The New Shariah Governance Policy Document (2019)

SHARIAH GOVERNANCE POLICY DOCUMENT (2019)

One of the most anticipated documents by the industry is the renewed Shariah Governance Framework, which was last issued in 2011. Many were waiting with bated breath on what changes were made to the document. I had a quick look at it also and generally, there were a few fine-tuning done to existing regulations.

A quick summary of the points in the Shariah Governance Policy Document (2019) are as follows:

  1. The responsibilities of the Board of Directors are to approve the policies regarding Shariah governance, oversee the implementation of SAC’s ruling and internal control framework, oversee the performance of senior management and promote a culture of Shariah compliance in the bank.
  2. The Board of Directors also must interact sufficiently with the Shariah Committee including giving due regards to the Shariah Committee decisions, paying attention to facts and rational and the implication of implementing the decision, with proper conflict resolutions and record of all deliberations on the issues.
  3. The Board of Directors must also assess the performance of the Shariah Committee formally, at least annually and ensure the remunerations reflect members’ accountabilities.
  4. The key responsibilities of the Shariah Committee themselves are defined as follows:
    1. Provide a decision or advice on the application of SAC ruling and BNM standards on Shariah matters
    2. Provide a decision or advice on matters that requires a reference to be made by the SAC
    3. Provide a decision or advice on matters that may trigger Shariah Non-Compliant event
    4. Deliberate and affirm Shariah non-compliant findings
    5. Endorsing rectification measures for Shariah non-compliance event
  5. The Shariah Committee shall be accountable for the quality, accuracy and soundness in their decisions and advices.
  6.  The Shariah Committee must establish a robust methodology to guide decision making process including taking into account relevant business and risk practices.
  7. If Shariah decides to place additional restrictions on the business in applying SAC ruling (meaning : stricter than SAC rulings), the bank must document the deliberation, obtain Board of Directors view on the decision, and immediately notify BNM on the decision.
  8. The Shariah Committee must exercise objectivity in making a judgement or deriving a decision to avoid impairing professional objectivity. Sufficient time is to be devoted to prepare for and attend Shariah Committee meetings.
  9. The Shariah Committee must continuously develop reasonable understanding of the business and keep abreast of the latest market and regulatory development, to be led by the Chairman of the Shariah Committee.
  10. The Chairman of the Shariah Committee must be able to apply relevant procedures for Shariah deliberations, liaise with Board of Directors, ensure sound decisions are made, encourage healthy discussion on issues, and ensure maintenance of records supporting Shariah decisions.
  11. Shariah Committee meetings must be conducted at least once every 2 months  (at least 2 times a year for Islamic Banking Windows operations) and attendance of each member must be 75%. This information to be reported in the bank’s annual report.
  12. Appointment of the Shariah Committee must fulfil the following:
    1. the person is a Muslim
    2. the person is “fit and proper
    3. the person is either Shariah qualified person or an expert possessing skills, knowledge and experience (to support the Shariah function)
  13. Shariah Qualified Person means the person:
    1. hold a minimum bachelor degree in Shariah which includes studies on Usul Fiqh (principles of Islamic Jurispruedence) or Fiqh Muamalat (Islamic transaction/commercial law)
    2. possesses solid knowledge in Shariah with reasonable Islamic finance knowledge and experience
    3. demonstrates strong proficiency and knowledge in written and verbal Arabic.
  14. A Shariah Committee member shall not serve in the same Bank for more than 9 years, must not accept appointment on more than 1 licensed banks, 1 licensed takaful operator and one prescribed institution. The member must also not be an active politician.
  15. The Shariah Committee composition must consist of a Shariah qualified Chairman of Shariah Committee and the majority of the Shariah Committee Members are Shariah qualified.
  16. The Shariah Secretariat must provide the Shariah Committee adequate time to deliberate all Shariah matters.

HOW MUCH POWER DOES THE SHARIAH COMMITTEE REALLY HAVE?

As expected, the Shariah Committee must have full accountability in making decisions via robust deliberation of issues, including considerations of business practices. This idea is consistent with BNM’s expectation that Shariah Committee must reach a certain level of competency in advising the banks. BNM, it seems, is prepared to provide authority for Shariah Committee to decide on the business direction, in line with the overarching SAC decisions. This indicates that the Shariah Committee is meant to be influential in the Islamic Banking industry.

However, BNM also allows the challenge on Shariah Committee decisions if the bank deems the decisions have not taken into considerations the practical and business sense, especially for decisions stricter than the SAC. In such circumstances, the Board of Directors provide a view on the decision, and must be escalated to BNM. To ensure that this scenario does not happen as often, both Shariah Committee and the business must align the understanding on the business direction and mitigate the discrepancies in understanding. The role of the Chairman of the Shariah Committee is important to manage the interactions between the Board of Directors and his Shariah Committee members.

The above underlines the seriousness of the Shariah Committee function. With great powers comes great responsibilities. To hold such authority, the Shariah Committee must reflect quality, accuracy and soundness in all their decision-making.

WILL A SHARIAH COMMITTEE FUNCTION REMAIN A PART-TIME JOB?

Books

Personally, I understand there are challenges for Shariah Committees to devote a sizeable amount of time to provide banks with high quality, fully deliberated decisions that is valuable to all stakeholders. There are still a number of Shariah Committees only choosing to stay in their areas of expertise while concentrating on their day jobs. We hardly see a scholar having a full-fledge research house coming into the market with resources that can support the business requirements of an Islamic Financial Institution (IFI).

Nothing is mentioned on the expected level of research to be done by a Shariah scholar. That level is still left to interpretation although with the requirement to be “conversant in Arabic” implies Shariah scholar should be referring their research and decisions more consistent with global standards, where text, references and decisions are discussed and derived in Arabic.

IS AVOIDING CONFLICT OF INTEREST MORE IMPORTANT THAN KNOWLEDGE SHARING?

