E-Wallets : Did You Forget Us Again?

THE SHARIAH CONSIDERATION FOR E-WALLETS AND PAYMENT APPS.

Apps are everywhere. Everyone has a mobile phone where people start to get used to online banking, e-money, e-wallets and e-payment. All at the touch of the screen. I use it extensively and there are a few very convenient ways to survive a city without the need of actual cash in your wallet. Everything is digital and floating somewhere out in the clouds.

As I no longer use credit cards, I relied heavily on Debit Cards as my main payment medium which is linked to my Islamic Current and Savings Account. So the Debit Card deducts the amount from my account for each purchase for settlement. Technically, it is a Service (Ujr) where the Debit Card serves as a payment instrument, linked to the account based on Wadiah or Qard or Tawarruq or Mudarabah.

But at the same time, I am all-in into the tech-thingy as well. And no doubt, there must be a future in these thingies… For the past few months, I have been using these few apps. Here is a short review of 2 apps that I have to admit as my favourites.

Boost was one of the first eWallet that I downloaded. It requires me to “fund” the wallet, and when you make payment using the money in the eWallet, you can shake your phone to get “digital rewards”. So far, I have only gotten maximum RM2 for my phone shaking, with the promise of random potential rewards. I am motivated to shake, maybe I can win the grand prize (it changes from period to period). What is the Shariah contract here? Boost eWallet is funded from my Islamic bank account, so what is the contract for the eWallet? Is it a Qard (loan), or Wadiah (safekeeping)? We potentially may get a return (profit?) after a purchase by shaking our phone. Is that considered discretionary returns i.e. Hibah? Promised returns? In a way it is a promised returns but the amount is based on luck. And what does Boost do with our money when we are not using it and is it used for Shariah compliant purposes? Is it potentially a Musyarakah (partnership) or Mudarabah (profit-sharing) arrangement as customers are the Rab Ul Mal (Fund Provider) and Boost is the Mudarib (Manager) or Shirkah (Partnership). The Capital is guaranteed so it is maybe a deposit arrangement. The fact that we can transfer it back to our account sound like it is a Qard arrangement where we can ask our cash back on demand. But getting to shake for a guaranteed reward (even though it is RM0.20) may pose Qard as problematic for offering rewards.

 Fave is another app that I use, which is slightly different from Boost. Where Boost is an eWallet, Fave is a Payment Gateway where the cash is taken directly from your Bank account to settle a purchase. And depending on the merchant, you get cash back on your purchases which could be deducted from the your next purchase amount, ranging from 5% to 10% (some don’t offer cashback, but rarely). In Fave’s case, Fave do not retain any cash from you, as your cash still remain in your Bank account. So Fave seems to be more of an Ujrah arrangement, where we presume the service fee is collected from merchants instead of you. To encourage you to use this App so that Fave collects their fees, Fave gives the cash-back based on % of your purchases which seems like Hibah (gift) to me. For example, I pay for RM100 and gets a “cash-back” of RM5 for my next purchase at the merchant, so that sounds like a gift. Or is it a commission that we get for using the App, redeemable for the next purchase? I don’t know.

THE SHARIAH IMPLICATION

When we use these Apps, it is not clear the modus operandi of the operator and it seems obvious that no Shariah consideration took place on the usage as well as the contractual relationship. Should there even be any consideration or is it necessary?

In my view, a lot of products and services in the market fall into the category of “Shariah Neutral” instead of Shariah Compliant / Non-Shariah Compliant. For example a transaction may look like an Ijarah where the payment is based on rental but its documents may not be completed or contain all the tenets of the contract. Without the elements of all the shariah tenets, will it fall into either Shariah-neutral or non-compliant?

The question : If the transaction is Shariah Neutral, is there any requirement to look at by Shariah scholars? How do we decide if it is Shariah Neutral and therefore should be ignored from Shariah oversight?


