Category Archives: Islamic Banks

Al Baraka Bank Syria goes live with iMAL

Al Baraka Bank Syria goes live with iMAL

supercomputer

Path Solutions, the global provider of software solutions and services to the Islamic finance industry, today announces that Al Baraka Bank Syria has successfully deployed iMAL enterprise banking and investment system with full service offerings to its customers in just 6 months. The solution will enable the bank to meet its growing volume requirements, reduce risk and increase its profitability through STP, automation and centralisation.

“We’ve gone through a whole evaluation process by comparing a number of international software vendors” said Anas Kharrat, IT Director at Al Baraka Syria. “It was imperative for us to select the right partner with a robust Islamic solution that could match the future ambitions and plans of our bank. Path Solutions has developed a record of strong and consistent achievements”. And he further added, “Today, Al Baraka Bank Syria starts its operations using Path Solutions’ industry-focused and user-friendly iMAL system which will enable us to accelerate innovation, increasing the effectiveness with which new Islamic products are created to constantly improve customer experience”.

Al Baraka Bank Syria opted to implement iMAL based on a number of criteria. Path Solutions’ iMAL best-in-class, fully integrated and scalable software solution will give Al Baraka Bank Syria a whole new way of delivering innovative products. It will also increase efficiencies and transparency in banking operations.

Alain Abou Khalil, VP Professional Services at Path Solutions commented, “Al Baraka Bank is the third Islamic bank in Syria running live on iMAL . The successful implementation of iMAL at Al Baraka Syria clearly demonstrates our commitment to providing world class core banking solutions benefiting our clients and marks yet another important milestone in Path Solutions’ success story”.

The implementation of iMAL at Al Baraka Bank Syria covered the following areas: Retail Banking including Branch Automation, Commercial Banking, Corporate Banking, Credit & Facility Management, Automated Teller Machines, Accounting & Finance and Profit Calculation.

Al Baraka Bank Syria is a subsidiary of Al Baraka Banking Group (“ABG”) that has pioneered the development of Islamic banking and finance. The group has a wide geographical presence in the form of subsidiary banking units in 12 countries, the latest was Syria. The authorized capital of ABG is US$1.5 billion. The capital of Al Baraka Bank Syria is of 5,000,000,000 SYP.

Al Yusr Islamic banking service launches new Car Murabaha

Al Yusr Islamic banking service launches new Car Murabaha

car

In line with its strategy of developing unique and innovative financing solutions to meet different customer needs, Al Yusr Islamic banking service of IBQ announced today the launch of its latest Sharia-compliant financing product. The new Car Murabaha product aims at providing customers enhanced flexibility and favourable repayment tenure while upholding the highest standards of Sharia compliance.

"The Al Yusr Car Murabaha has been developed to enable our customers to meet their financing requirements while benefitting from enhanced flexibility, competitive rates and a unique personalised service while adhering to the prudent risk management principles prescribed under Sharia," said Hassan Al Mulla, Head of Islamic Banking.

"At Al Yusr, our product development strategy is driven by innovation and a commitment to making the banking experience simpler and more rewarding for our customers, while having a positive impact on the overall economy. We believe Car Murabaha is a valuable addition to our product suite that will prove extremely beneficial to customers looking for Sharia-compliant and flexible financing options."

Al Yusr Car Murabaha enables customers to benefit from rewarding financing terms and flexible repayment tenures, without any requirements for salary transfer or guarantor.

The new product also allows customers to benefit from a fast approval process and an exceptional level of personalised service from Al Yusr’s highly competent and sophisticated customer service professionals.

Al Mulla added, "The growing range of Sharia-compliant financing products from Al Yusr Islamic banking service will not only provide customers with favourable financing options, but also enable them to achieve their short and long-term financing goals, while positively impacting the development of a sophisticated financing infrastructure in the state of Qatar."

IBQ launched its first Al Yusr Islamic banking service retail branch in May this year. The branch, which is located on the C-Ring road in Doha, offers a comprehensive range of banking and finance products to suit all needs.

Branding an Islamic Bank: Absa Islamic Banking

Branding an Islamic Bank: Absa Islamic Banking

Building a brand is a complex and multi-faceted process. Even when a range of brand-building tasks are completed, it’s rare that one knows for sure which of them contributes the most to building a trusted and sustainable brand. There are numerous pressures, including the urgency to launch and budget constraints. There is no magic formula for branding an Islamic bank, but this is our story and I hope there are lessons in what we did or did not do and even in the things we wished we’d done better.

I am writing this from the perspective of a bank based in South Africa, where Muslims are the minority and the country is not governed under Shari’ah law.

