Reliance on Commodity Murabahah

A few days ago, several Banks in Malaysia officially made available Deposit products based on Commodity Murabaha transactions.

Looks like Commodity Murabaha (CM), or in another variation is called “Tawarruq” has now expanded its domain from Financing-based to Deposit-based products. More and more banks will have to rely on this structure on both sides of the balance sheet. Bai-Inah based portfolio used to consist of nearly 80% of the overall financing portfolio of some banks; now with the push for Commodity Murabaha structures in financing to avoid interconditionality issues in Bai-Inah, it is expected that Commodity Murabaha financing to eventually replace the Bai-Inah portfolio.

Now with the introduction of CM for Deposits, the popularity of commodities will take a sharp rise! Bursa Malaysia will have their hands busy supplying the industry with commodities to support the underlying transactions. Islamic bankers will also have their hands full buying and selling commodities between the bourse and the customers, either as buying agents or principal purchasers!

Commodity Murabahah Deposits

I am not sure whether this is necessarily a good thing.

The industry will now shift from having a Bai-Inah-heavy portfolio into a Commodity-Murabaha-heavy portfolio. Concentration risks towards one Islamic contract will grow, and the question is that whether Banks will take the time to develop other contracts into viable propositions instead of just building the CM infrastructure. Do bear in mind that a lot of infrastructural work needs to be done to ensure CM remains the flagship contract for years to come.

The specific risks that Banks faced when offering CM products are manifold; shortage of commodities, delays in transactions,  wrong sequencing of purchase and sale of commodity, errors in commodity prices and description, delivery of commodities issues, ownership issues and ownership evidencing. All these requirements needs to be watertight to ensure income from these CM transactions don’t just go to charity. Whenever there is an Asset involved in the transaction, all the factors need to come together to ensure Sharia compliance.

And the way we are going, it seems that CM will probably have 80% of the financing pie and 70% of the deposits pie in a typical Islamic Bank’s balance sheet in 3-5 years time. With IFSA deadlines on June 2015, this ratio could come sooner rather than later.

Will the development of other contracts be further left behind since the shift now is on CM? Maybe, historically Malaysian Banks follows the “Urf Tijari” route of following what the other bank is doing. We have seen this when Bai Bithaman Ajil (BBA) was introduced; nothing else was developed in the market but BBA. It was the same with Bai Inah.

But there is other opportunities for development of other Islamic contracts, although I don’t imagine this is the case for Malaysia while we busy ourself becoming commodity traders. Oman, on the other hand, has rejected tawarruq totally,  focusing on other contracts such as Ijara and Musyaraka. This is a good development, as no countries has seriously looked at developing complex, high-risk structures. Maybe once the thinking to shift to understand the transactional and Sharia risks of the new products is made, perhaps the market can warm up to the idea that Sharia compliant banking can be a different way of banking.

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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.

Back To Wadiah

Investment Account Guidelines

True to form, BNM have called for an urgent discussion with the industry players on the implementation of the IFSA. The message is very simple; industry players are given time to comply to the IFSA i.e. no later than 30 June 2015. During this time, we are asked to either:

  1. Retain Mudharabah and Wakala structures to comply with the Investment Account guidelines; or
  2. Move the Mudharabah and Wakala structures into an alternative structure.

Obviously no one has the answer to both options. Especially for Current Account and Savings Account now offered under Mudharabah. To retain a simple product such as Savings Account under Mudharabah, the Bank needs to comply with tedious risk profiling of customers and numerous disclaimers on investments. Customers will be confused by this arrangement, and we foresee many will stay away. Marketing wise, it is a nightmare. Operationally as well, if we were to comply with the investment disclosures. Gone will be the simple structures that customers are used to.

Bringing the Current Account and Savings Account into Commodity Murabahah structures is the most viable solution in Shariah’s perspective. However, operationally tedious, money required for system development, revised documentation and more importantly, building customer awareness and acceptance will be the main challenges for the industry to move to this alternative.

