“Gotong Royong” Bank?

To the uninitiated, the term “gotong-royong” means cooperation in Bahasa Malaysia. It is a concept where the community may come together to assist its community members without expectation of returns. In Malaysia, this is a community event to achieve a certain purpose for example a village wedding.

But how about having a “gotong-royong” Bank? Ms Rozana Gulzar, who contributed an earlier article on this site, made this interesting proposition that while the current Islamic Finance system set-up based on the conventional banking model is working sufficiently, a different model of banking may provide a closer structure espoused under the Maqasid of Shariah (Objectives of Shariah). A more inclusive and less profit driven model? It may provide a refreshing alternative to the existing financial system. Maybe not as a full 100% replacement of the existing models (where it caters for a large scope of requirements) but to complement and complete the Islamic Banking financial infrastructure.

Read about what she wrote below, as well as her earlier writings on this site.

DOWNLOAD : Cooperative Banking as the Solution for Islamic Banking Woes (pdf)

Excerpt from Rosana’s being cooperative:

While there are some differences in the models of cooperative banks in various regions of the world, a basic common feature is that they are owned by members, who in turn tend to be their depositors and borrowers. That’s mutuality built right into the system. This form of ownership then sets the tone for a business model that is more Islamic than ‘Islamic’ commercial banks. For example, because cooperative banks are owned by members who may be their borrowers, profit maximisation is not the main objective. Their raison d’être is in fact to charge reasonable enough rates so that those who cannot get financing from blood-sucking commercial banks can do so through the cooperative banks. And yes, they are not Islamic in form but I think they are more Islamic in spirit.

Bankers of cooperative banks are also known to have close relationships with their customers. A Turkish German once told me that his neighbourhood banker would come regularly for tea. When he notices a child in the household is old enough for a bank account of his own, the banker will ask the parents if he should indeed open one for him. Germany by the way is home to the largest network of cooperative and savings banks in the world. This close relationship has important implications. One it answers a call by some quarters for a move towards relationship-based banking as opposed to the transactions-based frenzy that characterises commercial banking and has been blamed for the crises. Secondly, it addresses a key issue that has been plaguing Islamic finance since its modern birth: How to implement profit and loss sharing (PLS) contracts such as musharakah and mudarabah which are at the heart of an ideal Islamic financial system when early attempts failed due to moral hazard and adverse selection issues.

Additionally, she makes a call to academia to rise to the occasion of re-looking the existing model and having more research to support the building of the new model. She throws the challenge that the road is still long and hard and only the ones who are able to persevere will make a difference.

DOWNLOAD : Islamic Finance Academia – We Can Do Better (pdf)

Excerpt from Rosana’s war cry to Academia:

Firstly, we need to address the controversies. Islamic finance is suffering from a dichotomy between theory and practice. What is taught in schools is a world away from what is being practiced. While ‘Islamic’ bankers keep an almost sole focus on producing the best ROE for shareholders, at the obvious expense of social welfare, Islamic finance professors go on and on about the ideals that shape this form of finance, oblivious to the divergence in practice. It is thus not surprising that the ‘solutions’ they come up with have no semblance to reality. I keep thinking, ‘We are not yet in jannah so how will this work in the real world?’

To come up with better solutions, I think we need to first face facts. Don’t gloss over them. I would prefer an honest (and mature) discussion of how we have gone wrong in Islamic finance and how to address them. This obviously needs rigor in thought and analysis. And critical thinking. Just because someone is from the IMF or World Bank does not mean he knows what he is saying or his intentions are purer than pure. We still need to evaluate the rigor of his arguments. On the other end, those who do not understand Islamic finance need to keep silent. The problem in Islamic finance is that we have many talking heads who really sound like empty vessels. And you know what they say about empty vessels right? (They make the most noise).

I like to make the same challenge to my staff as well; 90% of the practices we see today are derived from decisions, opinion and fatwa made in mid 1990s and has been taken as Urf (custom) and not challenged anymore… but we should re-look at some of them (especially with standing controversies) and see if current regulations and Shariah Advisory Council resolutions and product thinking and market development can offer a better solution. Doesn’t Islamic Banking allow for intelligent discussion to always evolve into something better? Just because it has now become Urf, it does not mean there is no better solution and be happy with the status quo. There’s always room for improvements to this 30 year old industry.

The purpose of this website is to encourage constructive discussions and perhaps find a better solution to the existing ones. Let’s have your views on these topics. Have a read of Rosana’s writing and I know she appreciates honest feedback on her work. Do spend that time reading, and your comments may perhaps resonate in someone’s mind and change the world.

To go to Rosana’s page, click here.