Risk Management in Islamic Banking

IS THERE SUCH A THING AS ISLAMIC RISK MANAGEMENT?

I had this conversation recently until the wee hours of morning, and although I never thought a lot about it, I have come to the conclusion that there cannot be an exact replica of the Risk Management in the conventional sense.

Risk Management is a tool used by all conventional banking institution in the name of good governance, risk mitigation and prudent practice. It looks at financial exposures and its inherent risks to the business, and deeply believe in the risk-rewards pay-off within the generally accepted risk appetite of the organisation. It focuses a lot on control processes, performance monitoring, collateral value, and decision making policies for credit, market and systemic risks.

To a large extend, the risk management framework employed by the conventional banking businesses can be easily adapted by Islamic Banking counterparts. The components are the same, and there is little argument on its applicability under Shariah law. However,  the risk management framework for Islamic Banking institutions must be inherently different as well, or maybe extended to include a bigger scope. It cannot just be seen as a replica of the conventional business; the foundation of Islamic Banking is definitely different.

There are a few divergence in the reason an Islamic Banking institutions should (ideally) follow. This is an on-going argument on the fact while Islamic Banking claims to be a different business model, but it is still engineered by the rules of a conventional organisation. But what are these divergent reasons for setting up an Islamic Banking business?

The lending of money to make money is forbidden.

This may seem like a trivial thing for Islamic Banking as many will say there is no difference between profit and interest. But for us practitioners, there is a big difference in its concept. Because of this difference, the way we think about how a product can be structured is paramount. Underlying contracts, assets, ownerships and roles and responsibilities becomes different from a tranditional / conventional bank (whom are essentially a money lender). To validate a transaction, all tenets and requirements in an Islamic contracts must be met or else it becomes an invalid transaction and any gains from it must be given to charity. Any gains obtained without fulfilling the transactional can be deemed as usury (riba’).

There are specific Shariah requirements that takes Islamic Banking beyond banking.

Some terms are pretty alien to traditional banks, such as commodity purchase, operating lease and rentals, sequencing and ownerships. This is where the divergent begins, because Islamic Banks espouses the concept of “trading” and “entrepreneurship” and “partnership” and “service provider”, away from the “lender-borrower” arrangement. Traditional banks struggle to understand issues of ownership of assets, risk and loss sharing, purchases of commodity and rental of assets. These activities are beyond traditional banking, and may become an operational risk issue if it is not fully embraced.

Islamic Banking should be more closer to a venture-capitalist, crowd-funding model than traditional banking.

The fundamental requirements for earning a profit (and to a bigger extent, how much we can earn from a transaction) is the element of risk sharing, which mean both customer and financier takes some form of the risks of the venture. At the same time, such “risky” venture is mitigated by way of ensuring it is not overstretched i.e. the transactions must be either asset-backed (including the presence of collaterals) or asset-based (evidenced by real trading or assets or commodities) to reflect economic activity.

The amount of risk taken under an Islamic contract can be higher (for contracts such as Mudharabah or Musyaraka financing) but it must be reflective of the economic reality and available assets.

The risk assessment of an Islamic contract must then be enhanced to behave similarly to what a venture capitalist can accept. There will be direct risks on equity, investments and returns. There will be corresponding returns as well. But such concepts will be difficult to digest if the bank is set up based on traditional banking fundamentals, which caters for a totally different profile of stakeholders.

As far as possible, the Shariah committee draws a line for transparency, fairness, and justice.

Islamic Banking should be an extended but integral part of economics. Islamic Banking is supposed to be more than a bank. It shoulders a broader responsibility to the people by looking at needs and providing products that serve a purpose. The idea of responsible financing, transparency and customer service should be the by-word of an Islamic Bank. The payment of Zakat (tithe) on profits which goes back into the community recognises the financial role that it needs to play. Corporate Social Responsibilities also play a role.

