Sunday, April 10, 2011

islamic banking and finance...,

Executive | Middle Eastern banks at center of sharia-compliant finance

Islamic banking and finance has clearly found its home in the Gulf. The region leads the industry by housing two thirds of global assets, worth roughly $350 billion. Also, the world’s leading Islamic financial institutions are all headquartered in the Gulf states and they routinely export their business model to Asia, Europe and Africa. Ninety percent of incremental retail-banking production in Saudi Arabia is Islamic, but Bahrain acts as the regional hub for Islamic finance. This is largely because the Accounting and Auditing Organization for Islamic Financial Institutions (AAOIFI) is based in Manama.

However, despite Bahrain’s role as a hub for Islamic finance, with 28 Islamic banks based in the island state, the market share for Islamic banks in the country is only 7%, according to a recent report by Moody’s. The other surprise in the study is that Oman is a Gulf state with no Islamic banks.

A closer examination of the regional sharia-compliant scene reveals that the largest Islamic commercial bank by total assets is Saudi Arabia’s Al Rajhi Bank, with more than $28 billion in assets. Second in line comes the historic Kuwait Finance House at $21.8 billion, followed by Dubai Islamic bank with $17.5 million.

Future Trends
It will be important to watch Noor Islamic Bank, based in Dubai. Started as a project of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, Noor’s ultimate goal is to become the largest Islamic bank in the world. It only recently launched with ten branches in the UAE and intends to follow an Emirates Airlines model in order to solidify the market base, including a significant focus on customer service and innovative products.

When asked when Noor will break into the regional banking scene, a senior official at the bank remarked that this is confidential, but added: “I can say that whenever we are feeling very strong in the UAE, then we will look to the outside.” Considering who is backing the project, this will probably not take very long and one can expect an aggressive, regional Noor very soon.

Another bank to watch is the Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank, the second largest Islamic bank in the Emirates. ADIB recently entered the Egyptian market with the purchase of a 51% stake in Egypt’s National Bank for Development for $28 million. This was a bold move considering the poor reception Islamic banking is receiving in Egypt at the moment. Five years ago, a ruling by Mohammed al-Tantawi, one of Egypt’s highest-ranking Islamic scholars, essentially permitted earning a fixed amount of capital on an invested principle, largely seen as allowing interest. The move has been a large contributor to the crippled pace of development of Islamic finance in the country.
However, despite the current poor climate, the potential for Islamic banking in Egypt is huge, and one should expect more moves from Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank into Egypt, possibly in the form of a buyout.

A recent Middle East Business Intelligence report said it best, when it opined, “If Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank can make a success of offering Islamic products, the whole market will open up. We have already seen some of the local banks start to advertise their Islamic products in view of the competition for customers they see about to begin.”

Clearly Islamic banks in the Gulf are already anticipating the day when their home markets are saturated. And it appears that Egypt will be on the next front-line in the development of regional Islamic banking and finance.

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