One wish that I had for the Shariah Governance is the composition of Shariah Committee itself. While the limitation of service of not more than 9 years is good for an IFI (to encourage rotation in the industry), I still feel the knowledge growth and development of Shariah Committees may not be as fast as the anticipated industry growth. What more, I feel that the limitation of a Shariah scholar to only serve in 1 (one) Islamic Bank, 1 (one) Takaful Company, and 1 (one) Islamic Development Bank do not allow the sharing of knowledge between entities and industries. Perhaps there is a concern where there could be a conflict of interest? I do not know. All I know is that globally, it is common to see one advisor sitting on multiple boards; and from the knowledge gathering for being in multiple boards, can be a substantial resource for the IFI.

WHY NOT THE CURRENT STRUCTURE?

In my opinion, there is a real shortage of knowledge between the old guards and the new challengers in the areas of Islamic Banking. What I see nowadays are issues being re-discussed again and again, and some have been discussed at length in different forums or decades earlier, with solid resolutions. The new scholars do not have the full understanding of history, background and context on many issues (some of which have already been discussed), and the older guard of very prominent scholars are not able to share the history, perspective, experience, background and earlier discussions on matters of Islamic Banking. This gap remains huge as the young scholars run to catch up in terms of the understanding that the older guards have. This resulted in many real, new and current issues being somewhat ignored as past issues are again discussed.

SO WHAT IS MY DREAM TEAM FOR A SHARIAH COMMITTEE?

In my perfect world, I would love to see a combination of the following:

  1. The Shariah Committee Chairman. Senior person in the industry leading the committee, with vast experience of Islamic Banking operations, as well as Shariah Qualified and conversant in written and spoken Arabic. Must have leadership qualities to be able to manage the Shariah Committee.
  2. Prominent Scholar. One prominent scholar should sit in as part of the Shariah Committee for the purpose of providing guidance, mentoring, advising and coaching to new Shariah Committee members and Industry Experts. This scholar should come from a list of 10-15 “A-Rated” Shariah scholars who have been in the industry for more than 15 years. Must have some capacity in BNM’s Shariah Advisory Council or is a Consultant with a reputable Shariah research house. Must have international exposure or sitting in an international Shariah board. Is allowed to sit in up to 5 (five) local Islamic Banks, Development Banks or Takaful Companies. Also conversant in Arabic, both written and spoken.This list of “A-Rated” Shariah scholars must be maintained or endorsed by BNM, just like how the Shariah Advisory Council (SAC) of BNM is maintained.
  3. Combination of Shariah Scholars and Industry Experts. Can be appointed based on expertise and academic background with strong background in research. Must be Shariah Qualified and conversant in written and spoken Arabic. For Industry Experts, must be a specialist in the give area and have sufficient experience. This group is to be groomed to be included into the “A-Rated” Shariah Scholars upon completion of tenure. Training and exposure to be given, with the assistance of the Prominent Scholar, on how to upscale and up-skill the knowledge in Islamic Banking.   And to be included into the “A-Rated” Shariah Scholars list, the scholars must undergo an overseas / international attachment with an international Islamic Bank as part of the Shariah Committee, perhaps for a period between 3 months to 6 months. This attachment should ideally be sponsored by BNM as part of the development of the Shariah Scholars exposure and capabilities.

Conclusion : The Shariah Governance Policy Document remains a strong upgrade from the previous SGF and should provide a more serious undertone to the overall workings of a Shariah Committee. This shall lead to stronger governance but I am not convinced on the development of Shariah Committees with the limitations imposed on appointments into Islamic Financial Institutions.

Wallahualam.

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It is 2019. BBA and Bai Al Inah are Old News.

WHY ARE YOU STILL ASKING ME ABOUT BBA AND BAI AL INAH?

It remains a mystery when people ask me why Malaysia continues to offer Bai Bithaman Ajil (BBA) and Bai Al Inah products, as according to them, these structures are based on elements of Hilah (trickery). It is a mystery because starting from 2012/2013 period, the instructions on Interconditionality issued by BNM to Islamic Financial Institutions requires that the provisions of “mandatory buy-back” must not appear in financing contracts such as Bai Inah and BBA. Because of this, Malaysian Islamic Banks have slowly weaned itself from such products and have since moved to other Islamic contracts.

Read the circular issued by Bank Negara Malaysia in 2012 on the practice of Bai Inah and their expectations by clicking this link (BNM Circular).

WE ARE STILL READING OLD BOOKS AND ARTICLES

In general, I still find that some learning institutions are incorrectly teaching students that the contracts are still alive and well in the Malaysian market. The text books used are still ones that predates 2011 and really, this is a disservice to students. When they come for interviews with our bank, it does not give the students any advantage or good impression as the syllabus remains outdated. Many do not know about the Policy Documents issued by Bank Negara Malaysia or the contracts covered by the policy documents. This really should be covered in a learning module as the latest requirements are captured in these documents. It is a good reference read, but it seems only practitioners and Shariah scholars are aware of these documents.

This is true as my last few interns also impressed the same. Tawarruq structures sounds alien to some of them, as their teachers prefer to teach BBA and Bai Inah  to unlock its controversies as points for discussion. Let us be clear that most banks NO LONGER offer Bai Inah or BBA, and those which does, offer it as a continuation for a legacy arrangement or due to certain unavailable scenarios, such as fresh new documentations are not obtained for Tawarruq arrangement (such as Wakalah to buy commodities). It is no longer offered as a product to the public and this is evidenced from the Banks website where the structures can no longer be found. And most of the time if used, this is a temporary fix allowed until the deal reaches expiry or the Tawarruq appointments are obtained.

And with Tawarruq arrangements now being ably supported by good infrastructure such as Bursa Suq As Sila trading platform and other commodity brokers worldwide, there is no issue of Darurah (emergency) to justify the continued usage of Bai Al Inah or BBA.

SO, WHERE HAVE WE GONE TO SINCE 2011?

