There is potential for Islamic finance resilience in post-Covid era

Islamic Bank

With a total market value of $2.7 trillion, the global Islamic finance industry is sizeable, catering for the needs of around a quarter of the world’s population.

Photo credit: Chrispus Bargorett

Amid the twin challenges presented by Covid-19, financial institutions emerged as a critical source of resilience. This is so because they continued to play a significant role in shaping the recovery of economies around the globe and helping customers rebuild their lives.

While the pandemic caused economic disruptions in many households, the role of Islam banking was almost absent, especially in the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and retail lending, the sectors that were the most hit by the crisis.

With a total market value of $2.7 trillion, the global Islamic finance industry is sizeable, catering for the needs of around a quarter of the world’s population. Forecasts from the Islamic Development Finance Corporation suggest that its global assets could reach $3.8 trillion by next year.

This will be supported by expansion of Islamic banking assets in some Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries including Malaysia, and Turkey, and the expected exceeding maturities in Sukuk issuances.

As traditional banking models continue to thrive, the role of niche banking models such as Islamic Finance has also come into sharp focus as their contribution to overall bank performance becomes more pronounced. Africa’s unbanked populations, particularly those opting out of the conventional system due to their religious beliefs, present an untapped pool of potential deposits and investments.

Although Covid offered the possibility of more broad-based and transformative growth, the industry has not yet fully unlocked the opportunities that support sustainable finance activity. It is believed that the impact of the pandemic on households would have been lessened had there been a strong Islamic financial system that is more focused on compassion, care, and ethics, which are the key tenets needed to tackle such humanitarian crises.

Coming at a time when millions have been pushed into extreme poverty because of the pandemic, Islamic finance is best positioned and well-suited to fight the economic consequences of Covid-19 and emerge as the winner due to its wide range of ethical and flexible financial services.

Utilising tailor-made social instruments such as Zakat, Qardh-Al-Hasan and Sadaqat, supporting vulnerable communities through direct cash transfers to the poor, vulnerable, SMEs is much easier, especially in the short run. Entities such as SMEs and organisations with a small capital base that might find it hard to reclaim their business health have products such as Murabaha, Mudaraba and Musharaka to help them survive in the medium term.

In the long term, we have Awqaf, social Sukuk that can help industries recover and sustain growth. If these services are customised to the needs of Islamic finance, they can help in achieving the broader objective of poverty alleviation and financial inclusion.

Looking forward, the turn towards Environmental, Social, and Governance in global finance is also expected to provide Islamic banking with substantial growth opportunities. Issuance of dedicated social Islamic finance instruments and green Sukuk will help align the industry with the requisite ESG. 

The writer is the Head of Sahl Banking at KCB Bank