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for interviews with our bank, it does not give the students any advantage or good impression as the syllabus remains outdated.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.

Steering a Shariah Decision

Click on above picture to download the article in pdf

HIDDEN TRAPS IN SHARIAH DECISION MAKING

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

The 4 “traps” mentioned are:

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

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

A quick comment on the above points:

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

A GOOD DECISION COMES WHEN ALL PARTIES ARE ENGAGED

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

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

WISH LIST FOR 2019

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

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

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

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

Two Types of Rebate (Ibra’) for Sale-Based Financing

UNDER ISLAMIC FINANCE, YOU HAVE TO PAY FULL SELLING PRICE NO MATTER WHAT.

One of the misconceptions that plague the Islamic Banking financing in Malaysia is that once the Customer agrees on a price in an Aqad (Offer and Acceptance of Sale & its Terms), there is no backing out of the Selling Price and other considerations. If a house at current Value of RM400,000 (Principal) is purchased from a Bank at a Selling Price of RM1,000,000 to be paid in instalments over 35 years. This means the profit earned by the Bank over 35 years is RM600,000. The misconception is that when the Customer intend to Sell-Off or Pay-Off the financing in let’s say Year 8 of 35, the whole amount of RM1,000,000 must be paid to the Bank due to the concluded Aqad, where RM1,000,000 is contracted. So, if at year 8 the Customer has paid a total instalment of RM110,000,  the remaining RM890,000 is still payable by the Customer. Whereby the Principal Outstanding for the Financing is RM320,000 in this scenario.

For a Conventional Loan, the amount payable is the Principal Outstanding of RM320,000 + any interest outstanding (earned but not yet paid) + any early settlement penalties.

(The above figures are for illustration only. For a more accurate calculation, scroll down to the examples below)

SETTLEMENT OF THE SELLING PRICE.

Because of this misconception, a lot of Customers think that a Shariah-compliant financing is More Expensive than the Conventional Loan. This is just a half-truth. While the Selling Price Outstanding is RM890,000 as contracted in the Aqad, Islamic Banks are required to provide “Rebates” (Ibra’) on the Selling Price Outstanding to be fairer to the customer. Although entitled to earn the full amount of Selling Price from the Aqad, a Rebate on the Selling Price should always be given.

HISTORY OF GIVING REBATES

Traditionally and by nature, Rebates are discretionary on the financier, to be given to the Customer as the Aqad allow for the collection of the full contracted Selling Price. To achieve parity with the Conventional Loans, Islamic Banks have opted to give rebates on the Selling Price, based on their discretionary calculations. This may include early settlement penalties or other charges, which improves the Bank’s profit ratio. This has resulted in inconsistencies to the amount of rebate given; one Bank may charge differently to another.

MAKING REBATES MANDATORY

BNM issued a Guideline for Rebate (Ibra’) for Sale-based Financing in 2011 to address this inconsistent practice by making it MANDATORY (not discretionary) for Islamic Financial Institutions to provide rebates under specific scenarios. Under the guidelines, a specific formula is given for 2 scenarios where rebate may arise:

  1. Rebate arising from differences between the contracted Ceiling Profit Rate (CPR) and the Effective Profit Rate (EPR).
  2. Rebate arising from the waiver of Unearned Profit due to Early Settlement of Financing.

REBATES ON THE CEILING RATE

This is applicable where the structure allows for pricing based on floating-rate, usually prevalent for long term structures such as a 30-year home financing. The structure allows for the customer to be charged based on a floating rate ie prevailing market rate which moves in tandem with the various base rate benchmarks. The benchmark can also be a conventional pricing rate that moves with the market. For example, the prevailing rate consists of a Base Rate of 4.05% + Margin of 1.45%, giving us an effective rate of 5.50% pa.

