Popular Islamic Finance Terms

While Islamic Banking in general has been codified since early 1980’s in Malaysia, the familiarity to Islamic Banking or Finance terms remain a challenge. Terms like Mudarabah or Musyarakah or Wakalah remains difficult to remember but also it’s meaning have been lost to many, although there has been many attempts to communicate the various glossaries already available.

This makes the layman to go back to something more familiar, in most cases it is conventional banking, simply because of the ingrained understanding of conventional banking terms and terminologies. Some become “allergic” to Islamic terms simply because of the fear of failing to explain and understand the “arabic” terms. It does seem a daunting task to remember the terms, and understand what they mean.

So, I picked up a simple slide from a friend from IBFIM ie Haji Razli Ramli (his introduction available here in this website – click here) and made it into  a simple slide.

Get familiar with the terms for Islamic Finance, the easy way. Click on this 1-minute video. Share this video with friends. Know the meaning of those Arabic word. It’s quick and simple. In both English and Bahasa Malaysia. Comments are also appreciated.

Also, you can download the file into your desktop or mobile at the following links:

Share out to your friends. Thank you.

 

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

Employee Provident Fund – Becoming Shariah Compliant

Simpanan Shariah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shariah Compliant Investment Selection, Deployment, and Dividend Distribution.

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

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

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

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

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

 

German Banks: More Islamic than Islamic Banks?

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

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

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

Life as an Islamic Product Developer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Presentation on Careers in Islamic Banking

Most Commonly Used Islamic Banking Contracts

It is reaching the end of the year and I thought it will be good to have a quick look on how many Islamic Banking contracts that we have in and around the industry. Granted, I might miss some of the contracts as there are many banks offering hybrids nowadays. I do apologise for such shortfall, and will endeavour to update this chart as often as possible, should there be some interesting and new contracts being introduced in the Islamic Banking industry.

Common Islamic Contracts

For pdf, please click here

In general, common Islamic Banking contracts can be segregated into a few categories:

  • Gratuitous Contracts

These types of contracts are typically unilateral in nature where the contracts do not require mutual consent to be applied. It is just a one-way arrangement where one party provides a product or service based on mandates or scope of work and is at discretion to vary the terms without requiring the other party to specifically accept the changes. For example, the Hibah contract (Gift). One party provides the gift, and the other party receives the gift. It should be on a unilateral / discretionary basis by it not being “promissory”.

Another example is the contract of Qard (Loan). One party lends money to the other party, and the other party (borrower) undertakes to pay back the loan (original amount) when required by the lending party, without any expectation of additional return. But the other party (borrower) can pay more than the original amount (by way of Gift) but is not obliged to, and such additional gift do not require the borrower to obtain “consent” from the lender to be given. It is simply the payment of the loan, and any other gift (which is not obligatory). Such “gifts” avoid the definition of Riba’ by being not promissory.

Under gratuitous contracts, the Aqad is not greatly necessary (it being unilateral) but it will be ideal for all parties if an Aqad can be concluded upon.

  • Trading Contracts

Trading or transactional contracts are debt-based contracts. Very similar in nature and intention to a conventional loan, but requires specific Islamic contract to be perfectly executed to avoid riba’. Such contracts greatly involves the participation of 2 parties (sometimes 3 or multiple parties) and there is a defined Aqad executed to finalised the terms and conditions to the contract. These terms are to be defined and agreed upon within the Ijab/Qabul period for all parties to accept. Once accepted, any proposed further changes captured in the Aqad must be accepted by all parties by mutual consent.

A common example will be a Murabaha financing transaction, where the terms and conditions are agreed up-front in a bilateral agreement. A purchase price is discussed, together with the profit amount, selling price and the settlement tenure. Ownership of the asset (used as an underlying asset for the Murabaha) is also moved between the parties, and transactional sequence is observed. Any changes that is proposed outside the Aqad majlis will require approval and consent by all parties.

A Leasing contract is also deemed a bilateral contract although the owner of the asset has the right to unilaterally increase or revise the rental amount of the asset under hire / rental, the person who lease that asset will also have a right to remain in or exit out of the leasing arrangement, thus making it bilateral (where there is also a material change in the terms and conditions.

The perfection of Aqad holds great importance to Transactional Contracts to ensure the validity of the transactions.

  • Investment Contracts

These types of contracts deals more on equity and corresponding returns in the subject matter. It follows the concept of investment where such equity-based structures takes on the risks of the investments, and concentrate on the concept of entrepreneurship and risk-sharing. In such contracts, where there is an element of trust, bilateral arrangements are strictly adhered to. Changes to the terms and conditions requires explicit consent especially from the party that is in a disadvantageous position.

The most popular of these contracts is the Mudharabah, which is used in many depository products. However, although this is technically a deposit, these deposits must be utilised or deployed into economic transaction for the purpose of generating a return on the capital i.e. in this case, the Mudharabah deposit. Once profit is recognised (if ever…) then the profit must be distributed to the customers based on the agreed Mudharabah profit sharing ratios. The Bank, usually acting as a Mudharib (fund manager / entrepreneur) , will behave as a pure entrepreneur with the customer (as Rab Ul Mal), acting as the fund provider with the possibility that the investments is not up-to-market returns which can result in both loss in profit and loss of principal (principal not guaranteed).

Another example. Under a Musharakah structure, there  is even more defined roles that the all parties must take and agree under a bilateral arrangement. With Musharakah, each party will be required to contribute equity (or capital) and even contribute expertise into the partnership venture to ensure profit can be made. All terms and conditions are captured as part of the important Aqad. Any profits declared will be shared according to equity ratio or agreed profit sharing ratio, and any losses shall also be shared amongst partners, usually based on equity ratio or equity contribution.

  • Supporting Contracts

Supporting contracts are often important because they act to complete many aspects of services, products and banking. Many supporting contracts are created to cater mostly for specific situation and most of it requires proper Aqad as well. Such contracts are also considered a facility to provide specific outcomes for the customer. It also falls into a bilateral arrangement.

Popular contracts include the contract of Kafalah (guarantee) where a person can enter into a Kafalah to secure a financing facility by providing a letter of guarantee. Other contracts include Rahn (mortgage or pawn broking) that has specific terms to the arrangements, Hamish Jiddiyyah (security deposit) or even Wakalah (Agency for services)

  • Contractual Arrangements

Contractual Arrangement are not necessarily contracts on its own, but can be construed as a combination of contracts to achieve a certain objective. The arrangement itself is not legally binding, but what is inside those arrangements are usually standalone valid Islamic Banking contracts.

Take for example the contractual arrangement of Tawarruq. Inside a Tawarruq arrangement, it consists of several standalone Islamic Banking contracts. Firstly there is the contract of Wakalah (Agency) to purchase the commodities on behalf of the transacting party. Secondly, there is the contract of Commodity Murabahah where the commodities purchased will be sold at a Sale Price to the purchasing party. Once the Commodity ownership is transferred into the purchasing party, the purchasing party can make an offer to another party as a Musawamah (simple sale) to obtain the desired cash.

Other contractual arrangement is the arrangement for Wa’ad (Promise) usually used for FX transactions. A Wa’ad itself is not binding, but it can be enforced upon certain events where eventually an exchange can be made (Sarf) or even a Commodity Murabahah is executed to deliver certain obligations.

Again, these are not exhaustive list of contracts, and can easily be expanded in a short period of time. Innovations are done everyday, and it will be a matter of time until critical mass will push a contract to the forefront. I hope to keep updating this list more in the coming years.

Wallahualam.