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.

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.

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.

Malaysian Business : Revival

We Are Back!

That was the rebirth issue of the Malaysian Business in April 2017.

Malaysian BusinessThis magazine was one of my main reading requirements when I was still a relationship manager for Business Banking and Commercial Banking way back in the early 2000’s. It gave me some insights for my daily conversation with customers. Nowadays I hardly read an actual magazine; all been replaced by this thing called Mobile Phone. So it was a surprise to see this magazine making a comeback.
Acquired by the Amanie group owned by Datuk Dr Daud Bakar, I was expecting the contents to be Islamic Banking-heavy. But I think in keeping with the original spirit of its readership, it is Malaysian Business as usual (no pun intended!). There are some contents on Islamic Banking and Services, and I guess the editors are taking it one subject at a time.

Ahmad FaizalSo I spoke to my trusted counterpart, Ahmad Faizal (pic), to ask his opinion on the magazine and his thoughts on the comeback. The common magazines come to mind; Personal Money and TheEdge. Simply because of the established contents and great stories that grab attention. Malaysian Business needs to benchmark itself to these magazines. Especially during times that there is insufficient readerships of physical magazines. Faizal also observed that there is no emphasis on Islamic Banking, which may well be a differentiation factor. Faizal also have fond memories for Islamic Banker magazine edited by Mushtak Parker. Many new information covered in the magazine for example the latest structure of deals etc. and hoping that Malaysian Business adopt certain areas based on this magazine.

Early days yet. I love the rebirth, and hope to have more. Heard the May issue is out.  Gotta get it. Click on the picture below to go to www.malaysian-business.com & happy reading!

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[Excerpt from Datuk Dr Daud Bakar FB page]

Revival of Malaysian Business Magazine – Amanie Media – New Editor in Chief

DDDBI am happy to share with you that we have launched Malaysia’s Premier Business Magazine in April 2017.

First published in 1972, the magazine, now to be published by new owner Amanie Media Sdn Bhd with founder and renowned Global Entrepreneur and Shariah scholar Datuk Dr Mohd Daud Bakar as the Editor in Chief, is set to hit the news-stands in April 2017.

With the theme of Hope for The Malaysian Nation, Malaysian Business is on a mission to be at the forefront of motivational and inspiring business establishments’ stories. From financial advice for start-up companies to success stories from millionaire business founders, Malaysian Business aims to help readers at enlivening their passion and business goals in life.

The magazine spans on a range of business topics, technology insights, business culture, personal financing tips as well as stories of successful entrepreneurs who share secrets of their success from the ground up.

Sections in the magazine will include:

  • Trending Facts and News – Highlights of International and Local News
  • Corporate and Market Capital Roundup – review on latest market updates
  • MB Preneur – Stories from the Unsung Heroes of SME’s
  • Walking down Memory Lane – Stories on how we can recreate success histories
  • Reader’s Page – Pour your thoughts out, we want to hear from you!
  • After Biz – an insight into the latest gadgets, automotive and trends

Come and join our network of trade leaders and key players by subscribing to Malaysian Business!