Countries gain or lose economic competitiveness not by one or two major decisions, but by the steady drip feed of political decisions that either enhance or weaken their competitiveness. While Islamic finance is only a small part of the financial scene in the UK, the way that the UK government has facilitated its grown illustrates the above point very well. Competitiveness is rarely lost by a single dramatic mistake. Similarly, success in increasing competitiveness is often achieved by having a large number of “micro-policies” affecting particular parts of the economy. Promoting Islamic finance as the government has done is clearly in the best interests of the economy and therefore of all British citizens and taxpayers.
The IREF Summit 2014 will be taking place on the 16th-17th December 2014 in London. The theme 'Real Estate - The Asset Class of 2014 & Beyond: Sustainability & Innovation in an Ever-Changing Global Real Estate Market', is gathering speakers from the UK, Middle East & Asia. The session themes are focused and aimed at providing a platform to discourse the pertinent current themes and trends marking the sector, with a particular emphasis on the Islamic real estate finance market segment. On the evening of the first day of the IREF Summit, ICG will once again host the 2014 IREF ME Gala Dinner Awards Ceremony. For further information on the Summit, how to nominate and attend the Gala Dinner Awards Ceremony, please visit www.irefsummit.co.uk or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Islamic Bank of Britain (IBB) has announced the promotion of Matthew Glover to the newly created positon of Head of IT & Change. Mr Glover's remit is to manage the Bank's transformation programme as it enters a period of expansion. His is the third senior appointment this year, including Keith Leach as Chief Commercial Office and the confirmation of Sultan Choudhury as Chief Executive Officer. All three appointments have followed the Bank's acquisition, in early 2014, by Masraf Al Rayan (QSC). Since then, IBB's new parent has invested £100milion of capital to support the Bank's ambitious growth targets. IBB also recently announced that subject to formal shareholder approval, it will be changing its name from Islamic Bank of Britain to Al Rayan Bank, in December 2015.
GFH Capital has signed an agreement to sell a $25 million prime property in one of London's most prestigious postcodes. The investment firm said it has sold the Queen’s Gate Gardens property that it had acquired last year. The property is a Grade II listed building located in the prime Kensington area of London overlooking the gardens. According to the terms of the agreement, the buyer has paid an initial deposit with a target to complete the transaction in six weeks, subject to receiving relevant approvals. GFH Capital said investors in the deal can expect to make a return that can reach 21 percent return per annum. The deal is expected to positively reflect in the Q4 financial results of GFH.
The scope of Britain's Islamic finance market is widening with several initiatives from the government and private sector, although the country is about to lose European Islamic Investment Bank, one of its six full-fledged Islamic banks. Last week a government official said the central bank would look into developing a liquidity management tool for use by Islamic banks, while Britain's export credit agency expects to guarantee sukuk for the first time next year, an issue by a customer of European plane maker Airbus. Taken together, the new official initiatives seem likely to create a more benign environment for Islamic finance, allowing banks to operate more flexibly and efficiently, and therefore more cheaply.
Mohammed Amin is Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum. He says that one particularly successful UK micro-policy is the country’s approach to Islamic finance. Gordon Brown and Ed Balls deserve credit for promoting Islamic finance and changes to UK tax law to facilitate it. Sadly, their efforts eventually ran out of steam in 2008, due to the combined effects of the global financial crisis and excessively frequent changes in the ministerial responsibility for the subject. Promoting Islamic finance as the government has done is clearly in the best interests of the economy and therefore of all British citizens and taxpayers. However, it is also good politics, since it should increase the Conservative party’s appeal to Muslim voters.
Islamic Bank of Britain (IBB) plans to change its name to Al Rayan Bank PLC, subject to formal shareholder approval. The change will be completed in December 2014. The rebrand follows IBB's acquisition, earlier in the year, by Qatar-based Masraf Al Rayan (MAR). Rebranding activity will involve the introduction of a new Al Rayan Bank logo and brand identity. It will continue to operate as a UK regulated bank, and customers' deposits will remain protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. With an increased focus on corporate and real estate finance, Al Rayan Bank will develop its presence in London. Its retail banking and operational head quarters will remain in Birmingham.
The synergy between the Islamic Bank of Britain (IBB) and its parent company Masraf Al Rayan will soon be reflected in the British bank’s name. Customers were informed last week that the new name for IBB to be adopted towards the end of the year will be Al Rayan Bank. Sultan Choudhury, chief executive officer of IBB, emphasised in the letter he sent out last week informing customers about the name change that the bank remains British regulated with a British board. The bank has invested heavily in its internet banking capability which has opened up its services to a much broader customer base. Its latest data also shows a big surge in non-Muslim customers.
Baraka Khan, a 23-year-old Cambridge University student, has launched a project to build Europe’s first ecologically friendly mosque in the British city of Cambridge. The Cambridge Mosque, which will hold 1,000 worshipers, will be almost entirely reliant on green energy, with an almost-zero carbon footprint. The mosque building will be naturally lit all year round using large skylights integrated into the building’s design, and it will boast a green roof as well as an air-source heat pump for regulating temperature. The man who will design the building is award-winning architect Marks Barfield, who is also responsible for the iconic London Eye. He says he is aiming to merge traditional Islamic architectural motifs with those of the European Gothic style in order to bring the two cultures together.
Islamic Bank of Britain plc (IBB), has appointed Keith Leach to the newly created position of Chief Commercial Officer (CCO). Mr Leach’s remit is to grow IBB’s corporate and real estate business, focussing on higher value transactions. His appointment follows the Bank’s acquisition by Masraf Al Rayan (QSC) earlier in the year. A £75.8 million cash injection from IBB’s new parent company, provided in February 2014, will support its expansion plans. Appointed to the position from his role at the Arab Banking Corporation (ABC), Mr Leach has over 30 years of banking experience with Lloyds, Ahli United and ABC, 20 years of which has been spent in the UK Islamic finance industry.
