MANAMA: Islamic banks' expansion in the Gulf continues to outstrip growth of conventional banks, while their performance is particularly strong in Qatar, according to estimates released by consultancy Ernst & Young.
Sharia-compliant assets at commercial banks in the six countries of the GCC climbed 14.1 per cent from a year earlier to $445 billion at the end of last year, said Ashar Nazim, Islamic financial services leader at the firm.
This was faster than the growth of conventional bank assets in the region, which rose 8.1pc, Ernst & Young said without giving a figure for the size of those assets.
Previously, it has estimated Islamic institutions accounted for about a quarter of the entire banking industry in the GCC.
"We expect a relatively positive outlook for the Islamic banking industry in the GCC," the consultancy said.
Qatar's Islamic banking assets were estimated to have grown more than 23pc last year.
Globally, the Islamic banking sector has posted a five-year average annual growth rate of 19pc across the 22 major Islamic finance markets which Ernst & Young monitors.
New entrants into the industry have boosted assets from a low base, said Mr Nazim.
Islamic banking assets at commercial banks reached $1.55 trillion worldwide at the end of last year, and are projected to exceed $2trn by 2015, the Ernst & Young report said.
However, it also said of the Gulf's Islamic banks: "Quality of growth remains under pressure and we expect more Islamic banks initiating an honest introspection of their operating model."
Analysts say many Islamic institutions in the Gulf have grown by expanding their staff numbers and facilities rather than by boosting efficiency, so profit growth has in some cases been weak.
Some Islamic banks need to make significant investments to upgrade their back-office information systems and become more efficient, Mr Nazim said.
"Islamic banks remain technologically disadvantaged as software systems are primarily designed for financial institutions based on conventional banking frameworks.
"While the industry regulators are looking to tackle this issue, it remains a concern for the industry leading to significantly higher operational and commercial risk.
(Gulf Daily News / 21 March 2013)
Alfalah Consulting - Kuala Lumpur: www.alfalahconsulting.com
Islamic Investment Malaysia: www.islamic-invest-malaysia.com