State Bank of Pakistan and the ministry of finance have done a lot to promote Islamic Banking in the country but must make more efforts to promote this prudent financial industry in the country, insists the chief executive officer of Burj Bank, Pervez Said. He contends that "holding the relatively mature industry of conventional banking to the same rules as those applied on the Islamic banks, does not constitute a level playing field".
Referring to the industry-wide, adjusted minimum capital requirement of Rs6 billion; Said argues that the efficacy of Islamic banks should not be measured by the same yardstick as conventional banks because by virtue of their asset holdings, "Islamic banks have much better liquidity and so they do not need this minimum capital requirement". Said addsthat "they should judge us based on the capital adequacy ratio instead".
COMPETING WITH CONVENTIONAL BANKS
He believes that setting the same standard for MCR by SBP for Islamic Banks as those for conventional banks has created "a mismatch between the pace of the business growth and the growth of capital" for the Islamic Banks. Said contends that Islamic banks should be required to maintain a capital adequacy ratio of at least 8 percent as he believes that such a benchmark would ensure the financial viability of these institutions without stifling their growth prospects.
While speaking exclusively to BR Research, Pervez Said contests the assertion that Islamic banks offer lower returns to depositors compared to conventional banks. He contends that this disparity exists between the big banks and smaller players and it is caused by the latter's limited ability to generate returns.
He also points out that at present, only longer term Sukuks are available for investment. "Give us Sukuks for durations of 3 months and 6 months so that we are on a comparable footing to the conventional banks that have treasury bills of shorter maturities and we will bridge the gap on returns" says Said.
He contends that due to their limited market share, Islamic banks have to offer returns similar to conventional banks for now. However he believes that once the Islamic banks have a market share of 20 percent or more, they would be able to break away from following trends set by conventional banks.
The chief executive points out that this industry's market share has grown at a relatively rapid pace of close to 7 percent in seven years, when compared to other countries such as Bahrain where the market share stands at around 8 percent in 30 years and Malaysia where the market share is around 12 percent after 25 years of existence of Islamic banks there. Said insists that the government must give this industry market-based incentives, lowering the rate of tax on transactions with Islamic financial institutions, in order to encourage it.
FUTURE GROWTH & INDUSTRY TRENDS
While Pervez Said is confident that the Islamic banking industry will continue to post impressive growth, he is cognisant of possible mergers and acquisitions among existing players, on the back of the central bank's gradual tightening of capital requirements.
He opines that all Islamic Banks including Dubai Islamic Bank and Bank Islami may consider mergers, unless their existing shareholders are willing to inject additional capital to meet the MCR.
Referring to his own bank's expansion plans, Said highlights that over the past two years; Burj Bank established 50 new branches and revamped its core banking system. The bank had planned to list at local bourses in 2008, however these plans were derailed by dull performance of local equities.
Existing stakeholders have pumped in about Rs2 billion into the entity to help it meet its MCR. Now Said explains the bank plans to use profits to further augment its staff and infrastructure before the Board decides on avenues for generating further investments.
While capital constraints are a hurdle for the Islamic banking industry, demand is not; asserts the CEO. Said highlights the basic tenets of Islamic banking:
-- All contracts must be completely transparent
-- Do not book fictitious assets
-- Do not take undue risk
-- Do not finance any activity that may be harmful to society
He contends that recent economic crises have increased the general public's trust in Islamic banks as robust institutions and believes that the future is bright for this industry. Said also asserts that the edge enjoyed by bigger banks due to their numerous branches will soon blunt as internet banking is "a great equaliser".
PUBLIC ACCEPTANCE & POPULARITY
Pervez Said concedes that a significant proportion of the general public are either unaware or unconvinced about the differences between conventional and Islamic banks. He opines that "there will be five percent who say that there is no concept of banking in Islam while an equal proportion will insist that there is no difference between conventional and Islamic banks".
But he insists that the overwhelming majority of the public are inclined towards the industry and that the industry itself is in a constant state of progression and improvement.
"When I joined Islamic banking a decade back, 95 percent of the transactions were Murabaha transactions, which are the weakest (from a religious perspective)" says Said. He explains that with the introduction of more Islamic offerings, the proportion of Murabaha transactions has thinned to around 60 percent.
He adds that religious experts such as Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman have also started disallowing some of the transactions that were previously allowed as now, better alternatives are available.
The Islamic Financial Services Board which constitutes fourteen central banks has made significant headway in forming the regulatory infrastructure for the industry. The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Pakistan is also working to strengthen accounting standards for the industry.
"Our own prophet took twenty three years to fully establish Islam" cites Pervez Said arguing that the Islamic banking industry may not be perfect but it is on the right path.
He sums up by saying that conventional banks are primarily focused on money lending and that the real risk of their transactions becomes evident at "times of crises". While Said is not so keen on labelling banking as Islamic, he insists that the spirit of this industry must be providing fair and beneficial services to clientele which; he highlights is the core of every religion including Islam.
Burj Bank which was formerly known as Dawood Islamic Bank, was established in 2007. After SBP raised its minimum capital requirement for banks, some of the bank's international stakeholders invested further and the bank assumed its new identity. The new name was chosen to depict the bank's aspirations for future growth into a regional player while also highlighting its link with the Middle East.
(Businees Recorder / 19 July 2012)
Alfalah Consulting - Kuala Lumpur: www.alfalahconsulting.com
Islamic Investment Malaysia: www.islamic-invest-malaysia.com