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ME PoV Fall 2016 issue
Islamic Finance Institutions (IFIs) are currently present in over 70 countries, half of which are non-Muslim countries. This widespread network of IFIs is supported by organizations such as the Islamic Development Bank, which played a major role in triggering the launch of Islamic Finance operations in several countries including Malaysia and Iran. Other organizations have also been established to support the Islamic Finance industry’s growth: in 2002 the Liquidity Management Center (LMC) and International Islamic Rating Agency (IIRA) were both established and in 2009, the International Islamic Liquidity Management (IILM) was established.
These bodies have been instrumental in accelerating the growth of the Islamic banking industry, supporting the governance, promotion and expansion of Islamic Banking operations. Nevertheless, some fundamental challenges remain.
Liquidity is a key challenge as IFIs have limitations on managing their short-term liquidity, as compared to conventional banks that have a wide variety of options to manage liquidity and remain connected to global financial markets. Conventional credit institutions have, at their disposal, well-developed interbank markets that can be tapped for short-term funding, as well as a wide range of instruments that can be traded on active secondary markets. Liquidity management issues for the Islamic Banking industry are different from those in conventional banking. Unless there is an asset held somewhere in lieu of it, money is not considered a tradable commodity in Islam, and instruments used by conventional banks are not permissible due to certain Sharia’ compliance criteria. Liquidity instruments available to Islamic Banks are few, with many lacking universal Sharia’ approval across jurisdictions. As a result, IFIs face greater difficulty in managing their liquidity. The dearth of financial instruments at the disposal of IFIs makes for less efficient liquidity management, as more than necessary cash is held, thereby negatively affecting profitability.
Liquidity management organizations such as the IILM and LMC have addressed some of the liquidity challenges but there are still some limitations. The variety of products remain limited as structured products are scarce across the industry: It is not possible to have a secondary market in Sukuk trading or for effective liquidity management programs to be put in place without the commensurate development of Islamic financial tradable products to increase the overall volume available–with a supply/demand imbalance, instrument holders feel unable to trade their positions for fear of not being able to find another suitable asset in which to invest. As a result, the prevailing culture is to buy and hold to maturity, which is only exacerbating the situation. Thus the vibrant secondary market for liquidity management instruments that exists for conventional bonds is sorely lacking in the Islamic Finance world.
Sharia’ compliance is another limitation when managing liquidity. The different interpretations on what is acceptable as a Sharia’-compliant product has created an obstacle towards standardizing Sharia’-compliant Islamic Banking contracts and instruments. While central banks in a number of jurisdictions have standardized some of the Sharia’ product structures, a variance continues to exist in Sharia’ product standardization at an international level, whereby a Sharia’-compliant product in one jurisdiction may not necessarily be accepted as being Sharia’-compliant in another. At an institutional level, each Islamic bank has its own Sharia’ board or committee that has to approve any new contracts or instruments. Therefore, the same Sharia’ product approved by one IFI may be rejected by another. Several initiatives have been taken to standardize Islamic contracts used around the world, including through the Accounting and Auditing Organization for Islamic Financial Institutions (AAOIFI) and The International Islamic Financial Market (IIFM), however, there are still major differences in how Sharia’ contracts are structured in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region for example, and Malaysia, which eventually need to be overcome.
Another limitation on IFIs in managing liquidity is the internationalization of Islamic Banking. Islamic Banking is still too regionally and locally focused and therefore there are local pools of liquidity or illiquidity. There is a need to have a stronger form of cross-border liquidity management agreements among the different financial centres.
The creation of the IILM was a major step in this regard. Additional steps need to be taken to close the wide gap. Having a truly global/regional Islamic bank could help to address some of the imbalances seen in the industry, especially as several large Islamic banks have rapidly been increasing their geographic coverage and potentially seek to address some of the liquidity challenges cited.
Funding the infrastructure needs of the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) is another key challenge being presented to the Islamic finance industry. For most of the OIC oil-exporting countries, the fall in oil prices is likely to result in a budget deficit. According to IMF (International Monetary Fund) forecasts expenditure in many OIC countries will exceed revenue and governments will have to seek ways to finance these fiscal deficits. Deloitte analysis undertaken earlier this year reported that the 32 member countries of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) are expected to need US$8.22 trillion as infrastructure investments, or US$747.5 billion annually–the biggest investment needs being in East and South East Asia. Electricity and transport make up the largest components of total infrastructure investment needs in Asia, US$4 trillion and US$2.8 trillion respectively between 2010–2020.
Can an Islamic Megabank help address these challenges?
