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.

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

Pro-Active Compliance of Regulatory Guidelines

There are days I wish I was a multi-millionaire with vast resources, cool regulatory connections, tech-savvy and excellent people motivator. Someone who sees the new regulations for the opportunity it is and the potential in it.

If I was, I’d quit my cosy banking job and set-up my own company that provide services to all Malaysian Banks to support the compliance of the new guidelines. Instead of all the banks scrambling to meet the requirements, they can just outsource all their problems to my set-up to run it. One stop solution to all your headaches.

Perhaps I am writing this out of frustration because I do not have the resources for it. Or perhaps I am writing this for my own interest, hoping someone like Bruce Wayne takes up the challenge and make all our jobs easier. Maybe some of us can get an offer to join this company. That’s wishful thinking I bet.

What would this company / set-up offer to banks? Hmmm where do we start.

Balancing Act

Compliance with the Investment Account Guidelines.

All Banks do not generally set up their operations to work like fund houses where you have fund managers running their investment desks. Neither are there an infrastructure to manage and monitor the fund or portfolio performance, nor having mechanisms to create mark-to-market valuations of the portfolio. Reading the Investment Account guidelines makes one think that the banking model itself has to change to a pure Mudharaba trading house. A dedicated fund house with ready systems supporting the investment requirements and offering their services to Islamic Banks will ease the burden at Banks to develop their own infrastructure.

Tawarruq Guidelines.

This can be a huge component of businesses in the near future. As BNM place more and more emphasis on the big 3 of Musyaraka, Mudharaba and Murabaha, more and more focus will be placed on building the long term infrastructure to support this. Warehousing infrastructure, including managing physical assets and commodities belonging to the Banks, will support the Murabaha envisioned by BNM. A re-vamp of the credit policies and a different approach to risks assessment will support Musyaraka. Mudharaba will encourage the Bank’s “entrepreneurial appetite”  as Banks take a more hands-on approach to investments. Ensuring a compliant structure and supporting the requirements of Sharia on sequencing, documentation, management of commodities, ownership transfers, usufruct and beneficial ownerships and valuation must be developed for the long run. A company which offers these services, or provides an IT platform for this, are something that can reduce the stress placed on the industry.

Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs).

There a easy lot of opportunities for SPVs to flourish in the Islamic banking market. To support the ownership issues, an SPV can be a useful conduit for the movement of assets which will then create the underlying transactions. Huge deals are done on SPVs. Complicated structures need them. This is a viable legal solution for across border deals. The only question is; what do we do with the SPVs once the transaction is done? Rent it out to another entity, I presume. Either way, SPVs are created for win-win situations for everybody.

The IFSA 2013 is like a large pool of compliance that needed development. There are many opportunities out there and with the coming of even more complicated regulations, Banks are always finding ways to meet the requirements set in the regulations. Some will be creative solutions, while others will address the fundamental requirements of the transaction. Whatever they may be, it will only provide possibilities where fortune smiles on the brave. Take that chance. Hopefully, you will succeed to make all our lives easier.

Synopsis of 2013 BNM Exposure Drafts

The following is what I understood from the various Exposure Drafts issued by BNM on 9 December 2013. Of the 7 exposure drafts that we received, I have earlier summarised the Wadiah Exposure Draft, and I will ignore the Bai-Inah Exposure Draft as we are no longer subscribing to the Bai Inah structure at the workplace.

Please find the remaining Exposure Draft review for your understanding.

Kafalah ED

2013 ED – Kafalah – One of the key issues for a Kafala (Guarantee) contract is the charging of fees for providing the guarantee services. The main issue has always been the quantum of fees charged, either in percentage of the financing or via a fixed charge for all financing amount. The justification of this charge is always tricky, because technically the fee should not be imposed if there is no call for the guarantee (in cases of no default). The guarantee will only materialise if the customer defaults, that’s when the work happens to justify any fees. Issuing a piece of paper at the start of the relationship to guarantee the amount does not amount to too much work, and there no funds disbursed to any parties (unfunded). To justify the charging of any fees based on percentage instead of actual work, especially for huge amounts of financing guarantee, can be problematic to justify in the eyes of Sharia.

