Asia

#Indonesia’s national Islamic economy committee budget slashed, plans suspended as gov't focuses on COVID-19

Indonesia’s National Sharia Economy and Finance Committee (KNEKS) will suspend non-urgent programs this year after its budget was slashed by a third as the government allocates resources to fight COVID-19. The committee will conduct a series of webinars focused on the impact of COVID-19 on the Islamic economy. KNEKS will also engage Indonesians to participate more in Islamic social finance by promoting Shariah-compliant fintechs such as LinkAja Syariah. Indonesia’s government has set aside 405.1 trillion rupiah ($24.65 billion) out of the state budget as a support and stimulus package to help the economy. It has re-allocated and re-focused 95.5 trillion rupiah from ministries and other government institutions as part of efforts to fund the package.

RM100b corporate bonds, #sukuk issuances to be expected

The Securities Commission Malaysia (SC) is expecting up to RM100 billion worth of corporate bonds and sukuk issuance this year. The regulator said the Covid-19 outbreak and the resultant disruption on businesses have affected fundraising activities. Thus any non-payment of profit arising from the current challenging operating landscape is very likely due to credit rather than Shariah issues and would therefore be dealt with from a credit perspective. SC deputy CEO Datuk Zainal Izlan Zainal Abidin said that Malaysia continues to maintain its leadership in the Islamic capital markets (ICMs). The SC noted that ICM represented 63.57% of Malaysia’s capital market, with market size of RM2.04 trillion as of December 2019, an 8.23% growth over 2018. The SC added that the Islamic fund management industry also witnessed new and innovative investment product offerings. These include Islamic exchange-traded funds based on gold, SRI Islamic funds, as well as social and green sukuk.

#Malaysia’s BIMB Investment launches Shariah-ESG robo-advisor

BIMB Investment launched a robo-intelligence investing platform focused on sustainable and Shariah-ESG assets. BEST Invest will give investors access to a suite of BIMB Investment’s Shariah-ESG unit trust funds across asset classes including global equities, Asia Pacific equities, sukuk, and money market. BIMB Investment became an official signatory of the United Nations-supported Principles for Responsible Investment (UNPRI) in July last year. At the time, the company’s CEO said it had integrated more than 250 ESG metrics in its investment process since 2015. The new robo-advisor will allow users to either start investing for themselves or enable the system to identify and select the best investment methods. Investments start at 10 ringgit with a zero sales charge.

COVID-19: Indonesian banks face challenging time but hopes remain

The spread of COVID-19 is expected to hit Indonesian banks’ performance this year, but analysts remain hopeful that the industry will still be resilient. The Financial Services Authority (OJK) recorded gross non-performing loan (NPL) ratio at 2.79% in February, the highest level since May last year. Loan growth, meanwhile, stood at 5.93% in the month, reflecting the lowest expansion since November 2009, as demand plunged. The rise in bad loan ratio is also expected to increase pressure on banks’ profitability, even on Indonesian banks, which are considered to be some of the most profitable in the world. Although Moody’s expects bank profitability to decrease, vice president Alka Anbarasu also said Indonesian banks could still survive during the challenging climate as they could absorb the increase in credit costs.

Time to mobilise #zakat, retail #sukuk for Indonesia’s COVID-hit MSMEs – KNEKS official

An official of Indonesia’s National Committee for Islamic Economy and Finance (KNEKS) says that Islamic finance instruments and domestic retail sukuk are more sustainable financial support alternatives for COVID-hit MSMEs than loans from multilaterals. Indonesia’s government last week announced a 405.1 trillion rupiah ($24.65 billion) financial package to support households and businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The potential of zakat in Indonesia is valued at around 286 trillion rupiah a year, according to the national zakat body BAZNAS. But actual collection is a far cry, at around only 9.5 trillion rupiah ($577.3 million) in 2019. On the possibility of a domestic retail sukuk, there are ongoing discussions on the instrument’s structure and mechanisms.

Islamic investments a more stable choice in uncertain times

According to Malaysian Principal Islamic Asset Management CEO Datuk Syed Mashafuddin Syed Badarudin, Islamic investments are less volatile than their conventional counterparts and may be a better choice for investors during times of uncertainty. He notes that the increased uncertainty from the coronavirus outbreak has led to financial market volatility not seen since the last global financial crisis. Asean countries, including Malaysia, have already cut policy rates in response to the turmoil. Based on real interest rates in the region, there is more room for rate cuts and this bodes well for bond prices. Badarudin expects that market conditions will continue to be volatile until some stability is seen regarding the virus situation. He expects Principal Islamic to increase its asset size this year despite the more challenging economy.

Maybank Islamic’s new Dubai branch sets out to attract Gulf investors to Southeast Asia

Maybank Islamic’s move into branch banking in the Middle East aims to attract Gulf investors to Southeast Asia. The Malaysian bank opened its first overseas branch at Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) in February. Maybank Islamic deputy CEO Nor Shahrizan Sulaiman said the new Dubai branch would serve as a the bank’s gateway not just to the UAE but to the wider GCC. The bank pursues further growth in Singapore and Indonesia, which it sees as home markets outside of Malaysia. The international business expansion is not new, as it has always been one of the focus areas of Maybank Islamic from early on. Maybank Islamic was granted a full Islamic banking licence from the Dubai Financial Services Authority last July, allowing it to open the DIFC branch. It replaces Maybank Islamic’s office in Bahrain, which has closed down.

