex. Ideas are welcome and proposed solutions considered in earnest. And as I have always said to my product team; If you’re not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem. So, let’s be the solution that we had always wanted.

Wallahualam

My earlier postings on similar conversation:

  1. Consequence for Choosing Islamic Banking
  2. Shariah Banking in Malaysia
  3. Conversations on Islamic Banking in Malaysia
  4. Choosing the Right Options

maxresdefaultMore videos at Islamic Bankers Resource Centre on YouTube

The Rise of Qardh

I wrote earlier in July 2014 about re-branding Wadiah following discussions the industry had with BNM. In that meeting, the key take-away was that there is an intention to re-brand Wadiah into Qard, to which the industry reacted negatively as Wadiah has always been used for short-term deposit structures where discretionary hibah “gifts” are given to depositors. BNM contention was that Wadiah do not meet the practice of the Bank where Wadiah was supposed to be taken as “safe-keeping based on trusteeship” (Wadiah Yad Amanah) or “safe-keeping with guarantee” (Wadiah Yad Dhamanah). The main argument was the under the Wadiah structure, the ownership of the fungible asset remains with the customer and the Bank has not obtained sufficient consent from the customer to utilise their funds, specifically for Wadiah Yad Dhamanah.

Wadiah 2014

The solution for the above conundrum, offered by BNM, is therefore, migrate to Qard-based products, where by virtue of it being a loan from the customer to the Bank, the ownership is transferred to the Bank allowing the Bank to utilise it as it pleases, while guaranteeing the loan amount upon demand (you have to repay back the loan).

As mentioned in my earlier writing, some industry players has clear reservation to convert Wadiah to Qard, seeing that the various guidelines are coming thick and fast to comply with requirements under Investment Accounts. Handling another major change in regulations will just hamper the industry’s growth.

Now, 16 January 2015. The revised Concept Paper for Wadiah was issued. We are given 1 month to respond with our feedback.

Wadiah CP

The biggest shock is that the paper has re-defined Wadiah as only Wadiah Yad Amanah i.e. safe-keeping trusteeship. There was NO mention of the contract that most Banks are currently using for Current Account / Savings Account i.e. Wadiah Yad Dhamanah (safe-keeping with guarantee) which allowed the Banks to utilise the funds for Bank’s activities. What this removal of definition means:

  1. The Bank takes Customer Assets and safely keeps as Wadiah in the Bank until a request to withdraw the Asset is made by the customer. The Bank must return the initial Asset to the customer upon request, with no obligation to provide any other benefits.
  2. The Bank does not have the right to utilise this Asset under Wadiah anymore #.
  3. If the Bank intents to utilise the money for purpose of generating returns, then the rules of Qard must apply i.e. for the Bank to obtain the right to utilise the money, the ownership of the money must be transferred to the Bank i.e. the customer no longer has financial and ownership rights when the funds are utilised by the Bank to generate returns. It is a loan by the customer to the Bank. As owner of the money now, the Bank has full rights to the returns. The Bank has no obligations to the customer except of return of the loan on demand. Discretionary hibah “gift” may be given, but questions may soon come on its validity when it is deemed as “Urf” (customary, no longer discretionary).

# Previously under the rules of Wadiah Yad Dhamanah, if the Bank intends to utilise fungible Assets deposited by customers to Banks such as money, sufficient consent must be obtained before the Bank utilise the money for other purpose (including for generating returns). In reality, this consent is really lacking especially for a daily product such as Current Account or Savings Account, resulting in insufficient rights to use customer’s fund to generate returns. The Banks are also not allowed to agree the returns up-front for the use of the money yet circumvents this by publishing historical rates of returns instead. This “historical return” soon was construed as non-discretionary and deemed as returns that is treated as Urf’. Therefore, Wadiah Yad Dhamanah was totally removed by BNM as a viable Islamic Banking concept, and now to be replaced by Qard (where ownership of funds are wholly transferred to the Bank).

Utilisation of Money

In any circumstances, Banks do utilise the Customers’ money for banking activities, including investments. If we retain Wadiah under this new BNM definition, then it will greatly impair Islamic Banks if we are not able to utilise collected funds for generating profit. The Wadiah moving forward will only apply for Safe Deposit Box services where the Bank can charge a minimal fee for safe-keeping services. Trying to apply it to anything else will be a challenge.