In short, we have moved to the following contracts:

  1. Bai Bithaman Ajil (BBA) – Usually BBA is used for purchasing of properties (Home financing or Commercial properties financing), or sometimes for trade financing products. These usage is now done under the Tawarruq arrangement (using Commodity Murabahah) where the proceeds from the sale of Commodities is used to settle the purchases of houses or commercial properties. Alternatively, Musyarakah Mutanaqisah arrangement (Diminishing Partnership) is also used by many banks where houses or properties are purchased by the Bank and leased out to the customer, who then pays rental and gradually purchases the shares of the house and properties over time. So now, BBA has been replaced with Islamic arrangements of Tawarruq or Musyarakah Mutanaqisah. Other Islamic contracts has also been known to support some elements of BBA, such as Istisna’a (property construction), Murabahah (good sale at profit) or Ijarah / Ijarah Mausufah fi Dhimmah (forward lease).
  2. Bai Al Inah – Usually Bai Inah is deployed for Personal Financing or Working Capital Financing and even Islamic Credit Cards. Again, Tawarruq arrangements has generally replaced these usage with the end result of providing cash. On a smaller note, the contract of Ujrah (Services) is also deployed to support some requirements of personal financing (where purchase of goods and services are required) and Islamic Credit Cards. So now, Bai Al Inah has now been replaced by Tawarruq arrangements or Ujrah contract to meet the cash and working capital requirements.

The final controversial contract that Malaysia currently deploy is the Bay Ad Dayn (Discounted Sale of Debt), which serves a specific purpose in trade financing products. Eventually a common ground must be found to make this contract more globally accepted, or replaced with a better solution.

UPDATE YOUR STUDY NOTES, PLEASE

The main challenge nowadays is to innovate further by improving what we have. Criticisms are good, especially on the old structures. But we practitioners do hope the learning academia afford us a bit more confidence and trust, especially these criticisms and consequent issues are not “unknown” to us, since we lived and breathed in its controversies many years ago. The comments made in recent times are something we had encountered and resolved 10 years ago. We enhance and evolve, and it will be good to see new students coming into the market armed with the latest updates of what is happening and let’s move forward.

It is now 2019. Do not get stuck in the muddy past. These contracts have gone into the history books. We have so much to do in the future arena.

Where Regulations on Islamic Banking Lives

Many times I have been asked, during talks and sharing sessions, where we can find all the Regulations, Frameworks and product Policy Documents issued by Bank Negara Malaysia. Many are not aware that I do house most of the relevant documents right here in my site. It is hidden (actually, not hidden…) in my REGULATIONS (MALAYSIA) tab.

Most of it are very technical documents and perhaps will make sense more for the practitioners in the industry. But there are many documents that is very useful, even for academicians and students, which is concisely well written and captures the essence of what needs to be conveyed. Especially documents such as the Islamic Banking contracts, which you can find at the PRODUCT STANDARD / POLICY DOCUMENTS (PRODUCTS) section of the same page.

Also there, the latest Shariah Advisory Council (SAC) Resolutions and Updates on various resolutions under under SHARIAH RESOLUTIONS.

Do use it if you are looking for a place for your reference. Also you can click on the above banner to go straight to Bank Negara Malaysia Website to search for items that are not in my page.

Happy Reading and do share the page if you find it useful.

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.

Disruption : Islamic Contracts

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Under IFSA 2013, it is no longer about Product Innovation. It is about Product Compliance.

2 weeks ago I had a session with some bright individuals discussing the Islamic contracts commonly used in Corporate Banking financing structures. We went through almost all the available Islamic financing contracts such as Murabaha, Ijara, Musyaraka and Mudharaba, where I highlighted that all these contracts now have their own Policy Document issued by Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM). The Policy Documents, in my opinion, are a concise version of a lot of Sharia regulations and great reading source. It becomes a reference point where management roles and responsibilities are outlined, operational behaviour laid down, and theoretical basis is justified and explained.

It is a matter of time, I told the participants, that these Policy Documents are taken in their full context and finally developed into a comprehensive structure with clear compliance to Sharia requirements. We, as Islamic Bankers, are in for an exciting period of development where we will have a chance to develop “real” Islamic banking contracts.

The moment I said that, I realised it is NOT TRUE!!!

THE IMPACT OF IFSA 2013

The popular belief is that IFSA 2013 is meant to realign all the Islamic Banking regulations in the Islamic Banking Act, Takaful Act and various major guidelines into a single overarching Act. IFSA 2013  consolidates the various practices into more clarity and re-classification of concepts. However, the perception that Islamic Banking in Malaysia as an innovative development hub would no longer hold true. “Innovation” was the key thinking and pride-point prior to IFSA 2013; now I believe the right word is “Compliance”.

163170_477596024332_7522334_nWhen we first started the Islamic Banking journey in late 1990’s and early 2000s, BNM encouraged a lot of product innovation from Banks as there were no existing guidelines. We looked at the various structures that provides the desired outcomes and discussed with Shariah Committee on the design and component of products without breaching Sharia rules. BNM was supportive on us developing these “innovative” products. Some may have been controversial (such as Bai Inah, Bay Ad Dayn, Wadiah and Bai Bithaman Ajil) but it encourages discussions alongside the mantra that “whatever is not explicitly prohibited, is permissible“. Sometimes we were forced to think outside of the box, especially for sophisticated products mirroring conventional. We also received support from Sharia Committees whom temporarily approved “innovative” products with the understanding that over time, a better solution were developed as replacements.

Now with the issuance of the Policy Documents, such innovation becomes limited. Innovation is now ring-fenced around compliance to Shariah rules (either from regulators or internal Shariah Committee), and the Banks are expected to follow these rules to the letter. Breaches to these rules becomes the responsibility of the Bank’s Shariah Committee and detailed deliberation is greatly expected to provide the solution. Compliance first; if it is not covered in the documents, it probably cannot be done without a lot of effort.

CHOOSING THE SIMPLEST ALTERNATIVE

With compliance now being the vogue vocabulary with BNM, Banks had to look hard to the Policy Documents to ensure the requirements are identified and gaps filled for fear of breaches or fines. The gap analysis falls into the line whether “are we complying to the requirements?” and not “how do we do this without it becoming a gap or compliance issue?”. Both Shariah and Bank’s Product teams would now look on how to comply with Policy Documents instead of using the Policy Documents as a reference to develop a product.

