A cooperation agreement between the bourses of Malaysia and Saudi Arabia ? the world’s two largest?Islamic financial services?markets ? stands to help the industry grow at a greater clip in both countries.

unnamed (2)The?deal, signed on February 20, will see the exchanges in?Kuala Lumpur?and Riyadh share expertise and develop?human resources?jointly. It covers topics such as equities,?mutual fundsand sukuk (Islamic bonds), and comes after an agreement between Malaysia’s central bank and the UAE in October on bolstering economic ties, including in the arena of IFS.

Combined, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia hold $682bn in Islamic banking?assets, according to Reuters. The Saudi exchange, Tadawul, lists the world?s biggest Islamic banks, while?Bursa Malaysia?hosts the largest and most liquid market for sukuk.

 

Expanding its draw

 

The Malaysian?market?in particular is set to expand this year thanks to greater international interest, according to ratings agency Standard & Poor?s (S&P). “Malaysia already benefits from a broad sukuk?investor?base and liquid?debt market. So the increased interest from issuers ? notably in the Middle East and Asia ? in tapping the Malaysian ringgit and dollar market should in our view continue over the next few years as Malaysia cements its leading position in the industry,” S&P wrote on February 4.

Major?international investors, too, are extending Malaysia?s clout in IFS. AIG, the US-basedinsurance company, revealed in early February that by June it plans to start a sharia-compliant reinsurance?business in Malaysia?? a country that accounted for 11% of the $20bn global takaful (Islamic insurance) market in 2013, according to a February 13 report from the Malaysia International Islamic Financial Centre

Also in February, Libya’s ambassador to Malaysia, Anwar A Y Elfeitori, said his country was seeking more cooperation with Malaysia to assist in the development of its Islamic banking sector.

As a result of such?global positioning, the IFS market has the potential to provide a significant boost to the economy, particularly in talent and employment, Adnan Alias, CEO of the IslamicBanking and Finance?Institute Malaysia, told the local media recently.

“Malaysia has the right landscape and?regulatory framework?to further spur the development of talent in Islamic finance,? he said, adding that the IFS workforce was expected to grow from 144,000 to 200,000 in the next eight years. He noted the contribution of IFS to GDP was set to be around 10-12% in 2020, compared with the latest figure of 8.6% in 2010.

 

Steps toward further growth

 

While Malaysia has had a significant?degree?of success in the international IFS market ? the Kuala Lumpur-based IFS Board, for example, is one of two global standards-setting bodies ? the South-east Asian country faces increasing competition. Potential competitors include Dubai, which in recent months has signalled its intentions to establish the emirate as a centre for IFS.

According to some observers, Malaysia could be doing more to ensure continued growth in the IFS market. Islamic banking and finance could account for 50% of the?financial sector?if domestic banks like Maybank and CIMB Group give “a big push” to their IFS strategies, Humayon Dar, visiting professor of Islamic Finance at the Academy for Contemporary Islamic Studies, Universiti Teknologi MARA, wrote in an op-ed published by Malaysian Reserve on February 24.

Humayon said this would involve ?Islamising? businesses by making more procedures sharia-compliant. “This is perhaps the time for the government to consider converting Cagamas [the Malaysian national mortgage?company] into a fully-fledged Islamic financial institution, as almost 50% of its business is already sharia-compliant,” he added.

Others say the local IFS sector could receive a boost if Malaysia were to adopt sharia-compliant laws. Speaking in February at a conference on Islamic banking and finance law in Kuala Lumpur, former chief justice Tun Abdul Hamid Mohamad pointed out that many countries have set up regulatory frameworks to facilitate the development of Islamic finance products such as sukuk, but none has drafted sharia-compliant laws that could be used to settle the disputes that arise from their use. This could provide an edge for Malaysia, which is already viewed as a ?model Islamic country?, he said.

As the global market grows ? Islamic financial assets are currently valued at $1.3trn and S&P expects the industry to grow 20% annually from 2011 to 2015 ? Malaysia is in pole position to capitalise on its early entry into the sector. While linking up with Gulf countries will help spread and develop Malaysian expertise on Islamic finance, new competitors in the sector continue to arise. This means that Kuala Lumpur must strive for the innovation that will keep its IFS sector ahead of developing trends.

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