Crowdfunding with Music Securities: A New Approach to Impact Investing

Impact investing activity in Asia has grown quickly, but it will be a challenge to maintain the pace of scaling due to the complex and widely heterogeneous landscape of the region. Crowdfunding has been identified as a potential solution to match the demands and risk appetite of investors to the needs of operators. A case study on Music Securities is used to highlight the key benefits and risks of such an impact investing model. Formulating appropriate and efficient policies and increasing awareness among investors will also be crucial in promoting impact investing activity.

Etiqa gives RM1mil to buy ventilators

Etiqa is contributing RM1mil for the purchase of ventilators through Mercy Malaysia’s Pandemic Fund to support strategic preparedness and response plan to the Covid-19 virus. This initiative will also help ensure all communities are well prepared, especially those with the weakest health systems. With the number of people infected with Covid-19 increasing in Malaysia, the number of ventilators available at designated hospitals will be insufficient to deal with the number of critical cases. Etiqa Insurance & Takaful Group CEO Kamaludin Ahmad feels obligated to help the country battle Covid-19 and hopes that this contribution will mean that no patient will have to be denied lifesaving care due to ventilator shortage.

Covid-19 fund amassed RM8.1m in donations

THE Covid-19 fund, launched by Malaysian Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin on March 11, received a RM5 million contribution yesterday. The donations came from Spanco Sdn (RM2 million), followed by DRB-Hicom, MMC Corp and YTL Corp who contributed RM1 million each. Property developer Titijaya Land has contributed 520,000 face masks for frontliners. With the above donations, the fund has amassed a total of RM8.13 million in contributions. The government has launched the Covid-19 fund to help affected Malaysians. Similarly, the Malaysian Department of Islamic Development has also launched another fund to help the Muslim communities affected by the outbreak. Separately, some Malaysians are criticising the setting up of funds and are calling on ministers to take pay cuts instead.

#Sukuk issuance stalls on subdued economy

Sukuk issuance could potentially take a hit this year, dragged by subdued economic growth. In 2018, when Malaysia’s GDP growth slowed to 4.7%, sukuk issuances fell by 2.6%. In 2019, when real GDP growth moderated further to 4.3%, sukuk issuances slipped by 2.3%. However, the current low interest-rate environment will prevent sukuk issuances from falling too significantly this year. According to Malaysia Rating Corp (MARC) chief economist Nor Zahidi Alias, the downside risk remains especially if the Covid-19 outbreak continues to be unmanageable and lockdown periods across global economies continue. Policymakers globally are using fiscal and monetary tools to soften the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak. The US Federal Reserve’s move to lower its benchmark to a near-zero rate prompted central banks across many sukuk active markets to cut their interest rates.

Islamic Fintech Startups On The Rise In Southeast Asia

Islamic fintech firms in the Southeast Asian region are providing digital services with wide appeal. The services—especially peer-to-peer financing and crowdfunding—can easily be used by the world’s 1.9 billion Muslims, and the tech-savvy firms are able to compete well with conventional Islamic banks. For example, Alami has a sharia-compliant P2P service to link funders with small and medium-sized businesses in Indonesia. So far, the company has steered P2P funding into over 30 businesses and is recruiting for expansion. Ethis operates a variety of sharia-compliant crowdfunding platforms. Its Indonesian housing venture has built over 8,000 low-cost homes with investments from 65 countries, and a new Ethis platform now provides crowdfunding for real estate projects in Dubai. Two other promising firms are Investree, a P2P marketplace for a range of business financing needs, and Ammana, with similar services.

Islamic fintech shows how inclusivity makes good business sense

Customers across the world are quickly taking to new mobile-based payment technologies; contactless and e-wallets taking the lead over cold, hard cash. But not every nation is moving quite as fast. In Indonesia there are some concerns about whether the adoption of digital payments and other fintech services are compliant with Islamic laws. Recently, the top Muslim clerical body in Indonesia has issued an edict deeming virtual money acceptable, as long as it meets specific conditions. GoPay has already partnered with the Indonesian Mosque Council to enable digital donations, including the practice of almsgiving, zakat. Islamic fintech is a good example of the business benefits of fostering inclusivity and acceptance among local markets. Inclusivity is not only the right thing to do, but it makes good business sense as well. Out of Indonesia’s 270 million population, half lack bank accounts but have mobile phones. As cash continues to become obsolete, Islamic fintech members will surely profit.

