Real Cost of Tawarruq

Recently, the topic of Tawarruq & Commodity Murabahah has been popular in the industry as both BNM and Shariah scholar have been asking operational questions on the implementation of Tawarruq arrangement in the industry. It seems, even with the Policy Documents, there are still some divergence in terms of operations and understanding of the minimum Shariah requirements for Tawarruq. Each financial institutions have their own operational abilities and processes that differs from one another; to have a standardised platform may be a bigger challenge than imagined.

The rise of Tawarruq in recent years should really not be a surprise to many observers. We are seeing that most financial institutions in Malaysia now consider a Tawarruq structure a “must have”, because there really is no options as other Banks deal in it. It has become norm, and while scholars might take a view that Tawarruq should be a “last resort” option, the truth is there is so much effort invested into making Tawarruq an efficient machine. Just take a look at the Bursa Suq Al Sila and what it is capable today.

What has been circulating today?

The latest consideration of Tawarruq is on the treatment of Tawarruq funds after the transaction. What is it exactly and how is it been managed within the Bank, with the Capital Adequacy Framework for Islamic Banks (CAFIB) implementation a few years ago (latest update this year 2017). In particular, when a customer is approved a certain limit (let’s say $1,000,000) and a singleTawarruq is done for $1,000,000 for the line (instead of multiple small Tawarruq for each usage of the amount within the $1,000,000 limit), where does the money goes?

To clarify, upon the completion of Tawarruq, real money of $1,000,000 is generated. Cash. It is not a “line” in the conventional terms, but it is money now belonging to the customer. He can draw out the money anytime.

But the practice is that the money is kept in the Bank’s books unless requested by the Customer, and by keeping this the Bank will give a “rebate” on the money kept in the Bank, similar treatment as if a “principal payment” is made (although it is re-drawable). In the meantime, the Bank utilises the money (taken as principal payment made) for its own banking business activities.

The question that I believe we will have to eventually address are on the following:

  1. the Tawarruq is done on a single transaction for the full amount, therefore it is a full release of capital (i.e. fully funded). As such, it should have a “capital charge” consideration if it is not fully utilised by the customer. Bank has released fully the funds to customer (therefore Bank should be entitled to earn a full profit on the amount). The formula for profit would be $1,000,000 x Profit Rate – Cost of Capital. Note the Cost of Capital is on the full amount.
  2. Then, the subsequent mechanism instead is as follows: since the customer did not fully utilise the funds, the customer is given a “rebate”. For example the customer only uses $50,000 of the $1,000,000. The formula for rebate is that ($1,000,000 less $50,000 = $950,000) x Profit Rate. Banks earn full Profit Rate on $50,000 and gives rebate based on $950,000.
  3. Of course, Banks will utilise the $950,000 meanwhile but at what I imagine on short-term instruments because the $950,000 is customers money (i.e. committed amount) and can be requested at anytime. So the Bank do not earn a lot from this.
  4. Also, there is concurrent discussion as to when the amount is kept and used by the Bank, what is the underlying contract used for this “unutilised, principal payment which is drawable on demand” amount? Is it kept by the Bank as Qard (loan), Wadiah (safekeeping), Amanah (trust) or can it be taken as Tawarruq deposit (monetised obligation) or Mudharaba (investments)? Different Banks have differing views on this, but I suspect BNM is trying to standardise this understanding and practice.
  5. But more importantly, while the Bank is giving customers “rebate” on the amount they do not utilise (but committed by the Bank), is there also “rebate” on Cost of Capital then? It seems unfair, because Tawarruq proceeds are deemed fully drawdown (full amount) and incurs full Capital Charge but is earning returns based on only the utilised amount. The rebate formula is very specific, and do not contain the amount for “rebate” Capital Charge.

In the conventional Banking world, this is not so much of an issue. Their approach is simple: if the amount is “committed” to the customer, 2 things will happen:

  1. Once the amount is drawdown i.e. utilised by the customer (lets say $50,000 utilised of the $1,000,000), then full price is charged on the $50,000
  2. On the amount unutilised i.e. $950,000 the Bank will charge a “Commitment Fee” of 1.0% per annum (or any negotiated rate) on the unutilised (but committed) portion. While 1.0% per annum do not usually cover the full Capital Charge on the $950,000 it somewhat compensates the charge as the Bank (because $950,000 is still a “limit” and not Cash payout) can still use the unutilised amount in its day to day banking activities i.e. investment in short term financial instruments.