Have Shariah Scholars considered the digital world or are we still only concerned on the traditional products to see their process validity and documentation? I feel there is a growing gap of what we see developing in the fintech, mobile banking and digital commerce space where Shariah may or may not have an issue on.

For example, the issue of Aqad in the digital space. The questions that I have are the following:

  1. Are the minimum tenets the same between a transaction between people, and a digital transaction? For example the tenets of a Murabahah in the digital space. Buyer / Seller / Price / Asset / Offer Acceptance. Will the tenets in the physical world still apply in a digital world?
  2. I presume the Buyer is the customer. But the Seller is a program that shows a picture of a product and is automated. Will the Seller as an Apps (representing the Seller) qualify as a real seller under the tenet? Generally I would think so but the responsibilities of the Seller must be clear somewhere.
  3. Would an Apps Pop-Up notice sufficient to conclude an Aqad. These are sequential programming that gives notice/remark at certain points and can be timed to meet Shariah requirements. Is this sufficient for Shariah?

Maybe I have been too distracted by work that I have missed these discussions, if it has happened before and concluded.

SHARIAH NEUTRAL : IS THERE A NEED TO VALIDATE?

As far as I understand it, Shariah Neutral means a product or services that is not breaching any Shariah rules or prohibited items in its execution. For example, a remittance service, where the customer gives cash to a remittance company to transfer the amount to another party. The company provides a service and earns a commission for the service. There are no prohibited elements in such service even to the point that generally the tenets of the contract are deemed as embedded in the processes, intention and basic forms and documents. You don’t see the arabic terms or formal contractual relationships mentioned; by virtue that there are no prohibited elements, we deemed it Shariah sufficient.

WHAT IS SHARIAH’S REAL VIEW OF SHARIAH-NEUTRAL?

I may be ignorant in this area, but what is Shariah’s view on Shariah-Neutral transactions? Why is it deemed that certain transactions requires a written / documented contract with all relationships and responsibilities outlined and agreed upon for it to be Shariah-Compliant, while others are okay to remain in a Shariah-Neutral state and still be acceptable? What is the deciding criteria for qualification of Shariah-Compliant?

As we move into the digital world where buying and selling online become a norm, and payment of goods and services are effected via a mobile app, is there a need to see whether there is any presence of prohibited elements in the transactions? Is there a need to decide if there are elements of a Riba (usury), Ghrarar (uncertainty) or Maisir (gambling) in the transactions? How about justice, fairness and trickery in the documents or operations of a mobile commerce? Is it safe to assume at least Shariah-Neutral and therefore Shariah scholars can skip looking into it?

Can I now design a product that on the outset can look and feel consistent with a Shariah-Neutral approach?  With more and more Apps for commercial transaction being introduced, should I start to think about avoiding the prohibitive elements, without the need of complicated documentation and Aqad? As long as it avoids the prohibited elements, I guess it can survive unquestioned.

Does Shariah have a view on Shariah-Neutral transactions? How far do they see to decide if a transaction is Shariah-Neutral and therefore “outside” their jurisdiction.

SUMMARY

As we look forward to living into a progressively digital world, I cannot help but wonder on the necessity to have Shariah oversight online. The Apps developer won’t be going to Shariah scholars to get Shariah endorsements anytime soon, but are they aware of what they developed contains any prohibitive elements from Shariah? Often we are left out of such discussions; perhaps we ourselves feels such development falls into Shariah-Neutral and therefore requires no oversight. But then how do we decide how it falls into Shariah-Neutral territory? Are there checklists we can refer to?

These are the things that comes to my mind while I wait in line to purchase my next drink. And wondering how much I will get from shaking my phone for the rewards. I am hoping for something more than RM5 this time. Happy shaking your phone. What a different world we are living in now. Wallahualam.