Islamic debt could become a source of funding for U.K. infrastructure projects from wind turbines to high-speed trains and airports as Britain cements its position as the first sukuk market in a non-Muslim nation. Investors see scope for the U.K. to issue Shariah-compliant bonds with varying maturities after the Debt Management Office attracted bids for more than 10 times the 200 million pounds ($331 million) of securities offered at its debut sale in June. There is investor appetite for more sales that could help fund almost 400 billion pounds of planned infrastructure projects. The U.K. government envisages 377 billion pounds of infrastructure projects in the coming years, with most of it financed privately or part-privately. Major projects include a high-speed railway link between London and Birmingham and wind turbines.
Bank of London and The Middle East (BLME), Britain’s largest stand-alone Islamic bank, aims to pay its first dividend in early 2016 as the lender diversifies its revenue and funding streams. Founded in 2006 by Kuwait’s Boubyan Bank, BLME has not paid a dividend, but its net distributable reserves are expected to reach a sufficient level in 2015, chief executive Humphrey Percy said. BLME, which provides corporate banking and wealth management services, posted a net profit of £4m ($6.6m) in the first half of 2014, up from £1m during the same period last year. This was aided by diversification of revenue streams, with the corporate banking division seeing its total operating income grow 32.5 percent from a year earlier.
Europe is the preferred target of Arab investors with 80% of the expected $180bn Arab investment flowing in to UK and Europe over the next 10 years. In the UK, London is the preferred destination. Arabs have invested heavily in European commercial real estate in recent years and have made huge profits from these investments. Some of the cash-rich Arab countries are unwilling to invest in the region because of the protracted social and political tensions in the region and see European market as safe havens to park their money. According to the latest report by global property advisor CBRE, Middle Eastern investors are expected to spend $180bn in commercial real estate markets outside of their own region over the next decade.
London-based Gatehouse Bank has purchased the leasehold interest in the Marriott Residence Inn ("Residence Inn"), Manhattan, New York for an undisclosed amount. The Bank, assisted by Arch Street Capital Advisors, LLC, has acquired the property in partnership with a US-based hotel operator. The Residence Inn is a 17-storey, recently redeveloped building located on 48th Street in Midtown East, Manhattan. The property features 211 guestrooms of multiple room configurations including studios, suites and a penthouse. All rooms include a fully equipped kitchen. The Residence Inn is an extended stay, select service brand of Marriott International that is among the strongest performing brands under the Marriott umbrella.
London-based Gatehouse Bank is developing new business lines and widening its investor base as the Islamic wholesale lender looks to build a more stable revenue stream. The bank remains focused on real estate in Europe and the United States but wants to expand its investor base beyond Kuwait, its traditional source of funds, while generating more deals outside the British property market. New chief executive Henry Thompson, who joined in April this year, says he wants to reduce the bank's dependence on transaction fees. This comes after fee and commission income dropped more than two-thirds during last year, partly because of lower deal activity in Britain. The bank also plans to launch an online retail deposit product in December and is considering structuring private investment funds.
Plans to levy capital gains tax on property owners who hold their homes through a company structure risk discouraging investment in the private rented sector, tax specialists and investors warn. Scott Nicol, vice-president of Gatehouse Bank, which channels Middle Eastern investors' money into UK property, said he was also worried about the proposals. Gatehouse backed Sigma Capital last year to develop 6,600 privately rented houses in a deal worth £700m. If all the homes are built, Sigma will become Britain's biggest private landlord.
From 2002 UK banks, led by Lloyds and HSBC, tried to appeal to British Muslims by offering specialised mortgage products differing in structure. The lender generally buys the property outright and leases it to the consumer, charging a rental fee in addition to taking repayments. However, the mainstream market’s foray into the sector did not go as planned and Lloyds ceased offering the products in 2010 with HSBC following suit in 2012. Sharia home purchase plans can be more expensive than standard mortgages, with the Islamic Bank of Britain charging variable rates of 3.99% and 3.59% for 20% and 35% deposits until 30 June 2016. However, the market may simply need more competition to drive rates down.
Islamic finance is a trillion-dollar industry with many financial institutions, corporations and governments keen to embrace it as a profit-making alternative to mainstream financial dealings. The book "Heaven’s Bankers: Inside the Hidden World of Islamic Finance" by Harris Irfan asks the reader to consider whether the Islamic world can bring something of benefit to the Western world, and vice versa. Irfan’s intentions might be noble, but I suspect that here in the West he faces a real struggle. The big banks and companies hit by the financial crisis are determined to recover and some are increasingly wary of Islamic banking for all kinds of reasons.
Looking back at Islamic finance in the UK over the last eight years is rather like looking at a roller coaster, with peaks of excitement and troughs of depression. On the one hand, in 2006 Gordon Brown MP, announced the ambition for Britain to be the global gateway to Islamic finance and trade. However, the excitement of these early developments was followed by a trough. The UK is already the world’s pre-eminent centre for international conventional finance. It also has a very strong position in international Islamic finance. These developments pose an important competitive challenge to Islamic finance centres such as Kuala Lumpur, Bahrain and Dubai. Each has a very strong domestic Islamic finance market, and a significant level of international reach, but lacks the overall scale and credibility of London.
The 9th Durham Islamic Finance Summer School 2014 will take place on 1st-5th September 2014 at the Durham Centre for Islamic Economics and Finance, Durham University Business School, Durham University, UK. The Durham Islamic Finance Summer School is an essential learning and training programme in the field for current and aspiring Islamic finance professionals and academics. Registration form is attached together with further information.