Scholars generally do not agree with the concept of Commitment Fees, and there is specific BNM guidelines prohibiting the charge of Commitment Fees in these specific scenarios.

The Capital Charge factor

I still think there is a disconnect somewhere that while we aim to achieve the same end result by the practice of Ibra’ i.e. “Rebate”, but with Capital Cost coming into play, it may eventually seem that the cost of running an Islamic Banking business can be higher than a conventional Bank. It really depends on how we interpret the guidelines and the treatment on Tawarruq especially the single Tawarruq structure where the full amount is transacted i.e. whether it is a full Capital Charge or otherwise.

I know what BNM usually advise i.e. it is a full Capital Charge. But this concurrently means, without Commitment Fees on the unutilised Customer portion, it may result in extra costs for the Bank. Now I am not suggesting we introduce Commitment Fees for Islamic Banking; this idea of Commitment Fees is a conventional banking concept for recovering opportunity costs, which may not sit well under Shariah consideration.

But in the world we operate today (where each $$$ is risk weighted to a cost), this translates to “Actual Costs” incurred by the Bank, based on the interpretation for the “single full amount Tawarruq transaction”. And Shariah may want to consider this as it is a real “Actual Costs” and not opportunity costs. By letting the money sit still, the Bank incur real, actual costs which is not recoverable as per guidelines. It may have started as “recovering opportunity costs” but if you really think about it, this is above opportunity costs. Maybe in the conventional space, they may even revise Commitment Fees to recover BOTH Opportunity Costs as well as Capital Charge.

So, my question is this: should both the industry and Shariah scholars re-look at the basis of Commitment Fees (in the context of how Tawarruq works), or re-think about the “Rebate” mechanism and perhaps have an adjusted formula to factor in a “Rebate on the Capital Charge”?

Can Shariah consider this mechanism to recover a real cost incurred by an Islamic Bank?

In the meantime, Happy Ramadhan to all, and may you have blessed month ahead.


Islamic Banking Operating Model

For the past few months, there have been some earnest discussions on whether Islamic Banking is operating under the right model or type of institutions. Comments by prominent scholars on the suitability of certain Islamic contracts in a financial institution sparked debate on the types that are suitable for operating Islamic contracts. Before I attempt to also put my piece in the mix, there were also questions asked to me on which of the existing models can actually be the right fit. There is still confusion on the types of institutions operating in the market.

Before we look deeper, it is worthwhile to recap the available models in Malaysia.


We  have to start somewhere. Islamic Windows as a starting point, provides the best opportunity to build capabilities at the lowest costs while the business is being developed. The intention is to identify the requirements for system and invest minimally to assess feasibility and operational gaps. This allows the Bank to build the infrastructure at an acceptable pace. This is also a pre-cursor to further/larger infrastructure investments if there is a decision to expand the business into a subsidiary.

This model relies on the existing conventional infrastructure where all the processes, operations, sales, channels, finance, branches, compliance, audit and all functions are provided by the conventional bank. It is a leverage model where the Islamic Banking Windows are more like a “manufacturer” of products. Islamic Banking Windows churn out the products and services (like a factory), and delivers them to the conventional team as part of the suite of products offered by the conventional bank. In such structure, Islamic Banking Windows are just a “segment” of products on offer. Just like Corporate Banking products. Commercial Banking products. Wholesale Banking products. Private Banking products. Retail Banking products… and Islamic Banking products.

The advantage of this model is the low set-up cost. The business rides on existing infrastructure and hires specialists in each function. There is no need to set up a different branch as those Islamic products are sold directly by the existing branches and channels sales team. Balance Sheet discloses Islamic Banking Window performance as part of the Notes to the Account. Shareholders’ Capital, however must be separately allocated, accounting ledgers managed separately and the Single Customer Exposure Limit (SCEL) will be 25% of the allocated Capital. A head of Islamic Banking Windows will report directly to the conventional banking CEO, where business decisions are made.

