Category Archives: Challenges and criticisms

Ernst & Young projects mixed outlook for the Islamic finance industry

Ernst & Young projects mixed outlook for the Islamic finance industry

Islamic financial institutions are at cross roads entering 2011, said Ernst & Young. The industry is expected to continue to show resilience in the face of a challenging economic scenario. This is despite the fact that growth levels of the Islamic finance industry, at more than 20 per cent per annum for the past several years, came under tremendous pressure in 2010.

Ashar Nazim, Executive Director and MENA Head of Islamic Financial Services Group at Ernst & Young says: “Having achieved the critical volume estimated at US$1 trillion in Islamic assets, the question reverberating across board rooms, and among users of Islamic financial services, is about differentiation, or the lack thereof, that Islamic financial institutions have on offer.  Effectiveness of the existing Shari’a governance framework, as well as synthetic product structures commonly in use are especially under discussion.”

No longer business as usual

Scarcity of data and under-investment in analytical tools means that Islamic banks’ focus remains limited to a handful of asset classes while their operating costs are, in many cases, higher than their conventional peers. Future opportunities may no longer come from traditional captive clientele. Instead, Islamic financial institutions urgently need to upgrade their business models to tap mainstream segments.

Ashar Nazim added: “Decision makers at Islamic financial institutions need research and tools to assist in making informed decisions on the future growth trajectory of their businesses. Implications of Shari’a rulings on governance, product structures and markets need to be appropriately incorporated at the planning phase itself.”

Ernst & Young was voted the Best Islamic Advisory Firm and also won the award for Best Islamic Research at the 2010 Islamic Business and Finance Awards organized by CPI Financial. Ernst & Young’s Islamic Financial Services team was acknowledged for its original thought leadership to help steer the industry through the difficult business environment.

Ernst & Young also recently joined hands with AAOIFI*, the leading standard-setting body for Islamic finance industry, to provide product and contract certification that would strengthen universal acceptability of Shari’a compliant products offered by Islamic financial institutions.

New direction for the industry

Ernst & Young’s World Takaful Report highlighted the fluid nature of the takaful industry, as well as tremendous growth potential. The industry is expected to grow three-fold from an estimated US$9 billion in 2009 to $25 billion by 2015. “The biggest challenge for the takaful operators is to bring out the differentiation, its unique Islamic proposition, for its stakeholders. This was the key message for the industry during 2010,” said Ashar.

Ernst & Young’s Islamic Funds and Investment Report 2010 confirmed that more than half the Islamic fund managers may be operating with less than the minimum assets under management needed to remain viable. The opportunity is for global fund managers as well as for consolidation within the industry. Islamic endowment, or Waqf, with an estimated US$105 billion wealth pool, was highlighted as a key emerging sector that could potentially stimulate strong liability generation for Islamic banks, as well as help revive the Islamic fund management industry.


Female Shariah sholars in Islamic finance

Female Shariah sholars in Islamic finance


Asian Islamic financial institutions are attracting more female executives and scholars to fill a shortage of talent, setting a precedent for companies in the Middle East.

Malaysia’s Shariah Advisory Council appointed a second female scholar to its 11-member board in November. Indonesia has six women on its panel of 35 experts, Ma’ruf Amin, chairman of the country’s National Shariah Council, said in an interview Dec. 30. Malaysia’s central bank and the securities commission are both headed by women, while Liza Mohd Noor is chief executive officer at RAM Rating Services Bhd., which provides ratings for Islamic bonds.

“Previously, it was difficult for women to enter the industry; now people have broken that boundary, especially in Malaysia,” Aznan Hasan, associate professor at the Kuala Lumpur-basedInternational Islamic University Malaysia, said in a Dec. 20 interview. “More women are coming in and this is good because we need people.”

Encouraging women to work in Islamic finance will help meet demand for experts in an industry the Islamic Financial Services Board estimates has been growing 20 percent annually since 2000, with assets exceeding $1 trillion. About 50,000 professionals will be needed globally over the next five to seven years to meet demand, Ishaq Bhatti, the director of Melbourne-basedLa Trobe University’s Islamic banking and finance program, said in a Dec. 10 interview in Kuala Lumpur.