Waad ED

2013 ED – Wa’d – At one point of time, Wa’ad (Promise) seems to be the answer to many structures, where a promise is given without any requirement to transact before a specific event. The terms therefore can be negotiated and re-negotiated without the need to strictly specify the terms of the transaction and re-signing of documents. This gives a lot of leeway for deals to happen.However, at the end of the day, Wa’ad remains as only a promise, legally distanced from a contract or an agreement. Enforcement at the courts are therefore without full confirmation of all the terms, and makes for a loose structure and potential disputes. This flexibility and enforceability remains one of the key risks to a Wa’ad contract, which is why until today Wa’ad is generally transacted between known parties i.e. between established and trusted Financial Institutions.

Wakala ED

2013 ED – Wakalah – Wakala (Agency) will remain an integral contract for Islamic Banking as it validates a lot of action that can be done by the Bank, in order to remain efficient. In general, Banks hold a lot of expertise in various fields, such as investments, financing, leasing and trading; something a normal customer may not want to be involved in on a daily basis. An Agency arrangement conveniently provides for this. Anything that improves the efficiency by leveraging on the Bank’s expertise and infrastructure, can be arranged via Agency. However, the way we practice it usually is transparent to the customer. In practice, Agency Fees are the right of the Agent, and the waiver of such fees, although allowed, is sometime seen as not adhering to the spirit of Agency and entrepreneurship. You do the work as an Agent, but don’t earn any fees as it is waived. In real life, this does not happen as whenever a work is completed, you should earn something.

Tawarruq

2013 ED – Tawarruq – As Tawarruq (Three-party Murabaha Sale) becomes more prominent in the Malaysian market, I was surprised that the ED was not more comprehensive than this. There are sequencing issues not addressed but more importantly, there is a lack of illustration on what is defined as Tawarruq. Is there any difference between a Tawarruq and Commodity Murabaha, which essentially is a 4 party transaction? The issue of interconditionality is adequately addressed in the ED but I would love to have seen more details related to products, such as for Islamic Credit Cards and Revolving Credit with a rebate structure (Ibra’) based on a floating rate financing. It mentions that the discount can be given based on certain benchmark agreed by the contracting parties. This opens the clause to various interpretation as it is without real detail.

I will look at the Hibah (Gift) ED but essentially, it is related to the Wadiah ED. Most of what’s covered under the Hibah ED is relevant to the Wadiah product, such as the discretionary Hibah issue and the giving of Hibah becoming a business practice (Urf Tijari) which can be construed as Riba (Usury). Wait for the posting.

Thank you for reading, hope everyone have an enjoyable holiday period ahead. Wasalam.

Exposure Drafts for 2013

ImageToday we are given additional reading materials; Exposure Drafts!!!

By my last count, 7 new Exposure Drafts was published by BNM yesterday and now it is time to digest them. As it is, there is so many to digest already. Quick and fast after the Bai-Inah clarifications in late 2012, we were given tight deadlines for the IFSA bill to comply. Add to that, the IFSA “forces” us to re-look at the Investment Account Concept Paper and the Rate of Return Framework if we were to look at retaining a Mudaraba or Wakala deposit structure. Then comes the deadline that the compliance to the Investment Account concept paper is to be met by 30 June 2014.

More sleepless nights? Yes, especially since the industry is struggling in coming up with a Current Account Savings Account alternative to Mudaraba.

Now we welcome the new Exposure Drafts and the boss has given me 2 days to read the relevant ones. Will I be able to digest them? The names of my new friends as follows:

  1. Exposure Draft for Wakalah
  2. Exposure Draft for Wa’d
  3. Exposure Draft for Bai Inah
  4. Exposure Draft for  Hibah
  5. Exposure Draft for Tawarruq
  6. Exposure Draft for Kafalah
  7. Exposure Draft for Wadi`ah

And generally, Exposure Draft is like the engagement before a marriage. You may give feedback, but the deal is already on. It is just a formality.

This will make for an interesting reading, and an even more interesting new year.