In this repect, the Shariah committee plays an important role as gatekeepers to the products and services on offer. Because of the unfamiliar territory of Islamic products, Shariah insists that transparency is critical to avoid uncertainty (gharar), the terms to the products are fair and the banks are ethical in its conduct to ensure justice. Fees and charges must reflect actual costs. Efforts are made to help a customer in distress. And conduct of the bank must comply with the requirements of Shariah.

SO, BASED ON THE ABOVE, WHAT ARE THE  OF RISKS FACED BY ISLAMIC BANKS? 

As a general rule, all risks faced by a conventional Bank must be “transferable” i.e the nature of the financial transaction must, as far as possible, allow for the TRANSFER OF RISKS. Wherever the opportunity arises, the Bank must be able to quickly pass the risk of the asset or valuation to the customer. Such understanding is also apparent in Islamic Banks. Looking at most Islamic Banking contracts, their structure allows for the transfer of risks, which follows the transfers of ownership, responsibilities and obligations from one party to the other. Contracts  such as Murabahah, Musawamah and Qard works by transferring the ownership, responsibilities and obligation from the Bank to the Customer.

Alternatively, mostly exclusive to Islamic Banks, are structures that allows for SHARING OF RISKS. The structure is more “participative” in nature, where there are benchmark by which determines the level of risks a party should have. The regular types of contracts that continues to share risks are Mudarabah, Musyarakah and Ijarah.

COMMON RISKS 

As mentioned before, the risks faced by a conventional bank and Islamic Bank should be very much the same, except for risks arising to the execution of Islamic contracts or pronouncement of the Shariah. While there will be common elements of risks for both types of Banks, the importance of Shariah ruling and decisions result in Islamic Banking becoming so unique. The following are the Risks commonly faced by Islamic Banks:

GENERAL RISKS – Risks existing in both conventional and Islamic banks. 

  • Credit  Risks – Arises due to counterparty risks (possibility of default by the party taking financing) where the counterparty fails to meet its obligations, in terms of payment, uncertainty of industry,  change of direction or diminished collateral value. This lead to settlement risks which means the Asset quality has diminished.
  • Market Risks / Interest Rate Risks – More macro in terms of effect on the risks. It relies on the performance of the market as well as the quality of the financial instruments (price, performance, valuation, demand, yields and inability to reprice. It leads to exposure to interest rate risks, where the risk of the bank increases with movements in the rates.
  • Liquidity Risks – Refers to the risk of inability to return cash to investors or stakeholder in stressed scenarios, resulting in forced borrowings from the market (usually at higher price) coupled with the possibility of not able to dispose assets. This may lead to valuation risks.
  • Operational Risks – Due to inadequate control of internal processes and operational practices, the risks may result in real loss of income and potentially reputation. Human errors may be difficult to unwind especially if there is financial implications. There may also be legal risks as it may be considered a breach in contract by the bank.

ISLAMIC SPECIFIC RISKS – Risks arising from operational and processing function

  • Transactional risks – Especially under Islamic Banking structures, transactions play an important role as part of the Aqad, where required.  For example, the sequencing of a Murabahah transaction. Failure to ensure compliance to the Aqad requirements will lead to potential invalid transaction and loss of income (or flow to charity).
  • Valuation Risks – Due to the nature of some Islamic Banking contracts, especially equity based structures, there will be challenges in valuation of the portfolio.  Reduction in valuation will result in real losses for the investors.
  • Displaced Commercial Risks – Displaced Commercial Risk (DCR) refer to the risk of mismatch between the fixed/contracted obligation to the depositors vs the uncertain returns on the financing (income) which may result in the income is insufficient to meet the obligations to the depositors. For example, the commitment for Islamic Fixed Deposit is 4% (contractual) but the Financing portfolio into which the Fixed Deposits is deployed into only earns 3% (actual returns). Therefore, the 1% shortage is the DCR where the Bank will have to flow 1% of  income from other portfolio to meet the deposit obligation of 4%.

SHARIAH RISKS – Risks arising to non-compliance of Shariah decisions and Shariah instructions.