Cultural Barriers

The lack of prominent female banking executives stems from “history, culture and perceptions of women,” said Nida Raza, senior vice president of capital markets at Unicorn Investment Bank BSC in Manama, Bahrain.

In Saudi Arabia, a Sunni Muslim-majority country where women are required to have a male guardian, about 15 percent of the labor force was female in 2009, according to a report by the Geneva-based International Labor Organization, a United Nations agency.

“Getting a visa to Saudi is really difficult, and even when I’m there I face various challenges,” Noripah Kamso, chief executive officer of Kuala Lumpur-based CIMB-Principal Asset Management Bhd., a unit of CIMB Group Holdings Bhd., the world’s biggest sukuk arranger, said in an interview on Dec. 23. “I was once chased by a Saudi police officer because I entered from the wrong door, and travelling without a male colleague is impossible.”

Global Sales

As interest in the industry grows, women, including those from the Middle East, are likely to play a greater role, said Engku Rabiah Adawiah Engku Ali, the first female appointee to Malaysia’s Shariah Advisory Council and an associate professor at the Ahmad Ibrahim Kuliyyah of Laws, International Islamic University Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur.

Global sales of sukuk, which pay returns based on asset flows to comply with the religion’s ban on interest, fell 15 percent in 2010 to $17.1 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Issuance reached a record $31 billion in 2007.

Shariah-compliant bonds returned 12.8 percent last year, the HSBC/NASDAQ Dubai US Dollar Sukuk Index shows, compared with 19.8 percent the previous year. Debt in emerging markets gained 12.2 percent, from 29.8 percent in 2009, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s EMBI Global Diversified Index.

The difference between the average yield for sukuk in developing nations and the London interbank offered rate has narrowed 178 basis points, or 1.78 percentage point, to 290 last year, according to the HSBC/NASDAQ Dubai US Dollar Sukuk Index. Average yields dropped 252 basis points to 4.74 percent.

Male Scholars

The yield on Malaysia’s 3.928 percent dollar sukuk maturing in June 2015 rose seven basis points today to 2.99 percent and is 12 basis points higher than on Nov. 30, data compiled by Royal Bank of Scotland Plc show. The extra yield investors demand to hold Dubai’s government sukuk rather than Malaysia’s was at 338 basis points, down from 398 basis points at the end of November, according to the data.

A shortage of scholars increases the risk of conflicts of interest as many sit on various advisory boards at the same time, according to the Manama-based Accounting & Auditing Organization for Islamic Financial Institutions, an industry standards setting body.

Sheikh Nizam Yaquby of Bahrain and Syria’s Abdul Sattar Abu Ghuddah, who each serve on 85 boards of Islamic financial institutions, ranked first by the number of seats among the top 20 religious experts in an October report from Zawya, an online Middle East business news and directory, and Funds@Work AG, a Kronberg, Germany-based consulting company.

‘Talent Pool’

In Malaysia, regulations are aimed at limiting such conflicts of interest. Under Bank Negara Malaysia regulations, a Shariah scholar can sit on only one board for each type of Islamic financial institution, meaning an expert on the panel of an Islamic bank can only sit on the board of another non-bank entity such as an insurance company, or takaful.

The rule “enlarges the talent pool and gives more opportunities,” said Engku Rabiah, who was once appointed on the board of six to seven Islamic banks and takaful companies before the rule was passed in 2004.

Unicorn Investment Bank’s Raza said the shortage of women in Islamic finance is easing as more female Westerners enter the market.

“This will have a knock-on effect on” the Middle East, Raza said in an interview Dec. 30 fromNew York. That “may lead to a rise in women in the Islamic finance industry,” she said.


To contact the reporters on this story: Suryani Omar in Jakarta at; Soraya Permatasari in Kuala Lumpur at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Sandy Hendry at

Standardisation of Islamic finance industry: Expert calls for setting up watchdog

Standardisation of Islamic finance industry: Expert calls for setting up watchdog


Standardisation of the Islamic banking policies, procedures and regulatory framework on a global level is important to propel the growth of the industry.