What I noticed since 2014 is the obsession to comply with Islamic contract requirements, and if the team feels it is difficult to comply, the next logical step is to avoid such contract altogether and seek an alternative contract which is easier to comply with. For example, the Murabaha Policy Document issued in 2014. I have to say it is a beautiful document, and outlines the requirements for Murabaha Purchase Orderer (MPO) that reflects the full Sharia requirements of ownership transfers, risk taking, profit and management of actual assets.

These requirements, which in the eyes of many Banks, may be difficult to fully comply with due to many reasons: shortage of expertise, systems infrastructures limitation, people understanding, complicated processes, operational risks, credit issues and fund management requirements. Instead of the risk of breaching the Policy Documents, Banks opt for something less “complicated” which offers “similar” structure. The default solution is Tawarruq Arrangement i.e. Commodity Murabaha.

Or, the teams looks at Ijara Policy Document. It outlines further the roles and responsibilities of lessor and lessee, while the asset remained in the Bank’s ownership throughout the lease tenure. Again, if a roadblock occurs where a Bank cannot fully comply… Tawarruq Arrangement provides a quick solution. With very defined rules outlined in Tawarruq Policy Documents, the Banks are confident that offering Tawarruq will not breach any guidelines.

Tawarruq, therefore becomes the default Islamic contract in the market. When I asked the participants during case-studies to the question “What contracts should be used for this structure?”, the answers are unanimous “Tawarruq”. And they are not wrong.

DISRUPTION IN ISLAMIC CONTRACTS

155228_469014969332_6259944_nMaking Tawarruq as the “all-problems-solved” structure is having an unfortunate result to the industry. While the issuance of the Policy Documents as a reference was to galvanise the development of various Islamic contracts, the Banks have an easy way out in Tawarruq. Now, the rest of the contracts are in danger of being sidelined in favour of continuous development in Tawarruq.

For example, the Home Financing product which had evolved from BBA in the 1980s to Diminishing Musharaka in the 2000s. When BBA was introduced, practitioners and Sharia teams identified several practical issues that over a period of time needed to be resolved such as ownership transfer, rights to sell, and sale of properties under construction. These issues led to the development of Diminishing Musharaka as an alternative solution.

But with Diminishing Musharaka, there are still operational and legal issues that have yet to be resolved until today. For example, the “right” contract to be used for period of construction, the application of Ijara and the extensive outlining of Wakalah roles and responsibilities. Failure to understand the issues and provide real solutions puts the Bank at risk. There are also legal infrastructures that have yet to be addressed such as land joint-ownership by the Bank (as a partner), and different practices of land offices for the registration of Bank as a partner. These are roadblocks (and credit risks) to the Banks to take the structure further.

THE DOUBLE-EDGE SWORD OF TAWARRUQ

25547_378676189332_2665364_nMalaysia is in danger where I foresee that one day the industry itself will became the absolute global expert in Tawarruq and Commodity Murabaha. With Bursa Suq Al Sila as the leading commodity trading platform for the country, backed by the government (as a national bourse), the Tawarruq structure is expected to evolve into an efficient Islamic-structure engine. The processes of Commodity Murabaha will become seamless, and may even integrate into a Bank’s core banking system, the operation for buying and selling commodity will become commonplace and familiar, and this will result in effective processing, awareness of Shariah risks, compliance to trading requirements and well as reduction in overall operational risks.

Banks will one day become so well versed in Tawarruq, they will question the need for other types of Islamic contract, where they may not able to fully comply with.

With such development, more and more:

  1. capital investments will be made into perfecting the Tawarruq infrastructure, and Banks will also be able to comply with BNM requirements by investing in human capital familiar with Tawarruq.
  2. product structures will be developed around Tawarruq and once these products are established, it will be difficult to unwind as a prefered product simply due to the ease of the Tawarruq contract requirements.
  3. variations and hybrid products will be introduced based on Tawarruq, or containing elements of Tawarruq to solve “difficult scenarios” for compliance.

We will one day have an innovative and world class Tawarruq product, but no development in the other major Islamic contracts. Innovation will stall and Banks will choose quick returns and operational ease of Tawarruq. It is a dilemma of the industry where it is heading to “one” major solution for almost all “sale-based products”.

It is unfortunate if Banks chose to abandon the other contract alternatives, where such contracts will never reach its full operational and theoretical potential.

Hoping that a Bank will take the lead to develop products based on all the various Policy Documents instead of relying on only Tawarruq and its variations. The industry needs expansion and enhancement and by focusing on only Tawarruq, the industry will not be able to explore exciting products and expand its horizon. The Policy Documents, as beautifully written as they are, may tragically one day just becomes an academic relic issued by BNM.

Wallahualam.

Earlier writings on Tawarruq and Commodity Murabahah:

  1. Reliance on Commodity Murabahah
  2. Financing : Commodity Murabahah and Tawarruq

Interesting article in LinkedIn

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.

Eye of the Storm Product Developer

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 if we do not have a capable team that interacts effectively with all stakeholders.

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

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.

Goods and Services Tax on Islamic Products

Goods Services Tax (GST)  will be one of the hot topics for the years to come in Malaysia, when the GST finally comes into place in 2015 to replace the Services Tax. Many arguments have been made on both side of the political divide but the reality is that GST will be implemented and have a huge impact on how services and goods are being priced.

A quick look at the GST finds that Sharia compliant banking, while having all its contracts requiring underlying transactions, asset ownership and movement of actual goods, the impact that the GST may have on Islamic contract will remain similar to what impacts a conventional banking product. There is not expected to have a “worse-off” effect on Sharia compliant banking.

GST

It is heartening to see that Customs has made an effort to understand the various Islamic banking contracts and how it works, and identify potential transactional points where a GST may be imposed. I find the attached document (GST Industry Guide – Islamic Banking (As at 1 November 2013)) extremely useful summary of the intended GST implementation on Sharia banking contracts.

10 particular contracts have been identified and the GST points are outlined accordingly.

