Global Finance selects the winners in a fast-growing area of finance that combines investing according to the tenets of Islamic law with modern financial products and systems.
By Laurence Neville
For a brief moment it seemed that the world of Islamic finance—the central tenet of which is the non-payment of interest—might avoid the meltdown that occurred in global finance from September 2008. Some observers believed the emphasis placed by Islamic banks on deposits as the source of funds for lending would distance them from the instability that plagued conventional banks reliant on wholesale markets.
However, that hope proved forlorn. The Middle East came under pressure as the oil price plummeted, while Dubai suffered from the global property slump. Similarly, growth in Malaysia—a leading sukuk, or Islamic bond, market—reversed sharply in the last quarter of 2008. One reflection of the challenges facing Islamic banking is the fall in sukuk issuance from a record $31 billion in 2007 to just $13.9 billion in 2008.
However, despite this sharp fall in volumes, market participants believe that the sukuk market has an unstoppable long-term momentum and that deal flow could even surpass 2008 levels this year. According to Saudi Arabia-based NCB Capital, as much as $39.3 billion could be raised this year, $24.6 billion of which is expected to come from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region.
Meanwhile, in Southeast Asia, the leading bank in the region, CIMB Islamic, expects to arrange deals totaling $2.5 billion this year. Moreover, the appeal of sukuk remains undimmed. In mid-April the Indonesian government completed its first international sukuk for $650 million and generated $4.6 billion of demand—testament to the enormous potential of the market.
At the same time, the broader Islamic finance market is in excellent health. A recent report by HSBC estimated that the global Islamic banking market was worth as much as $750 billion a year and said that the market was continuing to grow at more than 15% a year. Outside the Middle Eastern core market, there are hopes that France will soon join the United Kingdom in authorizing Islamic financial institutions.
To be sure, the Islamic finance industry has significant issues to overcome. Standardization of regulatory regimes, product types and accounting structures is essential if a truly global—and liquid—Islamic finance market is to be established. Nevertheless, the industry has achieved a great deal since the first sukuk in 1990 and the creation of mainstream Islamic banking in the mid-1970s.
The second annual Global Finance Islamic finance awards honor the leading institutions in the regions, countries and product areas in which Islamic banking has an established or growing presence.
The awards are based on extensive consultations with bankers, analysts and industry experts but ultimately are the decision of Global Finance’s editors. The criteria include a range of factors, including growth in assets, profitability, geographic reach, strategic relationships, new business development, innovation in products and the banks’ ability to conduct and fund themselves in the current environment.
MUCH OF THE ISLAMIC WORLD REMAINS UNDER-INSURED BY WESTERN STANDARDS
BEST SUKUK BANK
Dubai Islamic Bank
Ranked first for international sukuk issuance for 2008 by Bloomberg, DIB has been at the forefront of many of the landmark deals in the sector since its inception. During the past year, the bank’s standout deal was a 1.1 billion dirham issue for real estate finance group Tamweel in July 2008, which introduced a number of innovations. In order to make better use of Tamweel’s properties under construction and completed properties for fundraising purposes, an investment structure was created based on a combination of istitna and ijara Islamic financing principles. One-third of the sukuk proceeds were used to purchase Tamweel’s rights, title and interest on the completed assets (ijara assets) while the remainder of the sukuk proceeds were used to purchase Tamweel’s rights, title and interest in the construction assets.
BEST ISLAMIC RETAIL BANK
Al Rajhi Bank
Al Rajhi Bank is one of the largest Islamic banks in the world, with total assets of $33 billion and more than 8,000 employees. The bank opened its first men’s branch in 1957 and its first women’s branch in 1979. Since 2006 the bank has operated in Malaysia—making it one of a handful of banks to operate in both of the world’s most significant Islamic banking centers. In Saudi Arabia, Al Rajhi Bank has a formidable network of more than 400 branches and the largest customer base of any bank in Saudi Arabia. Al Rajhi Bank currently has 19 branches in Malaysia and recently announced plans to use its Malaysian base to grow its investment banking business in Asia. The retail offerings of many Islamic banks have improved substantially in recent years, but Al Rajhi Bank deserves particular mention for its pioneering efforts, most recently in e-banking.
BEST ISLAMIC INVESTMENT BANK
Established in February 2007, Falcom has made a name for itself as an investment bank with a solid financial foundation, a strong technological edge—not least in its brokerage offering and sophisticated online research and analytical offering Falcom Watch—and an innovative workforce. The bank is the first investment bank from Saudi Arabia offering a shariah-compliant investment platform and offers financial advice to corporates and individuals for M&A, private equity or other financing needs. The bank also develops investment strategies and mutual funds across all major asset classes.