Therefore:

  • Financing Amount : RM1,000,000
  • Base Rate : 4.05% (moving rate)
  • Profit Margin : +1.45% (fixed or movable based on event)
  • Effective Profit Rate (EPR) : 5.50%.
  • Tenure : 3 years
  • Instalment Amount (EPR) : RM30,195.90 per month

However, for the purpose of Aqad, all the terms must be agreed upon execution and perfection of Aqad. If the Rates are moving, how can all the rates be agreed upon up-front? Thus there is a need to agree on one Rate where Islamic Banks can conclude the Aqad with an agreed-upfront Selling Price. To conclude the Aqad by formalising the Selling Price, the following is required.

  • Financing Amount : RM1,000,000
  • Base Rate : 4.05% (moving rate)
  • Profit Margin : +1.45% (fixed or movable based on event)
  • Effective Profit Rate (EPR) : 5.50%.
  • Tenure : 3 years
  • Instalment Amount (EPR) : RM30,195.90 per month
  • Maximum Ceiling Profit Rate (CPR) : 10.0% (fixed)
  • Installment Amount (CPR) : RM32,267.19 per month (unchangeable if higher than 10.0%)
  • Maximum Selling Price (CPR) : RM1,161,618.74 (unchangeable if higher than 10.0%)

Therefore, for the purpose of Aqad, where every detail needs to be agreed upfront, the following is used:

  • Financing Amount : RM1,000,000 (fixed)
  • Tenure : 3 years (fixed)
  • Maximum Ceiling Profit Rate (CPR) : 10.0% (fixed)
  • Installment Amount (CPR) : RM32,267.19 per month (unchangeable if higher than 10.0%)
  • Maximum Selling Price (CPR) : RM1,161,618.74 (unchangeable if higher than 10.0%)

And for the purpose of day-to-day charge of Instalment and Profits, the following applies:

  • Financing Amount : RM1,000,000
  • Base Rate : 4.05% (moving rate)
  • Profit Margin : +1.45% (fixed or movable based on event)
  • Effective Profit Rate (EPR) : 5.50%. (moving rate)
  • Tenure : 3 years (fixed)
  • Instalment Amount (EPR) : RM30,195.90 per month (changeable based on EPR or events)

This means, the Aqad we have contracted is based on CPR of 10%, but on day-to-day basis, the EPR is 5.50%. Therefore, Rebate on the Ceiling Profit Rate is:

10.00% less 5.50% = 4.50%

In value, the monthly rebate is RM2,071.29 and TOTAL rebate based on Price is RM74,566.27

REBATE ON EARLY SETTLEMENT

The second element of misconception was what mentioned earlier. That to early settle you have to pay ALL the remaining balance of the contracted Selling Price. This proved to be a major contention by customers, although it is NOT TRUE in Malaysia.

Mandatory Rebate must be given in the following early settlement scenario, and a penalty for early settlement cannot be imposed as it will be deemed as trying to earn additional profit on top of whatever profit is rightfully yours. Upon early settlement, the Unearned Income or Profit must be waived from being charged to the customer. A Bank can therefore claim profit that is rightfully theirs ie “earned”.

The scenarios where mandatory Rebate must be given are:

  1. Financing when early settlement has occurred including from prepayments
  2. Financing where there is a restructuring into a new financing contract
  3. Financing settlement in cases of default
  4. Financing settlement where the customer cancels or terminates the financing before maturity date.

Looking at the above example, the illustration is as follows:

  • Principal Amount : RM1,000,000
  • Selling Price : RM1,161,618.74
  • Total Profit : RM600,000
  • Tenure : 3 Years
  • Early Settlement Date : Month 22 of 36 months
  • Total Instalment Paid as at Month 22 : RM664,309.84
  • Outstanding Selling Price on Month 22 : RM497,308.90
  • Outstanding Principal on Month 22 : RM408,559.26
  • Earned Profit Not Paid on Early Settlement Date : RM2,001.79
  • Unearned Profit Outstanding on Early Settlement Date : RM14,183.36 (AS REBATE)

Therefore for Early Settlement, the numbers are:

Early Settlement Amount is RM485,127.69 on Month 22 i.e Outstanding Selling Price (+RM497,308.90) less Unearned Profit Outstanding on Settlement Date (-RM14,183) plus Earned Profit Not Yet Paid on Early Settlement Date (+RM2,001.79). This amount is at par to what a Conventional Loan figure for Early Settlement would be. In fact, in some circumstances, a Conventional Loan figure may include additional Early Settlement Penalties that generally are not allowed under an Islamic Banking financing.