Please Click Here

New Reference Rate Framework (Concept Paper)

To read the New Reference Rate Framework Concept Paper, click here

One of the papers currently being floated around for discussion is the new Reference Rate paper. While no date is indicated for the paper to be effective, [Update : today it was announced that effective date by 2 January 2015] its implication will be significant to both the banking system in Malaysia, Islamic and non-Islamic. The main purpose of the paper is the way Banks price their financing product must now be different. Gone will be the Base Lending Rates (BLR) and Base Financing Rates (BFR), and welcome the new defined term; Prime Financing Rate (PFR).

The intention is this; a lot of the things that go into the BLR/BFR are pricing related to risks, and these premiums are loaded into the base borne by customers. This leaves the margin (or customer spread) that is charged becomes somewhat “clean” as a return to the bank, with the exception of impairments (loan/financing defaults). In addition, banks earn “additional” returns from the “savings” built into the BLR/BFR itself. As a lot of risk premiums are built into the base rate, if these risks do not materialise, the bank technically “earns” this savings. You charge the customer in the base rate some premium for the expected risks, but you get the benefit for it. Ideal scenario.

It is therefore no surprise that some good banks, that are able to manage their risks effectively, are pricing their financing at a base-minus rate. It is now common to see home financing packages being priced at BFR minus 2.0% p.a., and the BFR being 6.60% p.a., the pricing is therefore 4.40% p.a. In theory, taking into account the actual cost of funds, adding only the “necessary” premium to cater for risks that is beyond the bank’s control, the base-minus rate still makes decent money for the Banks.

Therefore, even at 4.40% p.a., there is still room for the Bank to earn a margin, after deducting actual cost of funds. I believe the new Reference Rate framework aims to address this issue somewhat.

The concept paper was issued in January 2014 and this will change the way we price the financing portfolio. Under the concept paper, the base pricing shall only consist of the following:

  1. Cost of Funds (COF) – this is essentially the equivalent to interbank borrowing rate or cost of capital
  2. Statutory Reserve Requirement (SRR) – this is a regulatory reserve requirement for financial prudence

As you can see, these components of the new Prime Financing Rate (PFR) leaves very little room for Banks to manoeuvre the rates. COF is market driven, based on interbank lending rates, while SRR is a regulatory requirement based on specific percentage. BNM know that these are the most rigid components to pricing, therefore this may be a deliberate composition selection by BNM aimed at institutions to re-think the pricing formula.

And under the new regime of PFR, the following should no longer be built into the base rate. These costs, if the Banks want it, should be a part of the margin to the Banks loaded into the customers.

  1. Operating Costs
  2. Administrative Costs
  3. Credit Risk Premium
  4. Liquidity Risk Premium
  5. Any profit margin

Prime Financing Rate

These cost, if to be taken by the Bank, must therefore be part of the margin charged onto the customer. Customer will now know what components go into their financing i.e. The margin is now reflective of the risk the Bank perceive onto the customer. The higher the customer’s risk profile, the higher the margin can be.

As such, the 2.50% p.a. maximum margin chargeable onto the base rate should no longer be applicable. As at January 2014, the BLR / BFR is 6.60% and at a margin of +2.50%, the maximum rate chargeable is 9.10% p.a. Under the new regime, the dynamics may now be different for example the PFR could be 3.90% and the margin +5.00% which adds up to 8.90%. In absolute terms it’s cheaper but the customer might balk at the +5.00% margin when they are used to +1.00% or even -1.00% margins.

This is actually a good framework as Banks will have to be more competitive in pricing as the lower the margin, the more risks you are taking on your customers as the risk pricing is built into the margin. Additionally, the concept paper restricts the bank from quoting a price lower than the PFR, and this will make sense because it won’t eat into the Bank’s Cost of Funds. While you can have a BFR-2.00% (i.e. 4.60%), a PFR-2.00% won’t make sense as the PFR component, for example priced at 3.90% will give a net financing rate of 1.90%, and eats into the cost of funds.

In short, the pricing for financing moving forward will be based on the creditworthiness of the customer. Any changes in pricing will be reflecting the changes in operating costs, portfolio defaults or funding strategies. It gives the Bank more flexibility to determine pricing based on agreed scenarios or specific events.

This is a positive development. Banks now have the ability to decide on how to price a product based on real strategies and existing capabilities. Customers will have more transparencies in terms of what they are being charged. This will also spur competition among Banks, and provide better products and services to consumers, especially if the Bank gets its risk profiling right and able to effectively manage its default. All this will require a critical re-think on how a product profitability is determined, and a re-think of how the right management can provide a sustainable financing portfolio.

Note: On the Deposit Rates requirements, there are not much in the Concept Paper itself. Most of the requirements on Deposits are captured under the various EDs such as Wadiah, Hibah, Wakalah and the Investment Account Concept Paper. The only notable mention on the Deposit Rates section is that for Basic Savings Account, returns should be paid irrespective of the account balance and shall not be lower than 0.25% per annum. Also, there is a clause that mentions for Islamic Current Accounts, any hibah/dividend payments should not exceed 2.00% per annum. This, in my opinion, runs counter to the ED on Wadiah (which allows the Bank pure discretionary payment of Hibah, and therefore should not be governed by a capped rate) and the Investment Account Concept Paper (which states that the Bank must reward the customer dividends due to them, based on actual portfolio performances, therefore should not be limited to only 2.00% per annum). These point are against the spirit of Wadiah and Mudharabah, as well as against the Competition Act. We understand BNM is discussing this point internally after receiving industry feedback, and may consider removing this from the framework. We wait with bated breath for this framework to be properly issued.

UPDATE : The 2.0% per annum maximum cap on the Islamic Current Account has been removed via BNM circular dated 20 March 2014. Indeed this puts us back on the right playing field with conventional banking.

For some news on the above topic, please find the following newspaper articles:

 

Pro-Active Compliance of Regulatory Guidelines

There are days I wish I was a multi-millionaire with vast resources, cool regulatory connections, tech-savvy and excellent people motivator. Someone who sees the new regulations for the opportunity it is and the potential in it.

If I was, I’d quit my cosy banking job and set-up my own company that provide services to all Malaysian Banks to support the compliance of the new guidelines. Instead of all the banks scrambling to meet the requirements, they can just outsource all their problems to my set-up to run it. One stop solution to all your headaches.

