Sunday, February 23, 2014

HUMAYON: Malaysia's Islamic banking needs a big push

Based on the data available on the growth and development of Islamic banking in different parts of the world and with the help of an extensive research undertaking to construct Islamic Finance Country Index (IFCI), this year’s GIFR predicts that by 2020 there will be at least six countries in the world where Islamic banking and finance (IBF) will attain a market share of no less than 50% of the total financial sector in their respective countries.

These six countries, in addition to the Islamic Republic of Iran and Sudan, claims to have fully-fledged Islamic financial systems already in place. It is almost certain that Brunei Darussalam, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will have their financial sectors dominated by IBF by 2020.

Brunei Darussalam will be the first country to witness the share of IBF in the domestic financial sector exceeding 50% by 2020. Almost 45% of retail banking in the country already fulfills basic Shariah requirements. More impetus is needed for the capital markets, which requires a little guidance and support from the Ministry of Finance.

Given its small and overwhelmingly religious population, it will not be surprising to see Brunei Darussalam emerge as a nation where the IBF share is greater than conventional ones.

Similarly, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will have its financial sector predominantly Shariah compliant by 2020 since it currently has over 55% of its retail banking as Shari’a compliant. It will have to streamline Islamic banking and finance with official recognition, by the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency and the Capital Market Authority. If Brunei Darussalam has not already achieved the milestone, Saudi Arabia could be the first country to boast of having Islamised the bulk of banking and finance practice in the country.

Since the establishment of Kuwait Finance House (KFH) in 1977, Kuwait has been at the forefront of IBF. It is expected that it will still be ahead of Qatar in achie-ving the threshold of 50% share.

With the current market share at 35%, Kuwait’s IBF industry will have to grow by 7.14% annually for the next six years to achieve the milestone of 50% market share. Furthermore, its existing Islamic financial institutions will have to take over 3.15% market share from the conventional financial institutions during the same time period.

Qatar is another country with huge potential for growth in IBF. Unfortunately, the likelihood of IBF reaching the 50% threshold was adversely affected by the government’s decision to disallow conventional banks offering Islamic banking through window operations.

Malaysia is another country that has made tremendous progress in IBF. With strong support from the government and the central bank, Malaysia has certainly taught other countries how government patronage actually brings wider economic benefits to the country.

The weakest link, however, in this list of six countries is the UAE. Despite the government of UAE’s strong support for IBF, the country will be able to just make the 50% mark by the end of 2020.

This brings us to the million-dollar question: How would Malaysia achieve the 50% mark, given that its financial sector currently has only one-fourth of it as Shariah compliant?

According to GIFR research, IBF in Malaysia will have to grow by 16.67% on an annual basis in the next six years (green field growth) in addition to cannibalising 5.56% of the conventional business annually (brown field growth) in order for it to have an equal share of IBF in its financial sector. Is it something achievable?

The table suggests that this is not only achievable but possible as well. Most of the conventional financial institutions involved in IBF have a lot of capacity to further grow their Islamic business. If the likes of Malayan Banking Bhd and CIMB Group Holding Bhd give a big (yet gradual) push to IBF as part of their expansion strategy, it will contribute significantly towards achieving the target of 50% market share for IBF in Malaysia.

Furthermore, this is perhaps the time for the government to consider converting Cagamas into a fully-fledged Islamic financial institution, as almost 50% of its business is already Shariahcompliant.

Agro Bank is already scheduled to convert fully to Islamic. It is worth considering to fully Islamise other banks like SME Bank, MIDF Amanah Investment Bank and similar government-linked financial businesses? Given the track record of the Malaysian government, it will not be surprising to see such a development in the next six years.

Prof Humayon Dar is chairman of Edbiz Corp London and a visiting professor of Islamic Finance at Academy for Contemporary Islamic Studies, UiTM

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