  • Shariah Compliance Risks – The operation of an Islamic Bank is hugely dependent on the requirements of the Shariah Committee and approvals obtain on the process and procedure. Inability to comply with Shariah requirements puts the operations of the Islamic bank at risk as the department may be regarded as non-Shariah compliant business.
  • Fiduciary / Ownership Risks – Some of the structures under Islamic contract requires the bank to operate outside the scope of a financial intermediary. It requires the bank to hold property or trade commodities or own and lease assets, with various contracts using various roles and responsibilities. The risk of multiple roles and function must be clearly defined and implemented.
  • Regulatory / Reputational Risks – Changes in regulations requires quick adaptation to ensure compliance to regulation and maintaining the banking reputation intact.?

SO HOW DO YOU MANAGE ISLAMIC RISKS AND SHARIAH RISKS

As mentioned, Islamic management of risks should not be any different for the base of conventional bank’s methodology of measuring risks. There must be deep understanding of the products and structure for the bank to be able to assess the risks associated. To manage an Islamic Bank and its risks, the bank must first identify each of the risks and form safeguards to settle the above. Then only an Islamic bank can formulate suitable controls to ensure the Shariah specific processes and Shariah pronouncements are being monitored and implemented with sufficient support (internal or external). Wallahualam.

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.

EBOOK : Alternative Financial System Islamic (Halal) Finance – IBFIM

One of the ongoing efforts that some of us have is to figure out how we provide greater access of Islamic Banking to the mass market. This includes not just to Muslim readers, either here in Malaysia or other global countries, but also to access non-Muslims readers as well. And to do that in their mother tongue will be the ideal method as it will provide familiarity and ease in understanding on what is being communicated.

alternative-halal

Click picture to Download PDF

Realising this, the Islamic Banking and Finance Institute of Malaysia (IBFIM) has just launched a book in Mandarin Chinese titled “Alternative Financial System Islamic (Halal) Finance” with the hope of providing greater understanding on the concepts, rationales and practices of Islamic Banking and Finance. This is in line with IBFIM’s mandate from Bank Negara Malaysia to produce a pool of talent whom will be competent in Islamic Banking issues and practices. Also, IBFIM currently offer courses for various technical levels for the purpose of raising knowledge and awareness toward Islamic Banking in the industry. Over a period of time, IBFIM has become one of the knowledge leaders  and recognised internationally as a place where practical advisory can be obtained.

I have spoken to the folks at IBFIM about posting this book on this site and I am grateful they have consented, for the benefits of readers. Unfortunately I am not able to comment on the book (as I am not a Chinese reader) but I sincerely hope the book helps to provide some insight towards the mysteries of Islamic Banking.

To get a Hardcopy of this book, do get in touch with IBFIM directly at their website www.ibfim.com or look out for their various events nationwide.

To download the PDF copy, please click on this link: (Click Here)

ALTERNATIVE FINANCIAL SYSTEM ISLAMIC (HALAL) FINANCE

Thank you IBFIM for this great effort.

 

 

 

The Difference Between Islamic Banking Financing and Conventional Banking Loans

I know the title of this post is a mouthful, but I am insisting on the title. Simply because today I came across another round of bashing by individuals on Islamic Banking. Again, the contention is that Islamic Banking is no different from conventional banking; worse still it is claimed that Islamic Banking is more detrimental than conventional banking. How can this be? I watched the video and aghast by the level of ignorance to the nature of Islamic Banking. And gauging from the response by the rest of the audience, it seems that the audience themselves knows no better.

It seems that a lot of individuals are still unconvinced about Islamic Banking. Furthermore, the impression that it is worst-off than conventional banking needs to be addressed. Islamic Banking, while on the surface is still banking, but it is built on a totally different foundation. There are significant difference which is brought about by a single requirement; Shariah-compliance.

THE STRUCTURE 

The basic difference between Islamic Banking and conventional banking is the structure of how the Bank is set up. For a conventional banking, the purpose of set up is to collect deposit and to give loans. This is the shareholders understanding of what it should be. 2 very distinct function ie Collect Deposit and Give Loans, and the arrangement is managed by a Treasury function which tries to balance the returns to shareholders’ funds.