That is the view of BBK investment banking arm Capinnova Investment Bank chief executive officer Jamal Hijres.

"An important effort towards achieving international consistency was the creation of two multilateral institutions, the Accounting and Auditing Organisation for Islamic Financial Institutions and the Islamic Financial Services Board.

"The growth of such institutions will definitely improve and propel the industry at a faster pace.

"The Islamic banking industry is a fast growing sector that offers an array of opportunities yet to be exploited," he said.

"Although the Middle East still represents the biggest share of the total Islamic banking sector, Western countries are gearing towards this new trend that presents a unique opportunity to diversify.

"With a growing market share and a considerable growth rate recorded over the past decade, it is essential for a unified global Islamic banking authority to be established.

"This authority can be entrusted with standardising Islamic banking operations and facilitating communication between the different entities, leading to the full exploitation of the sector’s potential.

"One of the most important challenges faced by the Islamic banking sector is the unavailability of experts in both banking and Islamic issues.

"An Islamic banker must possess a profound knowledge of Sharia rules and principles, in addition to finance.

"The shortage in experienced and qualified scholars is forcing them to field positions on multiple Sharia boards, which in turn increases the risk of a conflict of interest."

"Even though the financial crisis did not affect the Islamic banking industry in particular, the drop in Gulf real estate and oil prices had repercussions on the industry," he said.

"However, now with oil prices back in the normal range it has definitely brought confidence back to the industry.

"While Islamic finance is one of the big success stories in finance today, it is worth looking at the current credit crunch in conventional finance to see how easily one problem can spiral out of control.

"This is something that Islamic finance practitioners need to take on board and make sure they are prepared to expect the unexpected.

"Rigid corporate governance programmes, transparency on compliance, learning from conventional banking successes and failures and achieving greater market penetration are all goals that will help sustain this area of Islamic finance."


Shariah Experts Push for Scholar Certificates

Shariah Experts Push for Scholar Certificates


Leading Islamic finance scholars are preparing the first global certification for Shariah experts, seeking to bolster the industry’s reputation and make it easier for banks to find qualified advisers.

The International Shariah Research Academy for Islamic Finance in Kuala Lumpur will pick a board of regulators by year- end to issue permits for scholars qualified to sit on Shariah boards, said Aznan Hasan, the president of the oversight committee. The scholars decide whether financial products meet the religion’s precepts, including a ban on interest payments.

“We are worried that people who aren’t qualified to be Shariah scholars may enter and become members of the advisory boards as the market flourishes,” Hasan said in an Aug. 30 interview in Kuala Lumpur. “Banks try to search for competent advisers, sometimes they get the right person, sometimes they get the wrong person.”

Attempts to set up an organization with a code of ethics to certify Islamic scholars have been frustrated by differing interpretations of Shariah law across the Muslim world, Madzlan Mohamad Hussain, a partner at Zaid Ibrahim & Co., Malaysia’s largest law firm, said in an interview on Aug. 30. Scholars are now required to have recognized university degrees before they can act as advisers to banks and companies.

The council of scholars at the academy includes Sheikh Nizam Yaquby of Bahrain, Mohammad Daud Bakar of Malaysia and Abdul Sattar Abu Ghuddah of Syria, who were all ranked among the top-10 experts in a 2008 report by Chicago-based Failaka Advisors LLC, an advisory company that monitors and publishes data on Islamic funds.

‘Strengthen Confidence’

Yaquby serves on the Islamic boards of 52 institutions including New York-based Citigroup Inc. and London-based HSBC Holdings Plc. Bakar advises firms such as Paris-based BNP Paribas SA, according to the data.

“The whole idea is to further strengthen confidence by making Shariah scholars truly professional,” Madzlan said, adding that the majority of experts also have full-time careers. “The plan will materialize because there’s a need for it.”

A shortage of scholars versed in Shariah law means they tend to sit on a number of advisory boards simultaneously, which increases the risk of conflicts of interest, according to the Bahrain-based Accounting & Auditing Organization for Islamic Financial Institutions, also known as AAOIFI.