Wadiah 2015

The Qard guidelines needs to come sooner than later. At least the Exposure Draft or the Concept Paper needs to be available for discussion and for Banks to assess the Impact going forward. The impact by IFSA 2013 will be fully felt right after the coming months of June 2015, and this new regulation will further add to the re-branding of Islamic Banking currently taking place in Malaysia.

Is Risk Based Pricing Compatible with Islamic Banking?

As the deadline of 1st January 2015 to comply with the new Reference Rate Framework looms closer, Banks are scrambling to ensure the system is adequately able to cater for the new pricing regime.

To refresh what this initiative is all about, BNM has earlier in March 2014 issued the final paper for the Reference Rate Framework, the purpose being to move Banks to be more transparent in their pricing regime and start thinking about risk-based pricing more seriously. It is also expected to push Banks to be more efficient in their operations; the more efficient the funding infrastructure, collections and recovery teams in the Bank, the lower the expected risks associated to the pricing which means bigger “savings” on the margin for the Bank.

Which was fine when I read it a few months ago. For a quick recap, do read my earlier post:

Please Click Here

But the more we go into this Reference Rate project, the more confused I get. Reading again and again and comparing it with the earlier Guideline issued by BNM on Risk Informed Pricing (issued 13 December 2013), I realised while earlier we understood the concept of “building the element of risk into how we calculate pricing”, this Reference Rate Framework talks about something else. Something I am inclined not to agree to.

Before that, what is Risk-Informed Pricing or Risk-Based Pricing?

I am not sure if there is a difference between the two, but the general understanding of what is Risk-based pricing and the explanations in the BNM paper on Risk Informed Pricing sound similar; both  talk about Expected Loss being the justification of charging a higher financing rate to consumers deemed to be “credit unworthy”. There is an element of discrimination but certain rules have been put in place such as factors that should NOT be used to determine price, such as race, colour, religion, national origin, gender, marital status or age, but that leaves a lot of interpretation by Banks on what can be defined as “risk” factors of a consumer. Wiki even went to comment that the pricing convention hurts the financially disadvantage from access to affordable capital or financing. This leads to predatory lending where Banks may offer exorbitant rates to desperate customers as they have no choice but to enter into an unsustainable financing schemes that they will eventually default.

Does Risk-Based Pricing make sense for Islamic Banking?

In that sense, how do we, Islamic Bankers, deal with Risk-based pricing in the context of the new Reference Rate regime? Is there such as thing as risk-based pricing for Islamic Banking?

Personally, I view Risk-Informed Pricing to be in contradiction to Islamic Banking and what we are supposed to do for consumers. Many efforts have been made to ensure consumers are not unnecessarily burdened but instead to provide assistance. We understand the Bank’s needs to discourage consumer “who couldn’t afford it” to not borrow further and bring themselves into unsustainable debts. But the way of the world, with the Basel II accord being an important international standard,  risk is deemed to have a direct impact on Bank’s capital and therefore must be addressed accordingly via effective risk management where one of the methods for this is to have risk-informed pricing. Therefore, upon assessment of an application from a consumer, a “risk-informed” price will be offered for their consideration; a price where all the elements of risks (including Expected Loss) are built into additional costs and premiums.

Islamic Banking, like it or not, will still fall under such standards, and therefore will already “penalise” a certain unfortunate consumer upfront with a “risk-informed” pricing. Not something consistent with what I feel Islamic Banking should do.

What is it that I am confused about with the Reference Rate Framework?

While we have woken up and accepted that the world now is moving towards “risk-informed pricing”, we try to find ways to soften the burden to  consumers by regulating “late payment charges” and”early settlement charges”. The Late Punitive pricing was also off the radar for both conventional banking and Islamic banking.

But with this new framework, there is not only “Risk-Informed pricing” or “Risk-Based Pricing” but also “Risk-Adjusted Pricing”. Adjusted means Banks can adjust pricing AFTER a future event happening.

This concern basically boils down to this particular clause in the framework paper.