Perhaps I am writing this out of frustration because I do not have the resources for it. Or perhaps I am writing this for my own interest, hoping someone like Bruce Wayne takes up the challenge and make all our jobs easier. Maybe some of us can get an offer to join this company. That’s wishful thinking I bet.

What would this company / set-up offer to banks? Hmmm where do we start.

Balancing Act

Compliance with the Investment Account Guidelines.

All Banks do not generally set up their operations to work like fund houses where you have fund managers running their investment desks. Neither are there an infrastructure to manage and monitor the fund or portfolio performance, nor having mechanisms to create mark-to-market valuations of the portfolio. Reading the Investment Account guidelines makes one think that the banking model itself has to change to a pure Mudharaba trading house. A dedicated fund house with ready systems supporting the investment requirements and offering their services to Islamic Banks will ease the burden at Banks to develop their own infrastructure.

Tawarruq Guidelines.

This can be a huge component of businesses in the near future. As BNM place more and more emphasis on the big 3 of Musyaraka, Mudharaba and Murabaha, more and more focus will be placed on building the long term infrastructure to support this. Warehousing infrastructure, including managing physical assets and commodities belonging to the Banks, will support the Murabaha envisioned by BNM. A re-vamp of the credit policies and a different approach to risks assessment will support Musyaraka. Mudharaba will encourage the Bank’s “entrepreneurial appetite”  as Banks take a more hands-on approach to investments. Ensuring a compliant structure and supporting the requirements of Sharia on sequencing, documentation, management of commodities, ownership transfers, usufruct and beneficial ownerships and valuation must be developed for the long run. A company which offers these services, or provides an IT platform for this, are something that can reduce the stress placed on the industry.

Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs).

There a easy lot of opportunities for SPVs to flourish in the Islamic banking market. To support the ownership issues, an SPV can be a useful conduit for the movement of assets which will then create the underlying transactions. Huge deals are done on SPVs. Complicated structures need them. This is a viable legal solution for across border deals. The only question is; what do we do with the SPVs once the transaction is done? Rent it out to another entity, I presume. Either way, SPVs are created for win-win situations for everybody.

The IFSA 2013 is like a large pool of compliance that needed development. There are many opportunities out there and with the coming of even more complicated regulations, Banks are always finding ways to meet the requirements set in the regulations. Some will be creative solutions, while others will address the fundamental requirements of the transaction. Whatever they may be, it will only provide possibilities where fortune smiles on the brave. Take that chance. Hopefully, you will succeed to make all our lives easier.

Synopsis of 2013 BNM Exposure Drafts

The following is what I understood from the various Exposure Drafts issued by BNM on 9 December 2013. Of the 7 exposure drafts that we received, I have earlier summarised the Wadiah Exposure Draft, and I will ignore the Bai-Inah Exposure Draft as we are no longer subscribing to the Bai Inah structure at the workplace.

Please find the remaining Exposure Draft review for your understanding.

Kafalah ED

2013 ED – Kafalah – One of the key issues for a Kafala (Guarantee) contract is the charging of fees for providing the guarantee services. The main issue has always been the quantum of fees charged, either in percentage of the financing or via a fixed charge for all financing amount. The justification of this charge is always tricky, because technically the fee should not be imposed if there is no call for the guarantee (in cases of no default). The guarantee will only materialise if the customer defaults, that’s when the work happens to justify any fees. Issuing a piece of paper at the start of the relationship to guarantee the amount does not amount to too much work, and there no funds disbursed to any parties (unfunded). To justify the charging of any fees based on percentage instead of actual work, especially for huge amounts of financing guarantee, can be problematic to justify in the eyes of Sharia.

Waad ED

2013 ED – Wa’d – At one point of time, Wa’ad (Promise) seems to be the answer to many structures, where a promise is given without any requirement to transact before a specific event. The terms therefore can be negotiated and re-negotiated without the need to strictly specify the terms of the transaction and re-signing of documents. This gives a lot of leeway for deals to happen.However, at the end of the day, Wa’ad remains as only a promise, legally distanced from a contract or an agreement. Enforcement at the courts are therefore without full confirmation of all the terms, and makes for a loose structure and potential disputes. This flexibility and enforceability remains one of the key risks to a Wa’ad contract, which is why until today Wa’ad is generally transacted between known parties i.e. between established and trusted Financial Institutions.

Wakala ED

2013 ED – Wakalah – Wakala (Agency) will remain an integral contract for Islamic Banking as it validates a lot of action that can be done by the Bank, in order to remain efficient. In general, Banks hold a lot of expertise in various fields, such as investments, financing, leasing and trading; something a normal customer may not want to be involved in on a daily basis. An Agency arrangement conveniently provides for this. Anything that improves the efficiency by leveraging on the Bank’s expertise and infrastructure, can be arranged via Agency. However, the way we practice it usually is transparent to the customer. In practice, Agency Fees are the right of the Agent, and the waiver of such fees, although allowed, is sometime seen as not adhering to the spirit of Agency and entrepreneurship. You do the work as an Agent, but don’t earn any fees as it is waived. In real life, this does not happen as whenever a work is completed, you should earn something.

Tawarruq

2013 ED – Tawarruq – As Tawarruq (Three-party Murabaha Sale) becomes more prominent in the Malaysian market, I was surprised that the ED was not more comprehensive than this. There are sequencing issues not addressed but more importantly, there is a lack of illustration on what is defined as Tawarruq. Is there any difference between a Tawarruq and Commodity Murabaha, which essentially is a 4 party transaction? The issue of interconditionality is adequately addressed in the ED but I would love to have seen more details related to products, such as for Islamic Credit Cards and Revolving Credit with a rebate structure (Ibra’) based on a floating rate financing. It mentions that the discount can be given based on certain benchmark agreed by the contracting parties. This opens the clause to various interpretation as it is without real detail.

I will look at the Hibah (Gift) ED but essentially, it is related to the Wadiah ED. Most of what’s covered under the Hibah ED is relevant to the Wadiah product, such as the discretionary Hibah issue and the giving of Hibah becoming a business practice (Urf Tijari) which can be construed as Riba (Usury). Wait for the posting.