In the Beginning
The first big decision is naming your bank. In making this decision, you have a choice of whether to include the word "Islamic" in the name of the bank or to go with an indicative word such as "Al Riba" or "Amanah". Absa Islamic Banking chose the former route. The advantage has been absolute clarity to the primary target audience of Muslims in South Africa, but the disadvantage is that the secondary audience of non-Muslims feel excluded, even though Islamic banking is available to anyone who chooses an alternative to conventional banking. This means that a great deal of effort must go into ensuring that all of the bank’s staff members and the general public are clearly informed that Islamic banking is a choice available to everyone and not exclusively to Muslims.

Once we had the name and, being a division of an established bank, a colour that we were required to use in our branding, we set out in search of a company with Islamic marketing experience. None existed in South Africa, so we settled for a small agency that was willing to learn with us. We chose a typical Islamic picture and built it into a brand image that we could live with, as we were under pressure to get our first products to market. We decided on the slogan, "Your trusted partner in Shari’ah compliant banking," and added some text about our products and the Shari’ah approval process. We included a call to action and how to access the products. And with that we had our first advertisement.

The brand extensions of this included posters and Shari’ah certificates for our branches, advertisements for special times such as Ramadan and Eid and a modest range of branded goods. The most ambitious and memorable of these was a Hajj pack for our customers who were going on Hajj in the year that we launched. This was a sturdy backpack that included a branded water bottle, prayer mat and shoe bag.

Relationships in Support of the Brand
No matter how impactful we believed they were, we knew that branding elements on their own would be of little value. Relationships are a vital part of Islamic banking. So the small start-up team put enormous effort into getting out into Muslim communities all over the country. The team spoke about the concept of Islamic banking and answered questions from those who wanted more information and those who doubted the Shari’ah compliance of an Islamic banking division of a conventional bank.

We held presentations in community halls, luxurious venues and in tents where we shared Iftaar with rural communities. We addressed women’s organisations, schools and Shari’ah scholars. Anyone who was interested became our audience and the number of people we reached was only limited by the amount of time we had in each day and the modest size of our team.

Educating the Bank Staff
Absa agreed that Islamic banking would be available at any of its approximately 800 branches nationally, but the staff of most of those branches were non – Muslim.

Islamic banking was completely foreign to them and counterintuitive to the rules of conventional banking which they knew so well.

This required intensive education and internal communication. This process continues to this day, as we aim for a consistent and positive brand experience whenever someone walks into a branch and asks for an Islamic product. We could not employ mystery shoppers, so we had to perform that function ourselves. The worst experience was walking into a branch, asking to open an Islamic banking account and being told to go to a branch in a Muslim area. The best is always finding non-Muslim branch staff who are excellent at selling our products. Today, we’re proud of the fact that our top 10 branch sales people are all non-Muslim.

This year we have launched a new training programme and a DVD for use in branch staff meetings. It shows how simple it is to open an Islamic banking account and how to cross-sell Islamic banking products to a customer.

Taking the Brand to a New Level
After our first year in business, we realised that the design of our initial brand identity was no at the level we wanted. We decided to work with a large through-the-line agency and put in the time required to help them develop a brand identity we would feel proud of.

After much deliberation, we finally all agreed on a strong and relevant brand identity image of the door of the Mosque of Prophet Mohammed, which is on the Prophets Dome in Madinah. This door is a very symbolic icon of the Muslim faith which is inscribed in Arabic.

We rewrote the Arabic inscription on the door to read "Islamic Banking from Absa" in Arabic.

We shortened our tagline to "Banking the Shari’ah Way." We also created a typically Islamic pattern around the centre of the door.

We developed our own logo, which will become a synonymous symbol of our Islamic Banking brand. The logo features a red seal with "Islamic Banking from Absa" on it in Arabic.

The Arabic translation is placed under our name in English.

It’s important to build brand identity strength.

We set out to do this by incorporating our new design and logo onto posters, in our branches and on cheque books and debit cards.

Not stopping there, we also developed a range of new corporate gifts with the logo on them, complete with the Arabic translation. The wonderful red and gold images that we used for the new branding and logo were met with great positivity and were quickly adopted by Absa staff and customers. To reinforce the Islamic banking brand, we have gone out of our way to use the red and gold colours, as well as our logo, on everything we do, including wrapping gifts.
We have found that by doing this we have been able to entrench the new Islamic Banking brand within the Muslim and other markets.

Publicising Our Differentiator
Currently, we have the broadest offering by a bank, with a full range of access channels. We publicised this differentiator using billboards, radio and print advertisements which drew attention to our ability to offer "Islamic Banking anywhere, anytime."

Doing More With Less
During 2008, marketing budgets came under pressure from the global financial crisis. We had to find low-cost ways of continuing our quest to build brand awareness. These included marketing messages printed on ATM slips, ATM screen images, direct mail letters and SMSs to customers and marketing messages on personalised cheque statements. We also made use of the television screens in branches, targeting people in branch queues with a 45-second insert which revolved as part of the TV schedule in every branch throughout banking hours.