BEST TAKAFUL PROVIDER
Salama Islamic Arab Insurance
Much of the Islamic world remains substantially under-insured by Western standards—partly because of the historical absence of an appropriate insurance product. Consequently, the opportunities in takaful (Islamic insurance)—where members contribute to a fund pool, which is used to indemnify participants who suffer a loss—are substantial. Takaful is expected to continue to grow as much as 17% a year for the next three years, and a recent HSBC report estimated the sector could be valued at $14.4 billion by 2010. Dubai-based Salama-Islamic Arab Insurance was established in 1979 and is the world’s largest takaful and re-takaful (similar to re-insurance) provider in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. It continues to outpace even the rapid development of the takaful market; in 2008 it enjoyed a 42% increase in its gross written premium while underwriting income grew 39%.
BEST ASSET MANAGEMENT COMPANY
HSBC’s Islamic investment products are offered under the brand name HSBC Amanah and comprise a range of mutual funds for retail and high-net-worth clients as well as for corporate and institutional clients. HSBC also offers discretionary portfolio management services to private, corporate and institutional clients. Among HSBC’s many innovations in Islamic fund management is the introduction in 2006 of multi-manager funds. HSBC is also the only asset management firm to offer equity funds based on active quant investment strategy. The bank also created the first capital protected funds and the first investment-linked policy funds for takaful and offers the only open-ended Islamic real estate fund.
BEST SHARIAH-COMPLIANT INDEX PROVIDER
Dow Jones Islamic Market Indexes
Having celebrating its 10th anniversary in February this year, Dow Jones Islamic Market (DJIM) indexes remain the market leader. It was the first index provider to develop a method for screening equity indexes according to shariah law. The index family that resulted, the Dow Jones Islamic Market index series, now covers more than 100 indexes—with more than $7 billion in assets tied to them—for all major established and emerging financial markets, regions and sectors—including sukuk.
MUCH OF THE ISLAMIC WORLD REMAINS UNDER-INSURED BY WESTERN STANDARDS
GULF COOPERATION COUNCIL
Kuwait Finance House
While Kuwait Finance House’s claim to be the world’s leading Islamic bank may be disputed by others, what is certain is that it has been a pioneer of Islamic banking in the GCC region. The bank has now set its sights on Saudi Arabia, where it plans to open branches in a $130 million expansion. KFH has been careful to bank the proceeds of its recent boom years. For example, in 2008 it declared a profit of $572 million and retained $766 million as provisions or reserves for 2009—making it one of the highest-provisioned banks in the region and, consequently, one of the most sound.
NON-GCC MIDDLE EAST/NORTH AFRICA
Absa Islamic Banking
Having ventured into Islamic banking services with a shariah-compliant equity-based investment in late 2005, South Africa’s largest bank, Absa, launched a full Islamic banking service for South Africa’s Muslim community in March 2006. The bank, which is part of Barclays, now offers a range of services from credit cards to savings accounts as well as vehicle and home loans, small business savings and checking accounts and commercial property finance. In addition, Absa also offers takaful car, household and business cover. All make use of Absa and Barclays’ global infrastructure and local and international capabilities to deliver international-standard solutions.
CIMB Islamic Bank
CIMB Islamic is undoubtedly one of the world’s most impressive Islamic banks and is a serious contender for the world’s best Islamic bank. The bank has long established its credentials in the investment banking area, where it dominates the Malaysian and regional sukuk market, and is becoming a force in international issuance. In 2008 CIMB Islamic issued some of the most exciting sukuk deals, with the Paka Capital exchangeable sukuk issue for Khazanah bringing Chinese assets into a deal for the first time. CIMB Islamic also brought to market the only project financing sukuk deal in Malaysia for MRCB’s Southern Link project and also sold the largest commodity murabahah-based sukuk in Malaysia for Cagamas. The bank’s treasury operation has also been actively involved in expanding the Islamic banking footprint in Southeast Asia.
European Islamic Investment Bank
European Islamic Investment Bank (EIIB) received authorization by the UK regulator the Financial Services Authority (FSA) in March 2006 as the first Islamic investment bank in the UK—the most developed Islamic finance market in Europe. Among the bank’s product offerings are Islamic treasury and capital markets; asset management, including private banking; structured trade finance; private equity (introduced in 2008) and corporate advisory and shariah advisory. EIIB has not been immune to the financial crisis; it had a loss of £14.8 million in 2008 as a result of impairment to its real estate portfolio. However, its underlying figures look strong: Core pre-tax profitability excluding real estate rose 92% while expenses fell 18% from a year earlier. Moreover, the bank is well positioned for the current environment, with deposits of 680% of the minimum regulatory requirement.