In order to take Islamic Banking to the next level of growth, there is a need for a large Islamic bank, a Megabank, that will aspire to address each of these challenges with a broader goal to support the growth of Islamic Banking throughout the world and partner with other institutions such as Islamic Banks, Financial Institutions, Multilateral Organizations, Central Banks and OIC Member Countries to achieve the overall goal of creating harmony and cooperation among institutions. A Megabank may very well be a catalyst, in effect acting as a superior body that will connect the various industry players to address these challenges.
Funding remains a challenge as in most countries, Islamic Banking remains fragmented with several small to medium size players and less than a handful of large ones. Due to the lack of size and expertise, most Islamic banks have limitations on accepting large financing deals or being the lead book-runner and underwriter for syndicated financing deals. A majority of the lead book-runners and underwriters for syndicated Islamic financing deals are conventional banks in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region. Only 4 out of the 10 largest EMEA (Europe Middle East and Africa) Islamic loans mandated arrangers are Islamic banks. A Megabank can have the capital base and capacity to become the lead arranger in large financial transactions.
Moreover, Sukuk has been used as an important instrument for funding in countries such as Malaysia and Saudi Arabia but its use remains concentrated in a few countries. Despite the massive amounts of investment required for developing Asian economies, the total amount of infrastructure Sukuk issues were less than US$11 billion by Q3 2014 – the majority of these issues were done by Malaysia with 66 percent of total Sukuk issuance in this category. A Megabank can promote Sukuk liquidity through primary Sukuk issuance with varying ratings and tenures as well as promoting secondary Sukuk markets.
Lack of market makers with a strong capital backing has limited the growth of the secondary markets in the Islamic Banking markets, especially in the largest product groups such as Sukuk. Over the last few years, the demand for Sukuk has increased, with most investors using it to place their liquidity for the longer term, and many investors holding Sukuk to maturity. However, despite initiatives by several countries, the Sukuk market has remained mostly illiquid and is characterized by low trading volumes in comparison to conventional bonds. A Megabank with sufficient capital will be able to increase liquidity in Islamic financial markets by warehousing and trading in Sukuk. The bank with an ability to regularly quote bid-offer prices for each instrument will create a dynamic trading environment and encourage and facilitate secondary market trading.
A Megabank can also address the liquidity challenges through developing an interbank. Unlike conventional banking, Islamic Banking interbank transactions to manage liquidity cannot be done through commonly used conventional money market instruments or interest-bearing loans. Instead, Islamic Banks undertake interbank transactions to manage liquidity through Sharia’-compliant contracts such as Murabaha, Wakala and Mudaraba. This lack of an efficient interbank market may primarily be attributed to a shortage of tradable instruments compliant with Islamic Banking standards, absence of a platform where instruments can be easily traded and relatively low levels of return compared to conventional instruments. The absence of an interbank market that acts as a platform for these products has reduced the efficiency and effectiveness of Islamic banks.
Establishing a Megabank will also provide a platform towards developing widely accepted, standardized Sharia’ contracts, which will in turn improve the efficiency of the Islamic Banking Industry. Several Islamic countries have set up Sharia’ boards, which act as the highest Sharia’ authority in the country, and have the power to approve or reject usage of Islamic instruments based on their research and study in Sharia’. In other countries, this function is embedded into the remit of the Central Bank, and is part of the Central Bank’s regulatory functions. A Megabank can act as a common platform to liaise with these boards in order to seek collective and universal approval for Sharia’-compliant instruments.
There is a clear supply and demand gap in the availability of Islamic financing, both in terms of value of financing available and tradable secondary market Sukuk. Commercial institutions could certainly size up and address some of the issues identified, though probably not all. Having enough capital to underwrite large-scale infrastructure projects, having widely acceptable standardized contracts and being able to warehouse and trade Sukuk with a view to growing the industry, not just maximizing profits, lead us to the conclusion that the Megabank should not be a commercial institution, but should follow the model and path of other multilateral institutions we see around the world.
The path for growth to surpass US$3 trillion by 2020 is already known but the larger opportunity for the industry would be to double again between 2020 and 2025 in the knowledge that demand is definitely there. While the formation of Megabanks with wide ranging remits would be a real game changer to make US$6 trillion by 2025 a realistic ambition for the Islamic finance industry, it should be noted that there also needs to be a political will and national level regulations to embrace such institutions in the respective jurisdictions.
by Abid Shakeel, Partner, Financial Services, Consulting, Deloitte, Middle East
and Betul Mecit, Manager, Financial Services, Consulting, Deloitte, Middle East