Equity-based Financing vs Debt-based Financing

Recently I have been asked again on why Islamic Banks still uses a lot of Debt-based Financing products, instead of moving to Equity-based Financing products, which on perception was supposed to be more “Islamic”.

Yes, ideally an equity-based financing do equate to a more “Islamic” structure, if your definition of being more “Islamic” is risk-sharing. Not all structures must be risk-sharing; transfer of risks are definitely acceptable in Islamic Banking circle. The idea is an age old idea; if you undertake a low-risk structure or there is no risks for the bank (where all risks are transferred to customers) then technically the bank should earn low returns for it. If the risks are higher i.e. Bank carries the risks, Banks would be entitled to higher returns. High risk equates to High returns.

TYPES OF RISKS 02

BUT IN REALITY, ARE COMMERCIAL BANKS SET UP LIKE THESE?

If an Islamic Bank operates in the same environment as a conventional Bank, it is difficult to imagine having two models running side by side I.e. the Islamic Banks operating an equity-based business and conventional Banks operating a debt-based business. The risk profile of these banks would be significantly different, and this affect many areas in banking; risk rating, cost of funding, profile as well as capital requirements. The bank with the perceived higher risk rating will ultimately become less competitive.

The real truth is that the shareholders of traditional banking set up expects the following: medium to high returns on their equity at the lowest risk and operating cost as possible. In short, their “investment” must record the best Return on Investment (ROI) as possible. Based on this view, debt-based financing can fill that criteria.

SO WHAT ARE DEBT-BASED FINANCING STRUCTURES?

EQTYvsDEBT

Many have the perception that equity-based structures and debt-based structures are dependent on the types of contract employed by an Islamic Bank. To a certain extent, this may be true. Certain contracts by nature promotes the sharing of risks (which is equity financing) while others rely on the transfer of risks (which is debt financing). For example, a Musyaraka (partnership) structure is traditionally an equity financing structure, where the Bank and customer enters into a partnership arrangement with both parties giving capital into the venture. Risks on the venture is shared according to equity ratio, and so is the returns where it will also be shared. The risk factor is therefore elevated because there is a possibility of losses being shared between Bank and customer.

Musyaraka

So, many Banks prefer the safer haven of Debt-based financing. How, then, do you change a Musyaraka structure into debt-based? Simply by providing a purchase undertaking, a document agreed and signed which states that should the venture go bust, then the customer agrees to undertake the purchase of the Bank’s remaining share in the venture thus making the amount to be immediately due by the customer. This is in a way, an indemnity given by the Customer to provide assurances during contractual breaches. By having a purchase undertaking document, the risks are effectively transferred to the customer in times of default. The Musyaraka therefore still works where profits are shared during the good times, but dissolves in spirit during bad times when purchase undertaking document takes effect.

Equity Financing2

The talk about having an equity-based financing is usually moot with the use of purchase undertaking document. The element of risks is removed for the Bank, and puts the product on par with its conventional banking product equivalent.

So will we ever see Equity-based financing?

I believe you need real political will for this. You need:

  1. Shareholders who understand the risk nature of equity based contracts, the way venture capitalist understand venture capitalism. Risk and return are greatly considered but more importantly, the possibility of losses.
  2. Bank with a risk appetite outlined for greater risk-taking. The risks to be understood and accepted. Then the venture in entered into with eyes open although it will take time for a Bank to understand the business risks they take under equity-based structures.
  3. Customers willing to stomach the losses or share the spoils of profits. It will take even longer time for customers themselves to be able to accept the structures under equity-based. Customers must be able to understand that they are active partners in a venture, the responsibilities and also the sharing aspect of it; they don’t just share the losses with the Bank, but also the profits or gains with Banks as well and this can be above and beyond what they can traditionally accept.

To achieve this, it will take significant paradigm change for everyone when they have only the financing structures in mind. In actual fact, such structures are already common in the consumer psyche as there are similar structures when they deal in unit trusts, shares or other types of investments, where risks are taken. But to flip it into an “equity financing” concept will remain a challenge to Islamic Banks that are serious to offer something significantly “Islamic”.

Goods and Services Tax on Islamic Products

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

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

GST

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

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

Please Click Here

Banking with Non-Islamic Banking Institutions

I remember many years ago being in an interesting conversation with my Bank’s Sharia Advisor on the topic of accepting funds from an organisation which deals with non-sharia compliant activities. What was the view on taking funds you know were generated from doubtful sources. Whether it is reputationally acceptable to take in deposits from customers involved in gambling, usury and prohibited activities.

Some institutions were reluctant to take in these institutions as customers, even though they were huge, cash-rich corporations. The worry is on the perception that we Islamic bankers are supporting them via our activities, that they benefit from their patronage of our bank. Some even said that taking their “dirty” money and putting it into our pool of “clean” funds will result in co-mingling of the funds. The fact that we provide services to non-Sharia compliant institutions, bothered some quarters.

My advisor said it simply. Why not we take their funds? If you don’t take it, where would it then go? It will go back into the conventional system, generate more money, providing more funds to allow the conventional banks to loan the money to more customers. This will grow the conventional pool of funds, increase the loans portfolio in interest-lending and further strengthen a conventional banks profit. Islamic banks will then have to grow organically, fighting for the piece of pie that’s available against huge conventional banking giants.

Take the money. Invest in Islamic industry. Grow our books. Invest in Sharia-compliant manner. And provide good returns to the conventional depositors and investors. Change their mind by proving that Islamic banking is universal. That the model is viable. Innovative, competitive and fair. Provide the alternative for a feasible banking structure. Give da’wah and awareness on Islamic banking and its underlying principles. Prove we can co-exist side by side.

Probably one of the wisest things I have heard. Although not many will have the same sentiment to this. So it is ok to agree to disagree.
Investment by Conventional Banks
But what if it is the other way around? Can an Islamic Bank invest or place their deposits with a conventional banking counterpart, who deals in non-compliant activities? The answer is obviously a NO. Depositors funds, taken under a Sharia-compliant contract, should be used for sharia approved activities only. Morally, it is wrong to paint a picture that the Bank is Sharia-compliant but is actually a deposit collection arm of the Non-Sharia-compliant bank. It’s misleading and damaging to the Islamic bank to have this reputation.

Investment in Conventional Bank

Yet, is there a solution to this argument? What if we still deposit funds into a conventional bank, yet with a strict condition put on the use of these fund for Sharia compliant investments only? Will that be enough to allay the concerns? If it does, what is the relationship that will be between us and a conventional bank? Can we appoint a conventional bank as our “Wakeel” to execute Sharia compliant transactions?

Personally, I do have reservations on this. Conventional banks do not have any compulsion on the execution of a transaction whether Islamic or otherwise. They do not bother about its use or matters such as sequencing or ownership. Their law is civil law, and is dependent on the legal documentation. This, then, is merely passing of money to a conventional entity, when our depositors have trusted us to invest in Sharia compliant activities. Can we be assured that the monies passed over be used according to our requirements? How do we get this assurance?

What is your Bank doing? Can this be a possible model?

Readings : December Papers x 3

Murabaha

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

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

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

Looking forward to the coming holidays.

Exposure Draft : Wadiah

Image

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

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

Wadiah ED

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

Wadiah Concept Paper

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

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

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

Wadiah ED

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

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

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