THE UK BOASTS THE MOST DEVELOPED ISLAMIC FINANCE MARKET IN EUROPE
INDONESIA’S CENTRAL BANK IS PUSHING THE DEVELOPMENT OF ISLAMIC BANKING
SAUDI ARABIA IS BY FAR THE RICHEST ISLAMIC BANKING MARKET IN THE WORLD
SUDAN’S ENTIRE BANKING SYSTEM IS REQUIRED TO CONFORM TO ISLAMIC PRINCIPLES
Banque Al Baraka d’Algérie
With the entrance of Saudi Arabia’s Al Salam Bank into the Algerian Islamic banking market in October 2008, Banque Al Baraka d’Algérie—long the country’s sole provider of Islamic financial products—is finally facing some competition. However, for the period under review Al Baraka d’Algérie’s performance more than merits an award. In the first half of 2008, the last figures available, net income increased by 102%, shareholders’ equity by 50% and assets by 37% as the bank embarked on a major program of bank openings. Gross operating income rose 47% while expenses fell 17%—improving the operating-expenses-to-operating-income ratio from 41% in the first half of 2007 to 23% in the first half of 2008.
Bahrain Islamic Bank
Bahrain Islamic Bank (BIsB) was established in 1979 as the first Islamic commercial bank in Bahrain and has 12 local branches—the largest network of branches among Islamic banks—offering shariah banking services, financing and investments for individual and corporate customers. BIsB continued to achieve strong financial results in 2008: Its net income rose despite increased provisions against contingences arising from the economic environment. Total income increased by 50% on the previous year, and the bank was able to distribute increased dividends—the fifth consecutive year in which cash dividends and bonus shares have been paid out.
Islami Bank Bangladesh
Bangladesh is one of the largest Muslim countries in the world, and Islami Bank Bangladesh, which was established in 1983—the first bank of its kind in the region—has developed a full range of savings and financing products. The bank is continuing to expand rapidly and recently announced plans to open 15 new branches and 10 new service centers soon, bringing its total to 211 branches and 20 service centers. All branches are now linked online. This expansion is being driven by continuing strong performance: Deposits in the year to the end of March 2009 increased 19% while total investments were 15% higher.
Bank Islam Brunei Darussalam
The merger in 2006 of Islamic Bank of Brunei and the Islamic Development Bank of Brunei to form Bank Islam Brunei Darussalam created an Islamic banking giant with 14 branches and around 200 ATMs. One of the bank’s many achievements is the development of an electronic fuel card for both government employees and the public. The bank has also had roles in a number of prominent sukuk and has introduced home purchase loans for retail investors. In December 2007 Bank Islam Brunei Darussalam launched an innovative Islamic structured product that gives investors exposure to international stocks while providing them with principal protection and returns that are compliant with Islamic law.
Faisal Islamic Bank of Egypt
Faisal Islamic Bank of Egypt was the first Egyptian Islamic bank when it opened in 1979. The bank enjoyed a successful 2008, with an increase in operating profits and further growth in total assets. It retains its position as the leading Islamic bank in Egypt, providing a wide range of products and services to both retail and corporate customers. Faisal Islamic Bank of Egypt is 40% owned by Dar Al-Maal Al-Islami Trust—owners of banking and insurance groups throughout the GCC and Islamic world—and strengthened its capital base with a rights issue at the end of 2008.
With around 150 million Muslims—the largest population of any non-Islamic country—the potential for Islamic banking in India is huge. However, to date the country’s banks have been unable to take advantage of this potential market. While the Reserve Bank of India (the country’s central bank) and the government have issued numerous reports on whether to allow Islamic banking in recent years, there are hopes that approval will be given later this year. Until then, Kotak Mahindra, one of India’s largest financial groups, remains at the forefront of Islamic financial products in India with its shariah-compliant offshore funds, which allow Islamic investors to access the Indian stock market.
Bank Muamalat Indonesia
As the world’s most populous Muslim country, Indonesia has enormous potential for Islamic banking. The country is generally under-banked by conventional banks, and the central bank is actively pushing the development of Islamic banking to take its share of the market from 2% currently to 5% by 2010. While a number of conventional banks have recently converted to become Islamic banks, in the period under review Bank Muamalat Indonesia stands out for its performance. The bank’s unaudited financial statement for 2008 shows a return on equity of an impressive 40% while assets grew by 20%. At the same time, Muamalat has broadened its service coverage: In 2008 it opened 37 new branches in Indonesia and Malaysia and also added to its network of online payment points in 3,600 post offices all over Indonesia.