The most successful exercise in this category was our Ramadan promotion. Absa produces branded bottled water which is available in branches for people standing in the queue. We designed Islamic Banking neck tags to go with these bottles. During Ramadan, we encouraged our sales consultants to adopt a mosque and to provide water with our branded neck tag for people to break their fast. This "Absa Islamic Banking water" has become very popular and we regularly receive requests for it from mosques, charity events and schools. It has even been supplied to people waiting in the sun for animals to be slaughtered for Eid.

The Way Forward
Our approach continues to be a combination of brand awareness, connecting with communities and educating Absa staff members to enhance the brand experience. We’ve embarked on some exciting initiatives lately, such as entertaining clients at the DFL Indian Premier League cricket matches and hosting exclusively female events.

We have done this in recognition of the important role women play in financial decisions. We also believe strongly in the importance of educating young people about Islamic banking, as they will have choices that their parents did not.

As Islamic banking attracts attention all over the world, even receiving endorsement from the Vatican newspaper, the pressure on branding and differentiation will grow and we look forward to continued innovation in this field.

By Ahmed Moola

© Business Islamica 2009

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Islamic banks weather global financial turmoil: Country Head, Al Baraka Islamic Bank Pakistan

Islamic banks weather global financial turmoil: Country Head, Al Baraka Islamic Bank Pakistan

boat in lake

Islamic banks have withstood the recent turmoil in the global banking industry triggered by the subprime mortgage crisis because their rules do not allow dealings in products like derivatives, options or papers that caused the meltdown.

While financial institutions in the developed world lined up for huge state assistance, the few Islamic banking institutions in these countries like the European Islamic Bank in the United Kingdom emerged unscathed from the crisis.

“The recent financial crisis exposed the flaws in the western banking system and proved that Islamic banks are safe which do not offer any risky product in line with the injunctions of Islam,” said Al-baraka Islamic Bank Country Head Shafqat Ahmad. He said the French president had appreciated the modes of financing offered by Islamic banks and expressed willingness to allow the setting up of these banks in France.

Shafqat said Shariah experts ensured that Islamic banks operated strictly according to the Islamic financial laws. “These banks do give profit to their depositors but it is based on the true principle of profit and loss. This is the reason that profits on savings in Islamic banks are not pre-determined.” However, “Islamic banks generally distribute more profit to their depositors than conventional banks.”

An Islamic Shariah expert said majority of the credit provided by Islamic banks was under the Morahaba mode (sale-purchase agreement). Explaining, he said “an Islamic bank purchases an item, for instance cotton, on behalf of the client (in fact the client selects the quality and quantity of cotton and the bank makes the payment) and the client agrees to the date when the amount will be returned. The Islamic bank charges certain profit on the purchased cotton that the client has to pay along with the principal amount.”

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Unicorn Investment Bank CEO declared “Banker of the Year”

Unicorn Investment Bank CEO declared “Banker of the Year”

unicorn

Majid Al Sayed Bader Al Refai, the Founder, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Unicorn Investment Bank, has been named ‘Banker of the Year’ as part of the Banker Middle East Industry Awards for 2009. The awards are based on peer recommendations and are designed to recognise and reward excellence throughout the global Islamic finance community.

Al Refai is considered to be one of the pioneers of Islamic finance and has been an active proponent of the industry for over 20 years.

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Dubai Bank launches new service for women

Dubai Bank launches new service for women

Dubai-Bank

Dubai Bank, a leading bank offering a comprehensive range of Shariah-compliant products and services, has announced the launch of  “Amirah,” a new service for its female customers.

“Amirah” (princess in Arabic) provides enhanced, targeted and more personalised services to the women that bank with Dubai Bank, said a top official.

As part of the new service, the bank has created exclusive areas within some of its branches, enabling women to carry out their banking transactions with greater comfort and privacy, explained Mohammad Amiri, head of Retail Banking group at Dubai Bank.

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Islamic Bank of Britain launches premier banking services in London

Islamic Bank of Britain launches premier banking services in London

ibb

Islamic Bank of Britain (IBB) has announced the launch of its premier banking service and the opening of its premier banking office in Berkeley Square, London aimed at catering to customers from the Middle East.

The service has been designed to provide a high quality, personal banking service coupled with competitive long term savings options and Sharia’a compliant property finance to customers.

Driven by low property prices and the current favourable US Dollar/Sterling exchange rate, the UK is attracting a large number of customers coming from the Middle East and GCC countries looking to purchase a property, said Sultan Choudhury, commercial director at IBB.

The bank’s premier banking service has been set up to respond to this demand, he pointed out.

IBB, Sultan said, was increasingly becoming a more attractive option for overseas investors, particularly in the GCC and Middle East countries, as it is a more stable alternative to conventional banks.

"The bank provides its premier customers a personal service along with Halal products, including the competitive Home Purchase Plan which is the Sharia’a compliant finance option for property purchases in the UK," he explained.

The customer must have a minimum annual net income of £100,000 ($159,782) to apply for IBB premier banking service available to customers in the UK and overseas, Sultan said.

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