Thank you for reading, hope everyone have an enjoyable holiday period ahead. Wasalam.

Readings : December Papers x 3

Murabaha

And to close off the year, BNM gave us a further 3 reading gifts for us to enjoy our holidays:

  1. Murabahah (2013)
  2. CP Mudarabah (SR,OP, OR)
  3. CP Musharakah (SR,OP,OR)

The Murabahah Standards looks interesting, and so is the Mudarabah Concept Paper. Do have a read and tell us what you think.

Looking forward to the coming holidays.

Exposure Draft : Wadiah

Image

One of the panic buttons we are pressing now is the new Wadiah Exposure Draft (ED). As a rule, Wadiah is a “safe-keeping with guarantee” arrangement, where a Bank agrees to take on-board customers deposits as a loan (Qardh). And in the rules of loan under Islamic Banking, a loan must be returned on the same amount when required; any amount above and beyond the loan amount, if put as a condition at the start or during of the deposit placement, may be construed as “Riba”. If the Bank utilises the deposits for any business activities, the Bank is given the discretion to award “Hibah” or gift payments allocated based on the balance outstanding.

With the introduction of the IFSA and the requirements that Malaysian Banks comply with the Investment Account Framework  if Mudarabah continued to be offered to Customers, the common wisdom is to migrate lock-stock-and-barrel into a Wadiah account. In my earlier writings, I already mentioned that to comply with the Investment Account Framework, a massive shift in thinking, processes, and management is required. Therefore to convert into a Wadiah structure may not be the ideal solution, but it will provide an “easier” route towards retaining Customers’ deposit.

Wadiah ED

However, in this chess game between the Islamic Banks and Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM), the new ED is introduced on Wadiah has effectively further tied the hands of the industry players. BNM had anticipated the industry intentions to move the Mudarabah structure into Wadiah, and promptly outlined further restrictions on Wadiah itself. The industry is now caught between a cold and hard place; stay with Mudarabah and comply with Investment Account Framework, or migrate into Wadiah and comply with the new Wadiah Guidelines.

Wadiah Concept Paper

As we know, Wadiah also puts significant limitation on the marketing of returns and benefits to customers for their deposits. BNM took this a step further; to emphasize that returns on a Wadiah account should always be discretionary, as Wadiah is now seen as a loan. The impact comes in several clauses in the Exposure Draft:

  1. Wadiah Yad Dhammanh is considered similar in nature to Qard. Therefore the rules of Qardh should also apply to Wadiah.
  2. A majority of customers should not be getting a return on the deposit under Qardh. Generally this is saying that out of 100 customers, only 49% of customer will be given a “gift” on their deposits
  3. The payment of the discretionary “gift” should not be construed as regular or common business practice (Urf’ Tijari) else it will imply that the “gift” is a constant return to the customer. Historical performance can be shown to customers.
  4. Any benefits, monetary or otherwise, deriving directly from the placement in the Wadiah account may be construed as “Riba” as well.
  5. Any benefits includes scenarios where should the Wadiah account be opened as part of a financing facility, and benefits enjoyed in the financing facility from amounts available in the Wadiah account (for example a rebate structure to off-set an obligation), shall be construed as riba’ as well.

My main question is; now that Mudharabah is turned into a pure investment account, and Wadiah carrying so many restrictions, what other solutions are there? It cannot be that BNM only expects us to comply but do not help with a viable solution on these restrictions. Yes we are looking at the Commodity Murabahah structures, but operationally this will be a challenge for the Banks to control the cost of commodity trade.

Wadiah ED

And how do we define majority, then? The system must now be enhanced to determine who gets the discretionary “gifts” based on which formula. Even if they qualify for the discretionary “gifts”, to award them on a regular basis will also lead to it be construed as “Urf Tijari”, where consistent payment of Hibah will imply a similar future returns. How do we define this “non-majority” of Customers whom qualifies for Hibah but do not get regular awards of Hibah? What system logic can we build and will what we build be acceptable to Sharia? More importantly, would the customer even accept such “discretionary” practice?

Now that BNM has issued a new Concept Paper on Shariah Requirements, Optional Practices and Operational Requirements of Mudarabah today, we get a somewhat watered-down requirements to Mudarabah products. I have read it and saw that under this new Framework, the Mudarabah structure remains viable as it is, with enhancements needed for documentation and disclosures. Manageable and workable. The next steps must be; if we were to stick with Mudarabah, which Framework will take precedent. Mudarabah is an Investment structure. So, would we follow the Mudarabah Framework, or to comply with the Investment Account Framework? Both Frameworks makes reference to each other; yet one is stricter than the other.

I am putting all my hopes on the new Framework. That will give me some leeway of having both Wadiah structure and a viable Mudarabah structure (not based on the Investment Account Framework). This is definitely the light at the end of the tunnel. But as usual, indications are to take the “stricter” guidelines into account, rather than keeping hope for an easier implementation.

Exposure Drafts for 2013

ImageToday we are given additional reading materials; Exposure Drafts!!!

By my last count, 7 new Exposure Drafts was published by BNM yesterday and now it is time to digest them. As it is, there is so many to digest already. Quick and fast after the Bai-Inah clarifications in late 2012, we were given tight deadlines for the IFSA bill to comply. Add to that, the IFSA “forces” us to re-look at the Investment Account Concept Paper and the Rate of Return Framework if we were to look at retaining a Mudaraba or Wakala deposit structure. Then comes the deadline that the compliance to the Investment Account concept paper is to be met by 30 June 2014.

More sleepless nights? Yes, especially since the industry is struggling in coming up with a Current Account Savings Account alternative to Mudaraba.

Now we welcome the new Exposure Drafts and the boss has given me 2 days to read the relevant ones. Will I be able to digest them? The names of my new friends as follows:

  1. Exposure Draft for Wakalah
  2. Exposure Draft for Wa’d
  3. Exposure Draft for Bai Inah
  4. Exposure Draft for  Hibah
  5. Exposure Draft for Tawarruq
  6. Exposure Draft for Kafalah
  7. Exposure Draft for Wadi`ah

And generally, Exposure Draft is like the engagement before a marriage. You may give feedback, but the deal is already on. It is just a formality.