EARLY SETTLEMENT PENALTIES

In essence, Islamic Financing is govern by the understanding that debt must be settled (debt cannot be forgiven) and efforts to repay debts early should not be taken as opportunity to earn additional returns. If actual cost is incurred from the early settlement of the debt, that cost can be recovered but not additional income. Under the Ibra guidelines, it allows the Banks to charge reasonable estimates of “Actual Costs” incurred if early settlement is made within a “lock-in period” based on the following conditions:

  1. Costs that has not been recovered arising from a discount element in a specific period in the financing. For example, the Bank offers a Home Financing rate of 1.88% p.a. for the first 2 years and BR+1% thereafter. The reasonable costs in this case is the differential between BR+1% less 1.88% ie the shortfall from the promotional period against normal board rates.
  2. Cost borne by the Bank during initial stages of the financing for example Legal Fees absorbed by the Bank. If the package offers a Zero-moving cost solution, it means the Bank pays the legal and stamping fees for the customer to move from the other Bank. The cost will be recovered by the Bank.

Consequently, any reasonable costs incurred by the Bank as a direct result of the Early Settlement can be considered to be recovered by the Bank. The Shariah Committee of the Bank can take into consideration to approve the request to charge such fees, based on acceptable justification. This includes any “break funding costs” incurred by the Bank.

CONCLUSION

The common perception is that for Islamic Banking products in Malaysia, the Selling Price (which includes future profits ie Unearned Income) must be paid to early-settle an Islamic Financing is inaccurate. Currently, there are provisions to waive the unearned profits from the final settlement amount as guided by BNM. In essence, the settlement amount should consist of only the Outstanding Principal Amount + any due amount or earned amount still outstanding on the settlement date. This means, the settlement amount for Islamic Financing is NOT more expensive than a conventional loan, and in some cases, is even cheaper than the conventional settlement amount.

Risk Management in Islamic Banking

IS THERE SUCH A THING AS ISLAMIC RISK MANAGEMENT?

I had this conversation recently until the wee hours of morning, and although I never thought a lot about it, I have come to the conclusion that there cannot be an exact replica of the Risk Management in the conventional sense.

Risk Management is a tool used by all conventional banking institution in the name of good governance, risk mitigation and prudent practice. It looks at financial exposures and its inherent risks to the business, and deeply believe in the risk-rewards pay-off within the generally accepted risk appetite of the organisation. It focuses a lot on control processes, performance monitoring, collateral value, and decision making policies for credit, market and systemic risks.

To a large extend, the risk management framework employed by the conventional banking businesses can be easily adapted by Islamic Banking counterparts. The components are the same, and there is little argument on its applicability under Shariah law. However,  the risk management framework for Islamic Banking institutions must be inherently different as well, or maybe extended to include a bigger scope. It cannot just be seen as a replica of the conventional business; the foundation of Islamic Banking is definitely different.

There are a few divergence in the reason an Islamic Banking institutions should (ideally) follow. This is an on-going argument on the fact while Islamic Banking claims to be a different business model, but it is still engineered by the rules of a conventional organisation. But what are these divergent reasons for setting up an Islamic Banking business?

The lending of money to make money is forbidden.

This may seem like a trivial thing for Islamic Banking as many will say there is no difference between profit and interest. But for us practitioners, there is a big difference in its concept. Because of this difference, the way we think about how a product can be structured is paramount. Underlying contracts, assets, ownerships and roles and responsibilities becomes different from a tranditional / conventional bank (whom are essentially a money lender). To validate a transaction, all tenets and requirements in an Islamic contracts must be met or else it becomes an invalid transaction and any gains from it must be given to charity. Any gains obtained without fulfilling the transactional can be deemed as usury (riba’).