‘Common Platform’

“We desperately need an institution that could certify and standardize different Islamic products in the market,” Kaleem Iqbal, a senior executive vice president at Al Baraka Islamic, a unit of Bahrain-based Albaraka Banking Group, said in an interview yesterday from Islamabad. “The banking community will certainly welcome a common platform with a global mandate.”

Shariah-compliant bonds returned 10 percent this year, according to the HSBC/NASDAQ Dubai US Dollar Sukuk Index, while debt in developing markets gained 12.5 percent, JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s EMBI Global Diversified Index shows. The Islamic notes rose 1.3 percent in August after a 2.6 percent increase a month earlier.

The spread between the average yield for emerging-market sukuk and the London interbank offered rate narrowed 16 basis points, or 0.16 percentage point, to 385 last month, according to the HSBC/NASDAQ Dubai US Dollar Sukuk Index.

Global sales of sukuk dropped 13 percent to $10.1 billion so far this year, compared with the same period in 2009, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The yield on Malaysia’s 3.928 percent government Islamic note was little changed at 2.72 percent today and dropped 21 basis points from the end of July, according to prices from Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc. It reached a record-low of 2.63 percent on Aug. 24.

Global Standards

The Islamic finance industry, with $1 trillion in assets, is facing a challenge to develop global standards to attract funds from the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims.

AAOIFI, whose standards have been adopted in countries including the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, is proposing rules for scholars to reduce the risk of conflicts of interest, Mohamad Nedal Alchaar, the secretary-general of the organization, said in an interview on Aug. 5 in Kuala Lumpur.

The guidelines by AAOIFI may address whether Shariah scholars can own shares in the institutions they serve and how many advisory boards they can join, he said.

A centralized regulator for scholars will help increase investment because banks would save time in choosing experts to ensure products meet religious principles, said the academy’s Hasan, who also serves on the Shariah board of Malaysia’s central bank. The institution doesn’t plan to restrict scholars on the number of advisory panels they can join, he said.

“Global regulation is beneficial, be that through a test of fit and proper criteria as to what makes one qualify as a scholar,” Omar Shaikh, a board member of the Glasgow-based Islamic Finance Council U.K., said in an e-mail yesterday. “The challenge will be on the operational execution of this and the acceptance, use by global regulatory bodies.”


–With assistance from Haris Anwar and Dana El Baltaji in Dubai. Editor: Simon Harvey, Shanthy Nambiar.

To contact the reporter on this story: Khalid Qayum in Singapore; Soraya Permatasari in Kuala Lumpur at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Sandy Hendry at

Sheikh Nizam Yaquby opposes proposed restrictions on Shariah scholars

Sheikh Nizam Yaquby opposes proposed restrictions on Shariah scholars

Restricting the number of boards religious scholars are involved in would curb growth in the $1 trillion Islamic finance market, says a Bahraini scholar who advises Citigroup Inc. and HSBC Holdings Plc.

The Accounting & Auditing Organization for Islamic Financial Institutions, a Manama-based agency, said in August it’s considering guidelines on scholars owning shares in the institutions they serve and the number of advisory boards they can join, to reduce the risk of conflicts of interest. The top 20 scholars serve on 621 boards globally, said Zawya and Funds@Work AG, a Dubai-based research company.

“Capping the number of boards will be devastating to the industry’s growth,” Sheikh Nizam Yaquby, who was born in 1959, said in an interview in Beirut on Nov. 4. “Sometimes people ask me, are you Superman? How can you sit on so many boards? I tell them it’s hard work.”

Yaquby and Syria’s Abdul Sattar Abu Ghuddah ranked first among the top 20 experts, each serving on 85 boards of Islamic financial institutions, according to Zawya’s report. Yaquby is listed as serving on more than 50 boards, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The Islamic finance industry, with assets the Kuala Lumpur- based Islamic Financial Services Board will almost triple to $2.8 trillion by 2015, is struggling to develop global standards and a centralized regulator for scholars. Banks and companies can’t find enough experts to meet demand for new Shariah- compliant products, creating a “bottleneck,” said Khalid Howladar, Dubai-based senior credit officer at Moody’s Investors Service, in an e-mailed response yesterday.