Risk based pricing

Usually, risk-based pricing means initially a price that is adjusted to cater to the risk are given upfront. But with 8.10, what this means is that if the credit risk profile or creditworthiness of the customer changes during the tenure of the financing, the pricing i.e. the Bank’s spread may be revised to compensate for the higher risks. Definition of changes of the “credit risk profile” or “creditworthiness”, based on our clarification with BNM, refers to default situation. Therefore, if a customer’s creditworthiness is compromised and becomes worse-off, then the Bank, in its facing additional risk for continuing to finance the customer, may revise the Bank’s spread to mitigate the higher risks. If you are a good paymaster for 1 year but on the 13th month is out of a job and unable to pay your home instalments, you are now “not-creditworthy” and the Bank has the “right” to mitigate that risk and charge a higher spread i.e. higher returns.

Unless I’m reading this standard wrong, this is a gross expansion to risk based pricing, where the facility rates are adjusted based on the customer’s prevailing risk profile.

RAP

Yes, if the customer’s risk profile shows good credit standing (therefore deemed a “low credit risk”), theoretically the customer may enjoy a low financing rate for their facility due to the low possibility of default to the Bank. This is definitely a benefit to the customer. But on the flipside, if the customer initial credit rating is already “marginal or bad”, they possibly will be offered an “elevated” Bank’s spread to mitigate the potential risks of financing an “unworthy” customer. Therefore the initial pricing will be higher than usual. This is the basis of risk-based pricing, which can be a beneficial tool for the Bank.

To make things worse, should the customer have no choice but to take the financing at a higher rate, they are open to further “elevation” if during the course of the financing, things go sour in their payment. The event of default will trigger the option to “revise” the rate further. This means a “marginal or bad” customer will be holding on two levels of risk-adjusted pricing; the first during the initial approval, and the second on default events during the financing period.

It seems there is now a backdoor to the Late Payment Charges (LPC) that the Islamic Banks have been restricted to. While it is difficult to charge Penalty (Gharamah) due to various restrictions, allowing Banks to directly revise upwards the banking spread actually resolves the issue of cost compensation that Banks were not able to charge before. In fact, if you really think about it, there is really no need for the LPC guidelines anymore; on default, Banks can raise the pricing spreads and it goes directly (and fully) into its income books.

How will this be acceptable to an Islamic Banking structure? Allow me to express my utmost shock to this.

Shocked

Simply put, risk-adjusted pricing and Islamic Banking do not make good companions. I understand the intention is to ensure customers don’t over-finance beyond their means, but to impose this for “default” customers  does not seem right as this looks very similar to a punitive action to consumers. I hope I am wrong about this, but as I know it, my conventional banking counterpart is already building this capability in their system. As this is a BNM standard now, I wonder how soon until we are asked to follow suit to comply with such requirements.

I am recording my official concern to this to my organisation’s Sharia committee. Hopefully it is a misunderstanding on my part. I would welcome this correction in understanding on my behalf.

Concept Paper on Liquidity Coverage Ratio

Fresh off the press, the Concept Paper on Liquidity Coverage Ratio is issued by BNM today.

Off-hand, there has been a lot of concerns with the issue of treatment of deposits, especially in the light of the treatment of Mudharaba Deposits as Investment Accounts, and the Wadiah with limitations on Hibah and perhaps the reclassification as Qardh. Each Bank had decided on a course of action with regards to how deposits are being treated and managed. There is expected to be shifts in the deposit structure of each Bank and worries that with the new changes, there will be deposit flight from the Islamic banking financing system.

The Liquidity Coverage Ratio (LCR) Concept PaperLiquidity Coverage Ratio talks about the Bank having enough liquidity to withstand liquidity stress scenarios by maintaining sufficient High Quality Liquid Asset (HQLA).

The LCR is part of BNM’s effort to meet Basel III initiative to ensure high quality capital and liquidity strength of Banks. This is part of the framework that includes Net Stable Funding Ratio (NSFR) and Liquidity Risk Management Standards.

 

The areas covered under the CP includes:

  1. Application of the LCR by Banks
  2. Implementation timeline and transition requirements
  3. Definition of eligible stock of HQLA
  4. Treatment of cash-flow items for LCR computation.

Bankers will really need to digest this document to fully appreciate  the intention of the paper. We have until end of November to come back with feedback on the issues on implementation of the LCR.

The effective date of this CP is 1 June 2015.