Jordan Islamic Bank
As part of Bahrain’s Albaraka Banking Group, Jordan Islamic Bank has an Islamic banking pedigree. However, having been in business since 1978, the bank has a well-deserved track record of its own and has been instrumental in bringing new Islamic banking services to Jordan. Its success was evident in the financial year 2008: Net profit after fees and taxes grew 52.8% compared to 2007. Deposits grew by 14.2% while total assets were 15.7% higher in 2008 than a year earlier. Impressively, earnings per share after tax grew 52.8% while after-tax return on properties—a crucial part of the asset base of Islamic banks—reached 23.87%.
Al Hilal Bank
Al Hilal Bank may have only been established in June 2008, but its backing gives it an ideal foundation for success. As a fully owned banking subsidiary of the Abu Dhabi Investment Council—and a joint venture with the Kazakhstan government—Al Hilal has access to the best Islamic banking knowledge. While BTA Bank, which recently defaulted on its debt, offers some Islamic banking services, it remains a conventional bank, dissuading many Muslims from considering Islamic banking. In contrast, Al Hilal will be the first fully Islamic bank in Kazakhstan.
Kuwait Finance House
Kuwait Finance House dominates Kuwait’s banking market. In the past five years customer deposits have grown by 200% while assets have grown by 270% over the same period to $39.78 billion in 2008. As well as having a comprehensive range of deposit options, KFW has been an innovative force in shariah-compliant credit cards, which charge no interest. Most recently, KFW has introduced its Tayseer chip card—the first Islamic credit card with a security chip. The result has been impressive growth: Credit card sales volume has increased around three-fold in the past five years.
Arab Finance House
Although only founded in 2003, Arab Finance House—which includes a commercial bank and an investment bank—has rapidly become a major player in the Islamic banking market in Lebanon. The wholly owned subsidiary of Qatar Islamic Bank was the fastest growing of Lebanon’s four Islamic banks. In 2008 its net profit grew 58% year-on-year, and its market share in the local Islamic banking sector expanded to 50%.
CIMB Islamic Bank
Long a powerhouse in investment banking in Malaysia and Southeast Asia—it is the world’s most active sukuk bank—CIMB has been strengthening its Islamic retail and consumer banking operation in recent years and now has 364 branches in Malaysia. It gained ground in 2008 with the introduction of innovative mass market products made possible by marrying its investment banking knowledge to the needs of its growing retail customer base. Among its product innovations in the past year were the “Why Wait FRIA” account, where depositors get their profits immediately after opening an account; the EcoSave-i, an environment-conscious account; and an innovative Islamic credit card based on ujrah (fees).
Having opened in 1997, Meezan Bank became Pakistan’s first Islamic bank in 2002. During the seven years of its operation as an Islamic commercial bank offering universal banking services to customers, Meezan Bank has been one of the fastest-growing banks in the history of Pakistan’s banking sector. Average growth in deposits has been 55% a year over the seven years while its branch network grew from four to 166 in 40 cities. In 2008 Meezan Bank performed strongly despite the difficult economic and political conditions that prevailed in Pakistan. Deposits grew by 29% compared to 2007 while income from the core banking business increased by 60%—maintaining Meezan Bank’s healthy trend of decreasing dependency on volatile non-banking income.
Qatar Islamic Bank
Established in 1982, Qatar Islamic Bank (QIB) has a 10% share of the local banking market and a 53.3% share of the local Islamic banking market. It operates through 24 branches—set to increase to 35 over the next four years—and has 100 ATMs spread throughout Qatar. In 2008 QIB achieved a record profit following 30.8% growth. Depositors’ shares increased by 13% while total assets were 57% higher than in 2007. At the same time, QIB’s finance portfolio rose by 60.7%, and its investment portfolio grew 38%. This strong performance partly reflects the farsighted vision of the bank and its determination to push ahead with QIB’s five-year strategic plan, which aims to expand retail and corporate banking as well as investment and finance operations in both local and international arenas.