Conventional Banking Structure (Diff)

But what is Islamic Structure then? In essence, how an Islamic Bank is supposed to be set up is based on the theory of “Sources and Application of Funds”. There should be a single flow between the deposits and the financing / investment use of funds; this means there is no distinct function. It is a single function where customer deposits or investment pool is used to fund financing portfolio or deploy into investment instruments, from which returns are derived and recognise. Once the returns are determined, these returns are “shared” between the Bank and the customers (deposit/investment). This “Profit Loss Sharing” structure demands a different way of managing the Bank, although not all Islamic Banks are able to successfully pull this off 100% (especially when the Islamic Banks are still under the parentage of a conventional bank).

Islamic Banking Structure (Diff)

In my personal view, the structure of an Islamic Bank is most suited if it is built around the Mudharabah structure. It fits perfectly on how the Bank is to be managed. It should be the backbone of any Islamic Banks, where the set-up is linked end to end resulting in sharing of actual returns arising from a Shariah-compliant financing/investment activity.

Finally, the processes in an Islamic Bank and conventional Bank are also different, simply due to the structure of which it has been set up. There is a broader requirement for oversight and research required to ensure the Islamic products and services meets Shariah requirements. A lot more layers to comply with, a lot more details needed.

Islamic Banking Diff (Structure)

THE SHARIAH COMMITTEE

Shariah Committee is the most important difference between an Islamic Banking business and conventional Banks. It provides an oversight accountability in ensuring that all the operations of an Islamic Bank is consistent with the rules of Shariah.

Shariah Committee (Diff)

There is a huge layer of governance surrounding an Islamic Banking proposition. Whatever features that it offers, it goes through regulatory oversight by the Shariah Advisory Council of BNM, and stricter scrutiny  by the Shariah Committee whom are not under the jurisdiction of the Bank but reports directly to the Board of Directors. The decisions (or “fatwa”) given by the Shariah Committee will be held solely by the committee themselves, therefore there is a huge responsibility for them. The Shariah Committee must ensure their decisions have taken into account all requirements of justice, customer protection, compliance to Sharia, interpretation to customary civil practices as well as practicality of implementation. In short, decisions must be clear, defensible and without any doubt to its validity.

SUSTAINABLE MAQASID OF SHARIA

In Islamic Banking, matters really are determined by intentions. And the intention is to ensure the Maqasid (Objectives) of Shariah are met.

Maqasid

These Objectives are a key consideration in setting up an Islamic Banking operation. But it does not mean the operation of Islamic Banking and the deployment of its funds are for charitable purposes. It is still a business that needs to be sustained by investing in Sharia-compliant economic activities, therefore it is misleading to assume Islamic Banking is a holistic endeavor that “should not charge interest” or merely to “provide assistance to the ummah”. There are costs for running an Islamic Banking business, and as far as possible it should be at par to the costs of running a conventional banking business. Returns on Shareholder capital is also important to ensure that capital is continued to be invested into Islamic Banking for it to grow. With growth comes the ability to continue supporting the ummah. The key word is sustainable banking. You cannot grow or even survive if you are not competitive.

THE PRODUCT & CONTRACTUAL RELATIONSHIP

Designing and launching an Islamic product is not easy. The amount of work that needs to be done in relation to the fundamental difference between an Islamic Bank and conventional Bank. The fundamental difference is the totally different outlook on what happens after entering a contract. The contract between a customer and a conventional bank is simple; a loan where interest is charged upon over a period of time.

Key Diff - Product (Example)

But look at an Islamic contract. It is much more complex structure, but once determined, it really makes total sense. The contract defines the relationship, the relationship defines the responsibilities and subject matter, the subject matter defines the sequencing and ownership requirements for the use in an economic transaction, the transaction defines the rewards and returns on the completion of the contractual obligation. Cause and effect, risks and compensating return, action and rewards.