There are specific Shariah requirements that takes Islamic Banking beyond banking.

Some terms are pretty alien to traditional banks, such as commodity purchase, operating lease and rentals, sequencing and ownerships. This is where the divergent begins, because Islamic Banks espouses the concept of “trading” and “entrepreneurship” and “partnership” and “service provider”, away from the “lender-borrower” arrangement. Traditional banks struggle to understand issues of ownership of assets, risk and loss sharing, purchases of commodity and rental of assets. These activities are beyond traditional banking, and may become an operational risk issue if it is not fully embraced.

Islamic Banking should be more closer to a venture-capitalist, crowd-funding model than traditional banking.

The fundamental requirements for earning a profit (and to a bigger extent, how much we can earn from a transaction) is the element of risk sharing, which mean both customer and financier takes some form of the risks of the venture. At the same time, such “risky” venture is mitigated by way of ensuring it is not overstretched i.e. the transactions must be either asset-backed (including the presence of collaterals) or asset-based (evidenced by real trading or assets or commodities) to reflect economic activity.

The amount of risk taken under an Islamic contract can be higher (for contracts such as Mudharabah or Musyaraka financing) but it must be reflective of the economic reality and available assets.

The risk assessment of an Islamic contract must then be enhanced to behave similarly to what a venture capitalist can accept. There will be direct risks on equity, investments and returns. There will be corresponding returns as well. But such concepts will be difficult to digest if the bank is set up based on traditional banking fundamentals, which caters for a totally different profile of stakeholders.

As far as possible, the Shariah committee draws a line for transparency, fairness, and justice.

Islamic Banking should be an extended but integral part of economics. Islamic Banking is supposed to be more than a bank. It shoulders a broader responsibility to the people by looking at needs and providing products that serve a purpose. The idea of responsible financing, transparency and customer service should be the by-word of an Islamic Bank. The payment of Zakat (tithe) on profits which goes back into the community recognises the financial role that it needs to play. Corporate Social Responsibilities also play a role.

In this repect, the Shariah committee plays an important role as gatekeepers to the products and services on offer. Because of the unfamiliar territory of Islamic products, Shariah insists that transparency is critical to avoid uncertainty (gharar), the terms to the products are fair and the banks are ethical in its conduct to ensure justice. Fees and charges must reflect actual costs. Efforts are made to help a customer in distress. And conduct of the bank must comply with the requirements of Shariah.

SO, BASED ON THE ABOVE, WHAT ARE THE  OF RISKS FACED BY ISLAMIC BANKS? 

As a general rule, all risks faced by a conventional Bank must be “transferable” i.e the nature of the financial transaction must, as far as possible, allow for the TRANSFER OF RISKS. Wherever the opportunity arises, the Bank must be able to quickly pass the risk of the asset or valuation to the customer. Such understanding is also apparent in Islamic Banks. Looking at most Islamic Banking contracts, their structure allows for the transfer of risks, which follows the transfers of ownership, responsibilities and obligations from one party to the other. Contracts  such as Murabahah, Musawamah and Qard works by transferring the ownership, responsibilities and obligation from the Bank to the Customer.

Alternatively, mostly exclusive to Islamic Banks, are structures that allows for SHARING OF RISKS. The structure is more “participative” in nature, where there are benchmark by which determines the level of risks a party should have. The regular types of contracts that continues to share risks are Mudarabah, Musyarakah and Ijarah.

COMMON RISKS 

As mentioned before, the risks faced by a conventional bank and Islamic Bank should be very much the same, except for risks arising to the execution of Islamic contracts or pronouncement of the Shariah. While there will be common elements of risks for both types of Banks, the importance of Shariah ruling and decisions result in Islamic Banking becoming so unique. The following are the Risks commonly faced by Islamic Banks:

GENERAL RISKS – Risks existing in both conventional and Islamic banks. 