Not many banks operates under the Islamic Banking Windows model. The main reason is the lack of product range i.e. competing with conventional banking products of the same branch, and the small scale of business limited to its SCEL, and no autonomy of business decision which must be aligned with conventional products.


Islamic Subsidiary rides on the strength of the Parent Bank, which is the conventional bank. The model used is still a leveraged model, but the Islamic Subsidiary can choose which services or function they want to “outsource” to the conventional bank (at a fee chargeback, of course). The idea of a Subsidiary is to be independent, so all cost consideration must be taken into account. Decision to open Islamic Banking Branches can also be made, and BNM supports this expansion via Islamic Banking Branches.

However, being a Subsidiary Bank can also be a burden to set-up. A differentiated system or process or operation team requires cash for its set-up. At the early stages, such investment cash will be limited, and when cash is available for investment, the development of the Subsidiary Bank must then align with the conventional bank. So it can be a chicken and egg situation where to expand you need to earn but to earn you need to expand (and spend).

Most of the conventional banks offers Islamic products via Islamic Banking Subsidiary. The main advantage is that decisions are autonomous in a Subsidiary, there is more control of marketing and sales and branches, and the Bank (as an independent entity) can chart its own course. However, there will still be influence from the parent (as the majority shareholder) and the products and services offered are generally aligned to the products and services offered by the parents. The SCEL for Subsidiaries are also dependent on the strategy of the parent Bank, where it can choose to invest heavily or adequately for the operations of its subsidiary.


These are standalone banks that generally are not under any conventional banking influence. The products and services may be consistent with the offerings in the market, but it is not an obligation to follow. In theory, Full Fledged Islamic Banks have the capacity to offer new-to-market products, based on the approvals obtained from Shariah Committees and BNM.

There is room for innovation and experimentation of new structures via Full Fledged Islamic Banks, although they must still governed by the financial ratios and controls for other types of banks and financial institutions, using conventional measuring tape which could lead to a “penalty” cost for doing business.

For example, a debt based home financing based on Tawarruq will incur a capital charge of 50%-100% but in a Musyaraka Financing, that capital charge will cost 100%-400% which will be an “expensive” proposition simply because it is measured against conventional financial ratios.

Personally, I believe Full Fledged Islamic Banks should follow a different set of financial ratios catered to reflect the type of risks an Islamic Bank CAN take, should the Islamic Bank look to offer products such as Mudaraba, Musyaraka, Istisna’ or even Salam. To allow for pure innovation, the financial ratios and treatment of capital and assessment of risks should be differentiated to reflect the nature of the products offered. While Basel requirements can be used as benchmark to ensure stability, an “Islamic” Basel will be even more meaningful where it can fully address all the real risks faced by Islamic Banks deploying Profit Loss Sharing (PLS) and equity-based structures such as Mudaraba and Musyaraka. Slowly, BNM is recognising these differences for measurement and has taken small steps to differentiate, such as the introduction of treatment of Investment Accounts (IA), the Liquidity Coverage Ratio (LCR) treatment, Capital Adequacy Framework for Islamic Banks (CAFIB), and the removal of Reserve Funds (reserves from paying of dividends) from Islamic Banks recently. It is my sincere hope to one day see an “Islamic” section in future Basel releases as well.

The main challenge for a Full Fledge Islamic Bank, is the costs of building the franchise from ground zero. To compete with a conventional bank, the Islamic Bank must invest similarly in its infrastructure and achieve operational efficiency and scale as soonest as possible. The payback period and Return on Investment and Return on Equity remains important for long term sustainability. SCEL is dependant on how big the Bank intends to grow. Another key consideration is the ability for the Islamic Bank to build a strong source of cheap deposits for the funding requirements.


Of course there are other structures that can be attributed as Islamic Financial institutions such as cooperatives, development banks, and investment banks. But the most common are the above variations and these structures fit into strategies identified by the bank. In most cases, BNM prefers to see development coming from the Full Fledged Islamic Banks and Subsidiaries. These should be the drivers for the growth of Islamic Banking.


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?


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.


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.


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.