The insurance sector across the GCC is expected to report growth in gross premiums on continued growth in infrastructure investment and favourable regulatory changes. S&P Global Ratings analyst Emir Mujkic said gross premiums will increase in 2017 by around 30% in Kuwait, and by up to 10% in the other three markets. GDP growth will range between 1.5% for Kuwait and about 3.5% for Qatar. The Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA) is expected to support the efforts of the traffic police to ensure drivers of illegally uninsured vehicles to buy motor coverage. There are currently 2.5 million Saudi nationals working in the private sector that are not covered by their employers’ group medical schemes.During 2017, the authorities will seek to prompt private employers to provide medical cover for all their staff.
#Qatar’s QInvest has successfully launched its QInvest SQN Income Fund. It aims to pay out a net yield of 7% per annum on a monthly basis and has a targeted IRR of between 8-9%, with a tenure of 5 years. The Fund invests in the leasing and financing of business-essential, long-life, revenue producing equipment across developed markets. Industries include health care, manufacturing and agriculture. QInvest plans to launch another fund in the same series later this year. QInvest CEO Tamim Hamad Al Kawari said the new fund provides investors with concentrated portfolios with means of diversification and risk mitigation. It provides attractive returns and a regular income distribution, all within a relatively conservative investment profile.
Saif Hadef Al Shamsi, Assistant Governor at the UAE Central Bank, has said that total Islamic banking assets in the UAE have increased to approximately Dh520 billion in the past few years. Al Shamsi added that Islamic banking’ assets account for around 20% of Dh2.6 trillion of the total assets of the state’s banks. The assistant governor pointed out that UAE Islamic banking institutions account for about 7% of the total assets of Islamic banking around the world. This approximately amounts to a total of $1.5 trillion (Dh5.5 trillion). He further explained that Islamic banking deposits increased by 42% over the past three years and that lending by Islamic banks increased by 54%.
Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank dismissed reports that it may merge with Al-Hilal Bank as consolidation takes hold in the emirate’s financial-services industry. Abu Dhabi is combining National Bank of Abu Dhabi and First Gulf Bank and two sovereign wealth funds as it seeks to cut costs and merge firms with overlapping assets. The next step could be a tie-up between ADIB with Al-Hilal and a combination of Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank and Union National Bank. Tirad Mahmoud said ADIB plans to stick to its core markets and strengthen its presence. He also said that mergers were a shareholder issue and there might be 'some pressure' on net interest margins this year. ADIB posted a 1% rise in 2016 net profit to Dh1.95 billion ($530 million) on Tuesday as provisions rose to Dh970 million from Dh820 million.
Fitch Ratings said it expects sukuk issuance in 2017 to continue at the same pace like last year. Sukuk issuance in core markets rose by 26% in 2016 and maintained its share of capital markets funding despite large conventional bond issues by Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi and Qatar. New sukuk issuance with a maturity over 18 months from the core markets of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region, Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey and Pakistan rose to $40 billion in 2016 from about $32 billion a year earlier. In 2016 10 key markets issued sovereign sukuk and other sovereigns in the GCC region have indicated they could issue sukuk, or a mix, in the future. Sovereigns and supranationals are likely to remain the dominant issuers, but bank issuance may also rise in some markets, driven by issuance to meet regulatory capital requirements.
Saudi Arabia has met with banks to discuss the potential sale of Sharia-compliant bonds in the first quarter to help plug its budget deficit, according to five people familiar with the matter. The country is considering selling sukuk, or Islamic bonds, with different maturities to the five-, 10- and 30-year debt it sold in October, one of the people said, asking not to be identified as the information is private. This could include tenors of seven and 16 years, the person said. No final decisions on the size or timing have been made.
Qatari banks Masraf Al Rayan, Barwa Bank and International Bank of Qatar have begun initial talks for a potential merger. This deal would create the Gulf state's second-largest bank and it would have assets worth more than 160 billion riyals ($44 billion). If the deal goes ahead, it would be a rare example of consolidation among banks in the Gulf, which have previously been reluctant to tie up. The previously lavish state spending is now being trimmed to adjust to lower oil prices and the argument for consolidation is now more compelling. Though negotiations have begun, there is no guarantee any agreement will be reached. The proposed merger of Rayan, Barwa and IBQ depends on financial and legal due diligence, as well as securing approvals from regulatory authorities and shareholders of all three banks.