  • Credit  Risks – Arises due to counterparty risks (possibility of default by the party taking financing) where the counterparty fails to meet its obligations, in terms of payment, uncertainty of industry,  change of direction or diminished collateral value. This lead to settlement risks which means the Asset quality has diminished.
  • Market Risks / Interest Rate Risks – More macro in terms of effect on the risks. It relies on the performance of the market as well as the quality of the financial instruments (price, performance, valuation, demand, yields and inability to reprice. It leads to exposure to interest rate risks, where the risk of the bank increases with movements in the rates.
  • Liquidity Risks – Refers to the risk of inability to return cash to investors or stakeholder in stressed scenarios, resulting in forced borrowings from the market (usually at higher price) coupled with the possibility of not able to dispose assets. This may lead to valuation risks.
  • Operational Risks – Due to inadequate control of internal processes and operational practices, the risks may result in real loss of income and potentially reputation. Human errors may be difficult to unwind especially if there is financial implications. There may also be legal risks as it may be considered a breach in contract by the bank.

ISLAMIC SPECIFIC RISKS – Risks arising from operational and processing function

  • Transactional risks – Especially under Islamic Banking structures, transactions play an important role as part of the Aqad, where required.  For example, the sequencing of a Murabahah transaction. Failure to ensure compliance to the Aqad requirements will lead to potential invalid transaction and loss of income (or flow to charity).
  • Valuation Risks – Due to the nature of some Islamic Banking contracts, especially equity based structures, there will be challenges in valuation of the portfolio.  Reduction in valuation will result in real losses for the investors.
  • Displaced Commercial Risks – Displaced Commercial Risk (DCR) refer to the risk of mismatch between the fixed/contracted obligation to the depositors vs the uncertain returns on the financing (income) which may result in the income is insufficient to meet the obligations to the depositors. For example, the commitment for Islamic Fixed Deposit is 4% (contractual) but the Financing portfolio into which the Fixed Deposits is deployed into only earns 3% (actual returns). Therefore, the 1% shortage is the DCR where the Bank will have to flow 1% of  income from other portfolio to meet the deposit obligation of 4%.

SHARIAH RISKS – Risks arising to non-compliance of Shariah decisions and Shariah instructions.

  • Shariah Compliance Risks – The operation of an Islamic Bank is hugely dependent on the requirements of the Shariah Committee and approvals obtain on the process and procedure. Inability to comply with Shariah requirements puts the operations of the Islamic bank at risk as the department may be regarded as non-Shariah compliant business.
  • Fiduciary / Ownership Risks – Some of the structures under Islamic contract requires the bank to operate outside the scope of a financial intermediary. It requires the bank to hold property or trade commodities or own and lease assets, with various contracts using various roles and responsibilities. The risk of multiple roles and function must be clearly defined and implemented.
  • Regulatory / Reputational Risks – Changes in regulations requires quick adaptation to ensure compliance to regulation and maintaining the banking reputation intact.?

SO HOW DO YOU MANAGE ISLAMIC RISKS AND SHARIAH RISKS

As mentioned, Islamic management of risks should not be any different for the base of conventional bank’s methodology of measuring risks. There must be deep understanding of the products and structure for the bank to be able to assess the risks associated. To manage an Islamic Bank and its risks, the bank must first identify each of the risks and form safeguards to settle the above. Then only an Islamic bank can formulate suitable controls to ensure the Shariah specific processes and Shariah pronouncements are being monitored and implemented with sufficient support (internal or external). Wallahualam.

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.

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Connecting the Dots : Islamic Fintech

REVOLUTION OR EVOLUTION?

This posting is in the danger of being written too long, but I think it is necessary to close this year with this topic, simply because it looks at the future. The word “Islamic Fintech” has been buzzing for quite some time now and there have been pockets of excitement on what it should mean. Many financial institutions have jumped onto the bandwagon declaring they are also part of this new wave of what a bank could offer.

While all these are still early stages of development, I do notice a lot of effort is built into “digitalisation” and “apps-based application” and “efficiently and convenience” of EXISTING banking processes and relationships. These enhancements are still driven by financial institutions and centred around improving traditional processes for banking services, or short-circuiting the credit processing elements of financing. Although enhancements via technology is an important aspect, these should not be defined as “fintech”. There is an element of fintech in process improvements, but PROCESS IMPROVEMENT itself are not fintech.