What usually confounds practitioners (whom are not well versed in Islamic Banking contracts) are the level of detail. Some may consider the issues discussed in an Islamic Banking forum as “petty” but others expressed amazement in the level on consideration undertaken during discussions. For example, an Islamic Banking forum would discuss the nature of loan (Qard) and responsibilities of Qard, conditions of Qard, transferability of Qard, conclusion of a Qard Aqad (offer and acceptance), dissolution of Qard and implications of Qard when attached to other Islamic contract. This level of discussion is missing from the conventional banking space where in their view is that a loan is an amount given to customer where it is to be repaid back with interest.

OVERALL SUMMARY OF DIFFERENCES

There really are differences between Islamic Banking and conventional banking, and there are some of us trying very hard to make a difference in the compulsion towards Riba’. As a summary, below are some quick differences I have compiled from my earlier days in the industry on the differences between the models.

Difference 1

Difference 2

Difference 3

Difference 4

DNA OF ISLAMIC BANKS

For me, the main difference between Islamic Banking and conventional banking is that the concept of justice to customer is not regulatory driven; it is conceptually driven by the idea of Islamic Banking itself. A lot of conventional banking practices are developed to maximize returns while minimizing risk, and risk-transference is a key consideration for conventional banks. Regulators have to be vigilant in ensuring conventional banking toe the line to protect customer’s interests.

Islamic Banking, in its DNA is intended more than just being profitable. It is meant to be providing service to support the activities of the ummah (Muamalat) defined within Shariah-compliant transactions. There are specific rules that must be followed; breach of these rules means the penalties are non-negotiable i.e. whatever returns gained from these breaches must be given to charity. Care and consideration is a must. Justice and fairplay is always important in a decision by Shariah Committee. Release of customers burden is a priority.

AVOIDING FITNAH

Many customers still lack knowledge of what Islamic Banking is all about. They collate biased and misleading information from truncated and unverified sources on the internet, facebook postings that intends to be malicious rather than presenting the true picture, and comments by individuals who make generalized comments on their experience which may well be isolated cases due to misinformation, misunderstanding or just plain ignorance to the fact. And yet these comments are sensationalized, made viral and deemed to be the absolute truth without further exploration or verification.

Cut and paste seems to be the easy way forward. Yet people forget the discipline that is practiced by the companions of the Prophet; you must verify the information by determining it all the way to the source of the information, up to naming the individuals who made the first comments, and deciding whether the individuals are trustworthy and of good standing. This discipline is lost in this world of over-abundance of unverified information in the social media where direct accountability is undetermined, and it has become increasingly difficult to separate untruth from fact.

I had always advised friends and critics alike to be careful of what they “recommend” when dealing with Islamic Banking due to the huge responsibility of such recommendations. If they are ready to criticise Islamic Banking as “same as conventional” or “open to back-door riba” without full understanding of what it really is, they should be ready to take responsibility for that. If their basis of stating as such is based on “viral whastsapp message” or “comments by third party islamic practitioners” or “explaination by insiders in the industry” or “commentary by blogs”, I do appreciate if we as practitioners can be provided with these “sources” for us to verify its accuracy. Many times I find the comments are based on partial information, taken out of context, outdated writings or information as well as just being malicious without proper basis or discussion. Some are not even Shariah related or relevant to Islamic Banking practices, just operational and processes defects.

Do think of the implications: Should a person make such comments that “Don’t take Islamic Banking products because it is not really Islamic and there is a lot of trickery to it”, and the person listening to that comment thinks “Owh then there is no difference between Islamic product and conventional riba banks’ product” and proceeded to take Riba-based loan products, the implication is that the person who made the comment had directly influenced another person, in my view, in making a wrong and sinful decision. Will that person be responsible for this act of “pushing another Muslim into taking Riba products”? It is a heavy burden to take, not just immediate but in the hereafter. So be careful when a person makes that comment.

And to imagine what will happen when the person who took the Riba product commented to another person (and another) that someone commented that “there is no difference between Islamic Banking and Riba Banking…” . It will become a tree with a massive root, grown by the single seed of the original “defective” comment by the first person.