According to Noor Bank's CEO Hussain Al Qemzi, Islamic banks need to understand that they need to provide efficient and transparent services to their clients. Just being Sharia compliant cannot make a product less transparent and more expensive to access. Technology remains an important driver for innovation. Islamic banks that only look at product development and not product delivery or customer acquisition, will risk being left behind. There is a need to continue product development. Variable return products need to be developed and propagated in the market. According to Al Qemzi, it is important to refute traditional sayings that Sharia compliance limits innovation. Sharia principles reject prohibited practices but do not reject innovation. Progressive Islamic education is a key area, the Islamic banking curricula have to be developed so that they combine financial sciences with other economic sciences.
According to Abdulla Mohammed Al Awar, CEO of Dubai Islamic Economy Development Centre (DIEDC), leveraging the opportunities that Islamic banking and finance instruments represent is now more critical than ever before. DIEDC has identified a five-pronged approach to achieve this. First, Islamic economy has to be treated as one organic ecosystem that transcends borders and special interests. Second, a partnership is needed between Islamic and traditional finance to develop real projects in which both can work as stakeholders. It is also important to look for new strategic partners, not excluding countries that are experiencing internal conflicts. Such partnerships should be a true reflection of mutual interests. Islamic financial institutions have to factor in inclusive development and social impact as key priorities.
Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank Egypt announced its board of directors has appointed Fareed Farouk Al Bilbisi as acting chairman, and Zuhair Hamada Idris as acting chief executive officer of the bank. The statement comes after the death of ADIB Egypt’s chief executive officer, Nevine Lotfy, who was found murdered in her home on Tuesday. Lotfy, whose murder is currently being investigated, became managing director and CEO of ADIB Egypt in 2008.
The Accounting and Auditing Organization for Islamic Finance Institutions (AAOIFI) is developing a standard for centralized sharia boards in order to regulate finances. The new practice may change a tradition of Islamic banks appointing their own sharia boards internally. Participants of the annual AAOIFI conference criticised the lack of a universal structure that would help clarify Islamic law on finance. Experts are now looking at conflicts of interest and how they can affect the industry. Centralized sharia boards would be independent from the banks, and would thus be able to provide good guidance and arbitration. Oman and Bahrain have already established these types of sharia boards. The UAE is looking at such a measure and other countries in the Islamic regions are considering the adoption of centralized sharia boards as well.
According to rating agency Standard & Poor’s, due to the fast growth of the Islamic finance industry a robust Sharia governance structure is very important. While the Accounting and Auditing Organization for Islamic Financial Institutions (AAOIFI) and the Islamic Financial Services Board (IFSB) have already made strides in this area, S&P believes the current governance framework shows room for improvement. S&P's Global Head of Islamic Finance Mohammad Damak said the industry would benefit from increased disclosure, as well as clear standardised Sharia principles and interpretation. Analysts say as Islamic finance industry expands, enhanced Sharia governance framework could address risks related to conflicts of interest. Only a handful of Islamic banks disclose their profit and loss sharing formulas, profit equalisation reserves, or investment risk reserves. Actions requested by internal auditors are typically not disclosed to the public. So far only the authorities in Oman and Pakistan have asked Islamic banks to submit themselves to an external Sharia audit.
According to Finance Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf, Saudi Arabia may follow its first international debt issuance with an Islamic bond sale. The size of future borrowing hasn’t been determined, but it will not be limited to bonds. Assaf said that part of it will be by the way of sukuk, but he didn’t specify whether the sukuk sale would be local or global. Saudi Arabia raised $17.5 billion this month in the biggest-ever foreign bond from an emerging-market nation. The kingdom is seeking to finance a budget deficit that ballooned to about 15 per cent of economic output last year.