This will make for an interesting reading, and an even more interesting new year.

Back To Wadiah

Investment Account Guidelines

True to form, BNM have called for an urgent discussion with the industry players on the implementation of the IFSA. The message is very simple; industry players are given time to comply to the IFSA i.e. no later than 30 June 2015. During this time, we are asked to either:

  1. Retain Mudharabah and Wakala structures to comply with the Investment Account guidelines; or
  2. Move the Mudharabah and Wakala structures into an alternative structure.

Obviously no one has the answer to both options. Especially for Current Account and Savings Account now offered under Mudharabah. To retain a simple product such as Savings Account under Mudharabah, the Bank needs to comply with tedious risk profiling of customers and numerous disclaimers on investments. Customers will be confused by this arrangement, and we foresee many will stay away. Marketing wise, it is a nightmare. Operationally as well, if we were to comply with the investment disclosures. Gone will be the simple structures that customers are used to.

Bringing the Current Account and Savings Account into Commodity Murabahah structures is the most viable solution in Shariah’s perspective. However, operationally tedious, money required for system development, revised documentation and more importantly, building customer awareness and acceptance will be the main challenges for the industry to move to this alternative.

Committees were promptly set-up to discuss solutions, and as expected, there can be no commercial viability into moving to Commodity Murabahah, at least not in such a short period of time. For Time Deposits it is possible, but how to address the daily deposits and withdrawals of funds in a Current or Savings Account under Commodity Murabahah?

The easy solution; take a step backwards.

Wadiah is suddenly the solution. Most Banks has decided to migrate back into Wadiah structures, even with limited value proposition. Hang on, this is not the solution. Perhaps only workable for a short term stop-gap measure, but definitely not feasible for moving forward, especially when there is a conventional banking alternative.

Wadiah is definitely not the solution for deposit building. But then, what else is there? Until someone comes up with a brilliant solution, we will have to make the best of what Wadiah has to offer.

The Islamic Financial Services Act

IFSA

The Islamic Financial Services Act (IFSA) 2013 was introduced to streamline the Islamic Banking definitions and practices. With the introduction of this Act, we obtained clarity on many matters, but not all of it is in our favour. From the Act, we see a significant re-defining of the Deposit product. Needless to say, the Islamic Banking industry is at arms on this new definition.

IFSA DEF

But to classify it as a new definition is also not entirely accurate. We have been taking in Mudaraba-based deposits as our main method of accumulating deposits in the Bank. Mudaraba by nature is profit-sharing investment arrangement for the purpose of obtaining a return. Any profits arising from this investment will be shared amongst the entrepreneur and the capital provider based on agreed ratio; whereas for any losses, it will be borne by the capital provider, unless the entrepreneur is proven negligent. In all intent and purposes, this is an investment, rather than deposits.

However, while there is a risk to the investment, this is mitigated by way of investing in low risk intruments, profit equalisation or even gift (hibah) to ensure a customer’s capital is not lost. Technically an investment, but with indirectly guaranteed capital due to the above mechanisms. Furthermore, this is augmented with the deposit insurance offered by the Malaysian Deposit Insurance Corporation (PIDM) which insures the customer’s deposit with the Bank, should a Bank goes belly-up.

With such assurances, Banks have taken these Mudaraba placements as “Deposits”, categorised internally as part of the Core Deposits calculations i.e. low risk deposits. Why this is important is because if you have higher Core Deposits in your books, you can therefore fund a higher proportion of your financing portfolio, without adding more Shareholder’s capital. Technically, under the Loans to Deposit Ratio (L/D Ratio), the Bank can hold a bigger financing portfolio the higher the Core Deposit amount.

This is the desirable outcome. To collect higher “Core Deposits” via Savings Account, Current Account and General Investment Account (Term Deposits).

With the new IFSA, the Core Deposit definition is redefined.

  1. If the return of the customers deposit (capital) can be guaranteed, this capital is classified as Deposits.
  2. If the return of the customers deposit (capital) cannot be guaranteed, this capital is classified as Investments.

With this, the industry is turned on its head.

Redefining Deposits

Obviously, a Mudaraba, or Wakala fi Istihmar (Agency for the purpose of Investment) will be classified as “non-Core Deposits”. The nature of Mudaraba is investment, and no matter what mechanism one puts into the product to “protect capital”, one cannot GUARANTEE capital due to the potential of loss. This risk sharing is one of the key tenets of a Mudaraba arrangement. By keeping to this tenet, Mudaraba should be classified in its rightful place i.e. Investment.

As mentioned, removing the deposits as reclassifying it into Investment has significant impact on the L/D Ratios.

But also, what’s worrying is that to keep Mudarabah (or Wakala), now defined as Investments, there is a separate Investment Account Guidelines which the Banks will have to comply with. Now that’s another story.

As an industry, we are faced with an option of either:

  1. Building our Core Deposits via an alternative product which Guarantees the capital. We have the readily available Wadiah structure, which is similar to a Qard deposit structure where no benefits can be offered or promised to the customer for their deposits; or
  2. Comply with the Investment Account Guidelines to keep with Mudaraba or Wakala Investment, but will not be able to include those amount into the Core Deposit calculations; or
  3. Develop new deposit structures that will meet both the Deposit definitions and meet customer demands for returns on their deposits and savings. Unfortunately, the available structures in the market requires extensive capital and technological enhancement, while operationally not viable. The industry as a whole has so far not come up with any viable proposition. Research has been done but the disadvantages of such structures outweigh the benefits.

This re-classification, may on the onset, looks a simple thing. But the impact is huge. The risk of capital flight is significant, possibly flight into conventional banking if the consumers are not able to accept the risks of investments or the returns uncertainty of deposits. It will be interesting to see what the industry comes up with.

I remember following BNM briefing on the re-classification back in 2011, the boss has asked me to come up with a Term Deposit under the contract of Wadiah. He knows it is not feasible, but still he asked for it. It only reflects how desperate the time will become when the full significance of the Act is enforced on us.

Now that it is enforced, I wondered if the rope around my neck is long enough.