DO PEOPLE NEED BANKS?

Traditionally, banks always hold the impression that “People need Banks, one way or another”. It is this understanding that the bank can continue investing into their brick and mortar business model, with customers always coming to them when they need capital, financing funds or products and services. The competition is that who can deliver existing products in the most efficient manner, with technology as the enabler. Money is spent to improve accessibility to the bank’s EXISTING products, services and proposition.

In improving processes, banks just needs to concentrate on all the products and services offered and build the corresponding infrastructure to ensure efficient delivery with technology. It can be “Apps-driven” based on inquiry or transaction-based, with new features attached to existing products. It is just creation of new delivery channels which will deliver existing products to customers faster than before.

But that in my view is NOT what fintech is all about.

IF FINTECH IS NOT PROCESS IMPROVEMENTS THEN WHAT IS IT?

The easiest google/cut/paste definition of Fintech is that “fintech is a new financial industry that applies technology to improve financial activities and FinTech is the new applications, processes, products, or business models in the financial services industry, composed of one or more complementary financial services and provided as an end-to-end process via the Internet”. The key words I believe are:

  • New Financial Industry
  • New Application
  • New Processes
  • New Products
  • New Business Model

While “Process Enhancement” can help support the “New Processes” element, but I think it falls short of the idea for fintech i.e to re-think the business model of financial services. The idea of fintech should be this: Understanding what the requirements of the Gen Y customers are and how they work, develop the products and services on platforms that they are most familiar with, and the proposition that the bank can offer on their chosen platform. It is a total re-think of delivering products and propositions to the up-coming Gen Y potential customers.

SHARING OF FINANCIAL WALLET

As much as banks and financial institutions like to believe the financial wallet cannot exist outside the regulated financial system, the evidence is slowly being presented as otherwise. Companies are finding ways to survive, live and thrive outside the banking system with facilities and opportunities in the New Economy, slowly eroding the traditional banks’ share of financial wallet.

Big Data companies have proven that their database is far more powerful (and valuable) than the database an individual bank would have on its existing customers. Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies goes through thousands of transactions within blockchain and is only realised into banks network when actual physical cash is needed. eWallet lets value resides in tech platforms for purchasing and sales of goods and services (more like barter or exchange of goods and services), and up to a certain extent provides microfinancing. Prepaid and loaded value arrangement provides free seed funding and capital for businesses, without the cost of borrowing incurred via banks. Peer to Peer (P2P) arrangement links crowdfund Investors to Entrepreneur without complicated documentation with speed and transparency levels never seen before. Sharing of risks and profits (including potential pay-offs) are now more understood as compared to traditional financing arrangements. Mudharabah, Musyarakah, and Ijarah may now have a place in an economy where equity participation is expected and sought after.

“FINANCIAL SOLUTIONS” ARE JUST A SINGLE ELEMENT IN THE UNIVERSE

Technology can now provide a single-point possibility of all our needs; goods, services, food, shopping, bills payment, money transfers, investments, borrowing, deliveries, medical, transport, social interaction, travel, holidays, education, careers development, information and even branding. Financial services can be integrated into all these elements, now driven via apps. But for this new infrastructure, the various “relationships” are needed to be identified and re-looked and re-engineered. With the proper Shariah compliance consideration.

This “single point” proposition is where tech companies play a crucial part. Rethinking the financial model must happen with the involvement of tech companies due to the advantage of everything being on the internet (internet of things). There are still a lot of limitations to what a bank can do, understandably due to financial regulations. The space of where banks are continuously competing (or evolving) is the “FINANCIAL SOLUTIONS” box above, and maybe payment gateways linked to service providers. But tech-companies? The revolution of technologies move so quickly that regulations will continue to struggle to catch up.