The UNEP Finance Initiative Global Roundtable 2016 was held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Dubai. The panel of Islamic bankers and investors highlighted that the heart of sustainability lies in ethical business practices such as those espoused by Islamic financing. The experts mentioned that most Islamic institutions were under increasing pressure to integrate environmental impact and sustainability into their decision-making process. CEO of Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank, Tirad Al Mahmoud, said ethics themselves were the answer to everything. He added that financial regulators often failed to properly apply incentives and disincentives, and suggested ethical investments could be rewarded by discounts on capital. Panellist Nida Raza, Director of Advisory Services at the Islamic Centre for Development of the Private Sector, said she believed Islamic finance bodies must become more inclusive.
Gulf Finance House (GFH) said the negotiations are underway for acquisition of Bank Alkhair of Bahrain. The due deligence is continuing and formalities are yet to be completed. In a separate statement, GFH said that its unit has won a case against its former deputy chief executive. The verdict issued in favour of GFH’s unit is for circa $5 million (Dh18.4 million). Earlier in the month, the GFH board has approved the proposed settlement with assets of an estimated $350-450 million, subject to counterparties’ fulfillment of their obligations. The company said the estimated value of the assets is preliminary and subject to regulatory approvals and will have a positive impact on GFH’s financials for the fourth quarter of 2016.
Mumtalakat, Bahrain’s sovereign wealth fund, is planning to invest heavily in the country’s real estate sector in the coming years. According to CEO Mahmood H Al Kooheji, new hotels, shopping malls and spas will be constructed to boost tourism and the the total investment in the projects will be about $500 million (Dh1.84 billion) over the next five years. The new projects are being planned despite low oil price environment in the Gulf region that has impacted the revenue of the government. On profits of the company this year, Al Kooheji said he expects to cross $100 million. The company is now looking for investments in Saudi Arabia, but also for new markets in the Far East, the US and Europe.
Emirates Islamic Bank has approved a new plan to double its share capital to Dh10 billion from the earlier Dh5 billion. The shareholders also approved a plan to issue and allot Dh1.5 billion at the nominal value of Dh1 each. The bank has also approved the change of the memorandum and articles of association to reflect changes in the share capital.
Gulf Finance House (GFH) has approved the proposed settlement with assets of an estimated $350-450 million, subject to counterparties' fulfillment of their obligations. The company said the estimated value of the assets is preliminary and subject to regulatory approvals before being recorded in GFH’s financial statements. The recoveries after realisation will have a positive impact on GFH’s financials for the fourth quarter of 2016. GFH shares, which have outperformed the Dubai index, were up nearly 1 per cent to be at Dh1.14.
External Sharia audits are gaining support in Islamic finance as consumers and regulators seek more transparency and accountability. Pressure for more external oversight has been building in several countries that have major Islamic finance industries, and this year Bahrain’s central bank proposed new governance rules that would require Islamic banks there to conduct external Sharia audits. The study, published by the Malaysia-based International Sharia Research Academy for Islamic Finance and Britain’s UK Islamic Finance Council (UKIFC), said external Sharia audits should become mandatory globally. Omar Shaikh, advisory board member of the UKIFC, said external Sharia audit would play an important role towards providing reassurance to scholars, financial institutions and customers. The study suggested that to help national regulators introduce external Sharia audits, the scope of the audits should be made clear, results should be publicly disclosed and there should be conflict resolution mechanisms.
The 'Innovation 4 Impact' Competition took centre stage at the 2016 Global Islamic Economy Summit (GIES 2016) as one of the Summit’s special programs. The competition is organised by Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority (DSOA), and the Dubai Islamic Economy Development Centre (DIEDC), in strategic partnership with Thomson Reuters. Five distinguished finalists from around the world presented a five-minute pitch towards supporting Islamic digital economy, followed by a seven-minute Q&A from a panel of expert judges. The winner, selected through the votes of the jury and the audience, is announced on October 12. The five finalists are: Alem Health, represented by Aschkan Abdul Malek from Singapore; Divine Connect, represented by Mohamed Pazhoor from USA; iGrow, represented by Muhaimin Iqbal from Indonesia; Intuition Intelligence Inc., represented Arif Ansari from USA and Kwn Education, represented by Hala AlTurki from UAE.