Committees were promptly set-up to discuss solutions, and as expected, there can be no commercial viability into moving to Commodity Murabahah, at least not in such a short period of time. For Time Deposits it is possible, but how to address the daily deposits and withdrawals of funds in a Current or Savings Account under Commodity Murabahah?

The easy solution; take a step backwards.

Wadiah is suddenly the solution. Most Banks has decided to migrate back into Wadiah structures, even with limited value proposition. Hang on, this is not the solution. Perhaps only workable for a short term stop-gap measure, but definitely not feasible for moving forward, especially when there is a conventional banking alternative.

Wadiah is definitely not the solution for deposit building. But then, what else is there? Until someone comes up with a brilliant solution, we will have to make the best of what Wadiah has to offer.

The Death of Bai-Inah

It looks like it’s going to be a very busy year in Malaysia.

It was with surprise that the Islamic Banking practitioners are called to Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) for the briefing pertaining the use of the contract of Bai Inah. The date was 16th November 2012 and it was a packed room at Sasana Kijang. Something was in the air, and little did we know that it is a meeting the Bai-Inah will be officially “killed” in that meeting.

But before we go further, BNM again reiterate that there is nothing wrong with the Bai-Inah as a concept, and the contract is valid in practice. However, the main concern that BNM has were mainly on the way the contract is executed, that it no longer reflects the orginal intention envisioned for the contract. One of the key issues that BNM highlighted is on the issue of “Interconditionality”. This simply means that should if one party sells its asset to another party, at a selling price, the original owner of the asset should not impose on the other party to on-sell it back to the original owner. One party should not compel the other party to re-sell the asset back to the same party. This smacks of shades of “arranged trade” i.e. the use of hilah to validate an Islamic sale, and this compulsion is explicitly captured in legal documents to protect the interests of the original owner. Interconditionality means that for the customer to obtain cash, the customer MUST sell back the asset to the Bank, and failure to do so will result in the whole transaction being void, even if the first sale contract has been completed and concluded.

Bai Inah Pre 2013 (Old Practice)

This doesn’t invalidate the Bai-Inah transaction in the first place, as it is a “willing buyer willing seller” scenario. But the issue arises where the buyer is not willing; what is his options then?

BNM highlighted that the Bai-Inah structure must therefore remove the “interconditionality” where the customer is compelled to sell back the asset to the Bank. The customer, as in any real trade, must be given the option to either sell the asset back to the Bank, or sell it on the open market, where the customer takes the pricing risks for such sale.Bai Inah New

The contention is that the Bank must not compel the customer to only trade with the Bank, but also provide an option to sell this asset into the open market. This effectively separates the Bai-Inah contract into 2 separate Murabaha contract i.e.

  1. the first contract is when the Sale of Asset by the Bank to the customer at a Selling Price (and Asset ownership is transferred to customer), and
  2. the second contract is for the customer to on-sell the Asset now owned by him to a third party or if he chooses, back to the Bank. The customer may even keep the Asset in his ownership, while paying off the debt to the Bank. One contract will therefore not be dependant on the other i.e. the interconditionalty of the sale is now removed.

The uproar in the industry was therefore expected. Many Islamic Banks have built up a substantial portfolio for their personal financing, credit cards and corporate working capital based on the contract of Bai-Inah. The options given by BNM was to either comply with the removal of the interconditionality in the Bai-Inah contract, or move to another contract where interconditionality is less than a problem, such as a Tawarruq or Commodity Murabaha structure. Many Banks have chosen the route of trying to comply with the removal of interconditionality, while other Banks view that the Tawarruq option was the right direction.

Personally, I feel trying to comply with the Bai-Inah requirements without “interconditionality” is at best a temporary measure. The way forward is to look at the Sharia structure of Tawarruq (Commodity Murabaha) and finding ways of making it efficient as soon as possible. This will be the key driver in the Islamic Banking industry in the coming year. And the death of Bai-Inah will be good news for our Middle-Eastern colleagues; one less controversial contract to talk about.

Like I said. It’s going to be a busy, busy year for us, as BNM gave the Banks until 30th January 2013 to either buck up or ship out. Time to burn that midnight oil.