In the diagram above, I attempt to identify some of the areas of traditional banking where fintech can come in and provide a like-for-like solution or even fully replace the proposition by traditional banks. Certainly a lot of the consumer touch-points can be easily replicated in a technology platform, and crowdfunding and crowdsourcing can replace traditional financing and working capital requirements as well. Some services are still embedded into a banking structure (such as Current Accounts or Treasury product propositions) but over time, such products may be linked to fintech and the banks may eventually become ancillary service providers rather than main bank, earning just fees for services provided.

The landscape of what a bank offers will ultimately change in the next few years, when consumers no longer go to banks for financing, services, remittance and settlement of business transactions. As the new generation grows up with tech and becomes financially affluent, their expectation of how a banking experience should be will also dictate the model a bank adopts.

CONNECTING THE DOTS

So where do I see the banking industry in the next 5 years? Personally, I think a “price-comparison platform” will emerge, as seen nowadays in the travel/hotel/tourism industry. Information from all the financial service providers are flowed into a single platform, and consumers are able to immediately compare products, services and prices on a single platform and choose their solutions. Instead of customers subscribing to multiple banks offering different products and services (at different pricing), they only need to subscribe to a single platform where all information on the products are available to select. This is where the promise of fintech can thrive; accuracy of information, convenience of access, and speed of transaction.

It is a matter of time the various industries converge. We may think regulatory pressure will halt some of the progress but mostly it have been reactive regulations. And the challenge is that these developments are driven by tech companies which has no loyalties to banking regulations as their scope of business cuts across various industries. It will be a period of “non-regulated” until the market starts to recognise the need to regulate and managing the risks. A regulatory sandbox will be usefull, but if the “New Economy” moves faster than the speed where regulations are being formalised, there will be a lot of speculative and arbitrage opportunities for the market to gain.

This also means the New Economy brings new risks that the consumers are not aware off. While the banks have been fine-tuning its risks that it takes over the past half-century or so, the fintech companies may not see the elements of risks other than technology risks or systemic risks. Almost all the risks faced by banks are also prevalent in fintech companies or non-banks, plus the specific risks by fintech companies. They might be great at integration of technology, but banks are still masters when it comes to understanding financial risks.

WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE?

As I mentioned, banks understand risks better than a tech company. A tech company understand speed, efficiency and channels better than any banks can have. At the moment, banks are developing “fintech” on their own which is mostly a process improvement project. Tech companies are developing “banking services” on their own as well, where it linked investor’s money and economic entrepreneurs via technology. The question is really, “why not a bank consume or enter into a partnership with tech companies to provide a solution beyond traditional banking?” We have started to see this trend where banks attempt to purchase outright a tech company and use the company as an incubator for new products and services. It should look into having a different operating structure which encourages new ideas, innovation, internet-based solutions, as well as delivering to a larger segment of consumers (including the Unbanked segment).

The end-result might not look like what we recognise as banks we see today. This could be a separate line of business for banks, where the element of technology integrated into the wider economy is more dominant than its traditional banking products and services. You could have Bank A offering the traditional products and services, and Bank A-Tech offering fintech solutions to a new generation. The same bank catering to 2 business lines, employing different delivery channels.

But breaking away from such traditional infrastructure may take time, and the greatest fear is that the market cannot wait. Fintech companies may be able to offer similar proposition in half the time required, and this will not motivate fintech companies to join-venture with a financial institution. In an environment where new opportunities arise at the blink of an eye and regulations have yet to be formalised, the temptation to go on its own will drive innovation by the fintech companies, leaving behind banks. Fintech companies have the capability to look at consumer needs and develop the solutions from the bottom, and flow the linkages to the top. Connect the dots where the solutions provider are linked together in a platform.

Will fintech companies be the next driver in providing financial solution? I know my answer to that question. It is perhaps just a matter of time where future banking is done outside of a bank. Perhaps the model of banking needs to be re-imagined.

Wishing all my readers a Happy New Year in 2018. I appreciate the support I have received so far. But the new world beckons and hopefully we can do enough to ensure the continuation of the banking industry. I hope Islamic Banking can play a bigger role in taking the industry into this exciting online generation.