MashaAllah

Hopefully those doubtful questions on Islamic Banking should be directed to Islamic scholars, Islamic banking practitioners or relevant academicians with stature, knowledge and qualifications before the ummah believes and spread untruth that will, in the end, become a disservice to the religion of Islam by spreading “fitnah”.

ISLAMIC BANKING IS EVOLVING

Evolution

Granted, Islamic Banking is a 30 year old structure, with many building blocks are still in progress. But it has not stopped evolving to existing times as and when new regulations and Shariah decisions comes into discussion. It is not perfect yet, but practitioners are aware of the difficulties of meeting all the requirements without enhancements and considerations to practicality. There is a misguided assumption that academia are aware of all the shortfall of Islamic Banking practices and the industry had turned a blind eye to these. Nothing can be further than the truth. Islamic bankers, Shariah Committees and BNM are well aware of all of the issues raised by academia as well as other practitioners, with the benefit of global awareness as well. In truth, practitioners know more of the issues they faced on a day-to-day basis, as compared to academia where some of the issues had already been resolved by the industry but not made known to academia.

Criticisms are always welcome, but ideally it should be constructive on how to improve. It is a heavy responsibility to ensure the differences between Islamic Banking (based on Shariah) and conventional banking (based on lending) are managed diligently. It is an on-going evolution that I am confident one day will reach its apex. Ideas are welcome and proposed solutions considered in earnest. And as I have always said to my product team; If you’re not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem. So, let’s be the solution that we had always wanted.

Wallahualam

My earlier postings on similar conversation:

  1. Consequence for Choosing Islamic Banking
  2. Shariah Banking in Malaysia
  3. Conversations on Islamic Banking in Malaysia
  4. Choosing the Right Options

maxresdefaultMore videos at Islamic Bankers Resource Centre on YouTube

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

Sharia Compliant Banking in Malaysia

One of the long running arguments on Islamic Banking in its current state is the level of compliance to the rules of Sharia. There are still many believers out there who are not really believing in Islamic Banking. There are many suspicions in the industry. The main one is that Islamic Banking is a copy of conventional banking with merely a Sharia wrapper around it.

Sharia CompliantThis view is admittedly hard to dispel, unfortunately. Especially in a market where the industry is running 2 parallel banking systems ie Islamic Banking and Conventional Banking side by side. Sometimes, there is an additional element ie Islamic Banking Windows where an Islamic Banking operation resides in a conventional banking, leveraging totally on the conventional banking infrastructure.

The Middle-East has been able to gain more focus on the development of Islamic Banking. Despite Malaysia being one of the prominent pioneers of the industry, the stability of what we are seeing in the Middle-East has been the focus of ensuring the products they offer are deemed more Sharia compliant. While Malaysia is coming out with innovations to catch up with competition from conventional banks, the Middle-East is looking to products they already have and improving them to ensure Sharia compliance, fully backed by an international Shari’a framework.

This is clearly a different approach to the development between the two Islamic Banking industry.

In my view, the Middle-East has a clear advantage when in comes to sustainability. The advantage is simply this; the wants of the consumer. The Middle-East consumer simply WANTS Islamic Banking. No question about it. The consumers are split to either want Islamic Banking or does not want Islamic Banking. The trend is shifting away from the view that they are indifferent to any banking structure. There is a growth in preference for Islamic Banking, and this is the main driver for the development of the industry.

Malaysia, on the other hand, has a different set of consumers. The Malaysian consumers, whom may be just as pious as their Middle-Eastern brothers, continues to view the Islamic offerings with deep suspicion, which mould the attitudes towards Islamic banking industry. Admittedly, some Islamic Banking contracts have been disputed, tested and contested in a court of law, and in some cases the banks are not able defend these contracts properly. Reputational damage done; and some quarters have taken advantage in making the molehill bigger than it really was.