The All New Shariah Advisory Council BNM Website

THE ONE-STOP SHARIAH ADVISORY PAGE OF BANK NEGARA MALAYSIA       

Finally it is here, the website dedicated to the works and reference regarding the Shariah Advisory Council (SAC) of Bank Negara Malaysia. There is a wealth of information on the decisions and fatwa of the SAC, and this will provide valuable reference point on how a particular decision is made. Good insights especially to leaners interested in knowing the methodologies and depth of deliberation that the SAC employs for a decision.

The Centre of Shariah Reference in Islamic Finance

The website itself looks clean and uncluttered and holds various sections of interest. They include:

  • Shariah Standards & Operational Requirements. Currently it covers the 12 Islamic contracts standards that has been issued up to today (21 April 2018). You can view the various standards individually as you scroll down the page. Click on the banner below to go to:

  • Shariah Resolutions 1997 – 2010. This is the English-language compilation of the various resolutions when the industry was in the infancy stages. Lots of very fundamental discussion happenning during this period in the industry. Click on the banner below to go to:

  • Shariah Resolutions 2011 – 2017. This is the continuing compilation cover a more advance level of discussions, as the products in the market become more sophisticated, More importantly, the introduction of Islamic Financial Services Act 2013 (IFSA 2013) provided a more robust consideration of operationalisation of the Islamic contracts. Personally, I learned quite a number of concepts during this segment of time. Unfortunately at the moment, the compilation is in Bahasa Malaysia (Malaysian language). Click on the banner below to go to:

  • Educators’ Manual. This section interestingly mentions the existence of manuals for learning organisations that teaches Islamic Banking and Finance courses. I am sure these are useful documents if it is coming from the SAC. But you need to sign up and agree to adopt the standards for your institution to access these. Therefore I can’t really comment on the contents. Click on the banner below to go to:

  • Latest Shariah Rulings (Individual SAC Meeting Resolutions). This section allows the reader to have access to the decisions made on certain specific issues. It aims to provide the reader the understanding of how a decision is derived, based on relevant Fiqh evidences. Interesting read and quite comprehensive. Click on the banner below to go to:

  • Infographics. I believe this is part of the efforts to educate the public on the understanding on the workings of Shariah contracts as well as the process flows (and Shariah requirements) of a particular Islamic structure. As at current date, there are only 3 Infographics available ie Tawarruq, Istisna’a and Murabahah, but I am sure over time, the number of contracts infographics will grow. Click on the banner below to go to:

  • List of Shariah Committee Members in Islamic Financial Institutions. This is an interesting section because of the willingness to disclose to public the Shariah scholars responsible for the resolutions or opinions at the institutional level. It provides transparency and also reference of the Shariah Committee strength compared between Islamic Financial Institutions. Click on the banner below to go to:

There are many other sections in this website and I personally believe that this site will be one of the most complete point of reference for all the Shariah-related banking decisions. It   may provide a better understanding of how the SAC makes a resolution that impacts the overall industry. I personally encountered a few glitches but I hope the content accumulates further to finally become one of the prominent sites when it comes to Islamic Banking.

Also, hoping someday the website will publish a hardcopy of the resolutions because some of us do read actual books. But if there is a plan for an e-book, do let me park it here on my website. For free.

Overall, I think the SAC website looks awesome and would definitely be one of my reference website for Islamic Banking products, processes and issues.

P/S Somehow I am not able to register as a subscriber yet (April 2018). Maybe still developing this area of the website? Hope it is sorted out soon.

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.

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.

Sustainable Vs Halal Practices

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

THE MAQASID OF SHARIAH

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

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

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

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

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

WHY IS HALAL NOT ENOUGH

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

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

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

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

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

SUSTAINABILITY : BEYOND HALAL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE CHALLENGE

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

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

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

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

5 Reasons Why PLS Financing Does Not Fit Islamic Banks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go to Datuk Dr Daud Bakar's views

Click here to go to discussion

Why do we need to discuss PLS?

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

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

Needing a new Banking model. An Alternative Banking model.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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