Shariah gold ETF rises as safe havens in demand

Malaysian Affin Hwang Investment Bank expects gold prices to average higher in 2020, helped by sustained accommodative monetary policies among major central banks. Using the TradePlus Shariah Gold Tracker exchange-traded fund (ETF) as an avenue to invest in the precious metal, Affin Hwang believes the ETF’s fair value is RM2.30. In 2019, the price of gold surged by 18.9% year-on-year (YoY) to US$1,523.1/oz compared to a decline of 2.1% in 2018 to US$1,309.3/oz. In the near term, Affin Hwang Capital believes concerns over the recent Covid-19 outbreak will likely continue to drive safe-haven flows into gold. Due to geopolitical concerns and low-interest rates, the World Gold Council noted that holdings in gold-backed ETFs hit an all-time high of 2,885.5 tonnes in 4Q19 compared to 2,858.8 tonnes in 3Q19 mainly from North American and European-listed funds.

"Sharia fintech": Startups race to tap #Indonesia growth by aligning with Islam

Winning over conservative Muslims is both a challenge and multi-billion dollar opportunity for fintech firms in Indonesia. Questions about compliance with Islamic law are a significant hurdle for the adoption of digital payments and other fintech services. Indonesia's top Muslim clerical body has issued an edict deeming virtual money acceptable, as long it met specific conditions. To showcase the compliance of their services with Islam, fintech firms are organising forums with Islamic scholars and sponsoring religious festivals. GoPay has partnered with the Indonesian Mosque Council to enable digital donations, including zakat, or compulsory alms giving, in its 800,000 mosques. Some of the startups say they are finding their appeal extends beyond Muslims. One of them is peer-to-peer lender Alami, which has disbursed over $7.5 million in sharia-compliant financing to small and medium enterprises since May.

Digital platform to drive takaful demand

Malaysia has firmly established itself as an Islamic hub in the world through leadership and innovative product offerings. As such, the creation of an Islamic finance-enabling ecosystem is the key driver of the Malaysian takaful industry’s growth. The takaful sector continues to enjoy faster growth than the conventional insurance sector. Family and general takaful premiums rose by 29.6% and 16.4% respectively in the first half of 2019 (1H19), compared to 12.2% in conventional life and -1.3% in general insurance. However, surverys show that almost half of the Malaysian population does not have protection due to a lack of awareness. According to Fitch Ratings, takaful operators should rethink the way these products are positioned to entice a larger crowd looking for general protection through the use of digital applications.

StanChart betting big on Shariah-based banking

Standard Chartered is bullish about the fortunes of its Islamic banking business in Bangladesh, Saadiq. The global lender introduced Islamic banking in Bangladesh 15 years ago and has been a trendsetter since. It was the first to introduce Islamic credit card in Bangladesh in 2007 and arrange Sukuk transaction in 2019. The bank has introduced a product, Saadiq Hajj Savers, to provide its customers a one-stop solution for Hajj and Umrah. This account will enable customers to deposit a fixed amount every month and earn profit on their monthly average balance at an attractive rate. Saadiq has another savings product in the works: the Saadiq Graduate account targeting fresh university leavers.

#Bangladesh's Islamic finance industry keeps booming with no slowdown in sight

The central bank of Bangladesh approved applications from two domestic banks, Standard Bank and NRB Global Bank, to become fully Islamic banks. The two banks so far only operated Islamic windows but sought to convert to fully-fledged Shariah-compliant banks to enlarge their scope of product offerings. NRB Global Bank said it plans to change its name to Global Islami Bank to underscore its new role. The move brings the number of fully-fledged Islamic banks in Bangladesh to ten, with the others being Al-Arafah Islami Bank, Islami Bank Bangladesh, Exim Bank, Social Islami Bank, Shahjalal Islami Bank, Union Bank, First Security Islami Bank and ICB Islamic Bank. Analysts note that the industry has still high potential for further expansion as Bangladesh enjoys a vibrant economy with GDP per capita having more than tripled over the past decade.

Maybank Islamic establishes regional footprint with Dubai branch

Maybank Islamic has officially opened its first overseas branch in Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC). It offers wholesale banking services and facilities, with emphasis in corporate financing, treasury, and capital market and trade finance. According to Maybank Islamic’s CEO Datuk Mohamad Rafique Marican, the DIFC branch was a significant milestone for Maybank Islamic, as it not only marks its first overseas branch but also Malaysia’s first Islamic bank to have a presence outside local shores. The regional office is headed by its country manager Nik Joharris Nik Ahmad, who has over 20 years experience having worked in Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Maybank Islamic offers a range of Islamic financial products and services across 354 Maybank touch points in Malaysia, as well as international operations in Indonesia, Singapore, Hong Kong, London, Labuan, and Dubai.

Indonesian Islamic P2P lender Ammana Fintek Syariah eyes international expansion starting with #Malaysia

Indonesian Islamic peer-to-peer lender Ammana Fintek Syariah is keen on entering international markets and is starting its expansion with neighbouring Malaysia. Ammana is also eyeing Brunei and Dubai as part of its international expansion. The Shariah-compliant fintech is in the process of applying to become a member of the international Islamic finance standards body the Accounting and Auditing Organisation for Islamic Financial Institutions (AAOIFI). Ammana Fintek Syariah was established in July 2017 and disbursed 17.6 billion rupiah ($1.29 million) in financing in 2019.

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