In Malaysia, the consumers only want and expect certain things from their banking product; cost savings features with full benefits, cheap pricing and easy to use. There is strong preference for Islamic Banking products but if there is a better alternative in the conventional banking space, the attitude is “Why not?”. At the end of the day, it all comes down to dollars and sens; “How much does it cost, what savings do I get, how much do I save”? Islamic or non-Islamic? It is all about what money I earn or save which I can use for my family and myself.

Maybe economic standing of the consumers do play a part. A product in Malaysia seems to be more about justice, even if it is just a misplaced perception, and therefore it must be cheap. Islamic Banking products in Malaysia have evolved significantly since its inception in the early 80’s. It is now more equitable, competitive and in many cases, has more “justice” elements in its structure. The issues that may arise 10 years ago, in my view, has already been looked at and smoothed out.

Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) has introduced many measure to support this idea of justice. The Ibra guidelines to ensure equitable settlement. Regulated Late Payment Charges to ensure consumer rights are protected. Synchronisation with the conventional banks on Responsible Financing and Product Transparency. Tight regulations of the Fees and Charges that an Islamic bank can charge to consumers. Does anyone know how rigorous the process BNM has imposed to approve fees and charges that an Islamic Bank can charge? 4 levels of approval at BNM, even after the Bank’s internal Sharia Committees have approved those charges. To get approval from the internal committee is already tough; to go to BNM to get the final approval is not something we look forward to.

These are good steps, but is it enough? Will the Malaysian consumer take that quantum shift to buy into Islamic banking products?

SSBAs I mentioned earlier, the main difference between what’s happening in the Middle-East and Malaysia is the consumer preference. In Malaysia, the consumer wants a product that provides justice to them, whether it’s pricing or features or convenience. Islamic or otherwise, it’s the job of Islamic Banks to win them over.

Therefore, this difference in the consumers mindset in the Middle-East may eventually be an important factor. Since Middle-East consumers just WANT Islamic banking, the industry there is given the benefit of the doubt for its development. Because of this, the emphasis of the development is more on Sharia compliance rather than just pricing, features and innovation.

fatwa

My limited experience in the Middle-East led me to one important conclusion; consumers want the comfort that when they choose Islamic Banking, the product must assure it meets the Sharia compliance required. By this, it is important to know the people who develop and approve the products. Great weight is placed on the names and reputation of the Sharia scholars themselves. Consumers genuinely want to know who approves the product structure, and want to see the scholars stamp on it. Requests for a copy of the fatwa governing the approval of the product is a norm in the Middle-East. As mentioned, the emphasis is on Sharia compliance, more than merely pricing. There is a huge trust and confidence in the Sharia scholars themselves, in their ability and the quality of decisions made on the products.

For that, I do applaud the consumers who chose Islamic Banking for looking beyond pricing. Many times I have been asked to furnish details and profiles of the Sharia scholars who approved the products. The decision to buy the product is more often than not, based on these profiles. The assurance of Sharia compliant banking became more important, even though there are better pricing elsewhere. And I believe that product innovation will have to come naturally once the performance of the Islamic banking industry is in the upswing. Competition and customer feedback drives innovation, but in the first place we need the right customers asking for the right solutions to be banking with us. As pricing and feature becomes the second priority, the Middle-East banks will be well placed to take a step back and assess compliance and therefore build consumer confidence organically.

Furthermore, many corporates and government-linked institutions mandates their financial dealings to be Sharia compliant, even making it part of their constitution and governance. This will drive the demand for Sharia compliant banking even more. With a ready market seeking, looking and wanting Islamic products and services, one can foresee a sustainable growth in the industry.

I don’t know what can possibly change the consumer mindset for this in Malaysia. Until then, we will always be playing catch up with the conventional banks even when BNM is pushing for a more wholesome Sharia compliant banking system. It could be a painful transition that the Banks will find difficult to stomach when the existing structure seemed to be working well. But without this change, will the industry ever make that quantum leap?

It’s catch-22. Someone needs to be bold enough to see it out, bite the bullet and draw that line in the sand; take a chance on Islamic banking with confidence and without so much suspicion. Maybe that is what is needed to make that paradigm shift in consumers.