Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Unicorn bank to begin operations next month

By Ishun P Ahmad & Habhajan Singh
Unicorn International Islamic Bank Malaysia Bhd (Unicorn Malaysia), the first Islamic bank licensed under the Malaysia International Islamic Financial Centre (MIFC) initiative, is set to begin operations in a month's time and expects to rake in profits by year-end.
The wholly-owned subsidiary of Bahrain-based Unicorn Investment Bank is already eyeing a number of deals.
"We have several deals in the pipeline, including a couple of mandates already signed, which our teams are working on. We will be able to close this year with some maiden profit," Unicorn Malaysia chairman Datuk Vaseehar Hassan told The Malaysian Reserve recently.
He said Unicorn Malaysia will utilise US$20 million (RM64.55 million) of its initial investment for its business in the country, which includes investment banking, corporate finance and treasury.
Elaborating on the deals, Vasheehar said Unicorn Malaysia is in talks with a number of banks from abroad on the possibility of structuring sukuk.
"These financial institutions are from non-Islamic countries. They do not yet have Islamic banking.
"We will work with them to develop Islamic sukuk in Asia and CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States)," he said. Unicorn Malaysia is the first foreign bank to have been licensed by the MIFC early this year.
The scope of the licence is wide, allowing the bank to create any Islamic banking product and take deposits as long as they are non-ringgit denominated transactions.
Unicorn Malaysia is the latest financial institution to step into the growing local Islamic finance sector, which includes foreign players such as Al Rajhi Banking & Investment Corp (Malaysia) Bhd, Asian Finance Bank Bhd and Kuwait Finance House (Malaysia) Bhd.
However, these players have been allowed to carry out ringgit-denomited transactions. Unicorn Investment Bank was founded in 2004 as an Islamic investment bank and has a presence in the United States, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Pakistan. Unicorn Malaysia's management team is currently headed by its acting CEO Thameem Ghouse who hails from Bahrain.
Vaseehar, who was named Unicorn Malaysia's chairman on Jan 1, this year, was previously the CEO and director of the Dallah Al Baraka Group in Malaysia for 16 years. He is responsible for building up Al Baraka’s Islamic banking activities in the country. He was also the former chairman of RHB Islamic Bank Bhd.
(The Malaysian Reserve, p1, July 17, 2008)