Al Rajhi Bank
Al Rajhi Bank is by far the largest Islamic bank in what is by far the richest Islamic banking market in the world, Saudi Arabia. In its home market it has a network of over 400 branches, 100 dedicated women’s branches, 2,000 ATMs and 15,000 point-of-sale terminals installed with merchants. In the first quarter of 2009 the bank continued to grow strongly despite difficult economic conditions, with net profits 21.6% higher than a year earlier. The bank continued to develop its financial and investment resources: They grew 8.1% compared to the first quarter of 2008, and net income for investments in the first quarter was 12.5% higher. Al Rajhi Bank’s strategy of diversification of revenue sources—and bolstering of its capital in the past year—should stand it in good stead in the year to come.
Islamic Bank of Asia
One of Singapore’s largest banks, DBS, launched Islamic Bank of Asia (IB Asia) in 2007 with backing from 34 investors from the GCC. IB Asia brings to bear DBS’s strong banking capabilities in Asia and the GCC investors’ collective insight on Islamic finance and extensive Middle Eastern network. The bank focuses on commercial banking, corporate finance, capital market and wealth management services. IB Asia’s emphasis is on the provision of shariah-compliant wholesale banking services and the origination and distribution of wealth management and capital market instruments. The bank can be justly proud of its role as lead manager for Singapore’s first sukuk program—for the Monetary Authority of Singapore—in January this year. Furthermore, the bank signed more than 20 significant cross-border capital transactions, worth over half a billion dollars, in its first year of business.
Al Salam Bank
The Sudanese subsidiary of Al Salam Bank of Bahrain, which also recently began operations in Algeria, launched in 2005 in what at first glance might appear a market with limited prospects. Sudan is officially the second most politically unstable country in the world, with both a military dictatorship and an ongoing tragedy in Darfur, which has prompted the condemnation of much of the world. However, despite these challenges, the economy is growing strongly. Moreover, Sudan is one of the few countries in the world where the entire banking system is required to conform to Islamic principles. Among the products offered by Al Salam Bank in Sudan are financing for real estate and land purchases, sales and leases; advisory for the creation of shariah-compliant joint ventures; and the establishment and funding of insurance for vehicles and companies.
Part of Bahrain’s mighty Albaraka Banking Group, Albaraka Türk began operating in 1985 and listed on the Istanbul stock exchange in 2007. Albaraka Türk offers current accounts and participation accounts through its 94 branches throughout Turkey and lends to the retail and corporate market. It also offers financial leasing and project-based profit/loss participation transactions. In its most recent results, for the third quarter of 2008, the bank increased its total assets by 20.3%, its net fees and commission income by 66.3% and its net profit by an impressive 58.2% over the same period of the previous year. As important—given the instability of global banking at the current time—Albaraka Türk’s ratio of cash credit to total assets improved from 77.4% to 80.3%.
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
Dubai Islamic Bank
Established in 1975, Dubai Islamic Bank (DIB) claims to be the first Islamic bank to have incorporated the principles of Islam into all its practices. As well as being a major player in international Islamic investment banking, DIB dominates the UAE retail market. It added six new branches in 2008 to reach a total of 54, and it has one of the largest ATM networks in the UAE, with 282 ATMs and 86 check/cash deposit modules installed by the end of 2008. DIB also has a well-deserved reputation for innovation. In 2008 its customer base grew to 750,000 on the back of unique offerings such as Al Islami auto finance, which leads the auto finance market with a market share of 25%, and Al Islami credit cards, which has an industry-leading market share of 55% of the Islamic credit card market in the UAE. Similarly, Al Islami personal finance is the clear leader in its sector, with a market share of over 60%.
Islamic Bank of Britain
While a number of the UK’s largest banks now offer Islamic banking products, Islamic Bank of Britain (IBB) was the first wholly shariah-compliant retail bank to open in the UK—indeed in any Western country. Launched in 2004, IBB remains the only Islamic retail bank in the UK, though there are now five Islamic investment banks in the country. While IBB was unprofitable in 2008—the initial set-up costs for a retail operation are vast and take years to overcome—it reduced its loss for the year by 15% while customer numbers increased by 10% and deposits rose 15%. The bank has been active in customer financing, which increased by 48%, and product development, where it launched a home-purchase plan and new deposit and savings accounts.
American Finance House Lariba
Established in 1987, American Finance House Lariba is the oldest community-owned, riba-free (interest-free) and shariah-compliant finance company in the US. The bank offers home loans (backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac), auto, business and trade financing (and refinancing) based on a strict interpretation of the shariah-compliant, riba-free model. While American Finance House Lariba’s business has come under pressure as the economic crisis has hit America—most obviously, in the housing finance market—its underlying business remains strong, and the demand for Islamic finance products among the faithful in the US shows no sign of diminishing.