Fragmented Industry

“One scholar advising so many companies doesn’t help make an Islamic product universal,” Kaleem Iqbal, a senior executive vice president at the Pakistani unit of Bahrain-based Albaraka Banking Group said in a telephone interview yesterday from Islamabad. “Unless we adopt a more standardized model, the industry will remain fragmented.”

Islamic institutions typically have their own panels of scholars who pass rulings, or fatwas, to determine that products comply with Shariah principles. Shariah scholars need to be experts on the Koran, commercial law and finance. Yaquby has a degree in economics and comparative religion from McGill University in Montreal.

Mohamad Nedal Alchaar, secretary-general of AAOIFI, said in August that a shortage of experts means they tend to sit on several advisory boards simultaneously. The Bahrain-based agency also plans to address concerns that these scholars’ private companies receive preferential treatment from banks they advise.

‘Conflict of Interest’

“There’s a potential case for conflict of interest, and a case of information leakage or perhaps competition impact,” Alchaar said. “We wanted to address the concerns in an unbiased manner.”

AAOIFI, which has more than 200 members, sets accounting and auditing standards that are used in Bahrain, the Dubai International Financial Centre, Jordan, Lebanon and Qatar, according to its website. The agency said its guidelines have also been used to help frame policy in Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.

“What’s key is to create a robust framework in which the industry can thrive and grow,” said Yavar Moini, senior adviser of global capital markets at Morgan Stanley, in an interview in Dubai yesterday. “Clearly scholars’ expertise and representation on Shariah boards are an integral part of such a framework. Placing limitations in this regard will hinder the industry’s growth potential.”

Declining Bond Sales

Global sales of Islamic bonds fell 29 percent to $13.7 billion this year from the same period in 2009, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Islamic law restricts investors to transactions based on the exchange of assets rather than money alone because interest payments are banned.

Sukuk returned 11.7 percent this year, according to the HSBC/NASDAQ Dubai US Dollar Sukuk Index, compared with a 14.5 percent gain in developing markets, JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s EMBI Global Diversified Index shows.

Pakistan’s central bank requires Islamic banks to appoint one scholar as a “Shariah adviser,” who is barred from serving at other financial institutions in the country, Karachi-based Saleem Ullah, director of the Islamic banking department at the State Bank of Pakistan, said in an e-mailed response yesterday.

“The restriction is aimed at addressing the issue of conflict of interest and giving comfort to the banks regarding confidentiality of their business policies and product structures,” he said. The scholar can advise Islamic banks outside the country.

No Restrictions

Some Islamic banks also have Shariah boards and committees which have between three and seven scholars, Saleem Ullah said. There are no restrictions on how many boards scholars can serve on, he said.

“If a country wants to put a limitation, it is up to them,” said Yaquby. “Countries have to question if there are enough scholars to put such limitations.”

Chicago-based Failaka Advisors LLC, an advisory company which monitors and publishes data on Islamic funds, lists 253 practicing scholars worldwide in its 2008 report. There are now an estimated 600 scholars, said Yaquby. Among the top 10 are Mohammad Daud Bakar of Malaysia and Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Elgari, according to the report by Zawya and Funds@Work.

The difference between the average yield for emerging market sukuk and the London interbank offered rate was little changed at 341 basis points yesterday, having narrowed 32 basis points since Sept. 30, according to the HSBC/NASDAQ Dubai US Dollar Sukuk Index. A basis point is 0.01 percentage point.

The yield on Malaysia’s 3.928 percent Islamic note due in June 2015 rose two basis points to 2.71 percent today, according to prices provided by Royal Bank of Scotland Group. The extra yield investors demand to hold Dubai’s government sukuk rather than Malaysia’s narrowed 9 basis points to 384.8, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Islamic financial institutions “want scholars who understand finance and banking, and can speak languages,” Yaquby said. “This is not a popularity contest. This is a multi-disciplinary specialization, which is rare to find.”