In the past decade, the Islamic finance industry has grown at double digits despite the weak global economic environment. By 2020, the Islamic finance industry is projected to reach $3 trillion in total assets with 1 billion users. However, despite its rapid growth and enormous potential, 7 out of 10 adults still do not have access to a bank account in Muslim countries. This means that 682 million adult Muslims still do not have an account at a banking institution. While some Muslim countries have high levels of account ownership (above 90 percent), there are others with less than 5 percent of their adult population who reported having a bank account.
Infrastructure needs in developing countries are great and will continue to rise over the next decade. To sustain the projected global GDP growth between 2012 and 2030, US$57 trillion is needed in infrastructure investment, according to McKinsey's estimates.
In emerging markets infrastructure investment needs have been forecast to range between US$14.4 and US$15.7 trillion in emerging markets from 2008 to 2020.
Since funding infrastructure projects usually requires a long-term and large investment, emerging markets are struggling how to meet these needs through public investments or even traditional bank funding.
Figuring out how to finance investments needed in infrastructure is one of the key issues on the G20 agenda and has also been identified in the Sustainable Development Goals.
While private-public partnerships are usually mentioned as one way to bridge this financing gap, using Islamic finance or other asset-backed financial mechanisms to fund long-term development has started to gain traction in recent years.
As part of events held around the G20 Summit, the World Bank Group with the Turkish Capital Market Board and Borsa Istanbul organized a conference on “Mobilizing Islamic Finance for Long-Term Investment Financing,” which took place on November 18-19, 2015 in Istanbul.
From the smallest rural villages in Bangladesh to the large, bustling metropolitan centers of Cairo or Istanbul, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are the lifeblood of Islamic communities around the world, keeping local economies humming.
I first became interested in the potential of leveraging Islamic finance to grow SMEs when I led a seminar on the topic in 1997. I’ve come full circle, almost 20 years later, when I had the opportunity to speak last month in Istanbul at a conference on “Leveraging Islamic Finance for SMEs” organized by the World Bank Group, the Turkish Treasury, the Islamic Development Bank and TUMSIAD, the largest association of SMEs in the country with 10,000 members.
“Ethical finance” is a term used to describe finance that is put to good social and environmental use. Interest in it has risen since the 2008 global financial crisis, with Islamic finance and socially responsible investment (SRI) funds becoming its two fastest areas of growth.
Proper corporate governance practices in financial institutions should provide added value by enhancing the protection of depositor and investor rights, facilitating access to finance, reducing the cost of capital, improving operational performance, and increasing institutions’ soundness against external shocks. Ensuring strong corporate governance standards is thus essential to the stability and health of all financial institutions, worldwide.
Good governance is an important priority for Islamic finance, an aspect of international finance that has enjoyed a stage of significant growth over the past decade. The volume of financial assets that are managed according to Islamic principles has a value of around $2 trillion, having experienced a cumulative average annual growth rate of about 16 percent since 2009 (Graph 1).
Graph 1: The Size of Islamic Finance Assets (USD Billion)
Banking has traditionally been the leading sector in the realm of Islamic finance, but the share of other products and institutions within the total realm of Islamic financial assets has been steadily increasing, as well (Graph 2). For instance, the Sukuk sector – which focuses on securitized asset-based securities – has seen considerable growth over the past six years and, as of 2014, amounted to more than $300 billion. Similar momentum is driving the growth of the Islamic Funds and Takaful (Islamic insurance) sectors. From 2009 to 2014, the assets under management of Islamic Funds has increased from about $40 billion to about $60 billion, while the amount of total gross contribution to Islamic insurance has surged from $7 billion to more than $14 billion.
Graph 2: The Size of Islamic Finance Assets by Sector 2014 YE (%)
To address this gap, Wasil started offering a Sharia-compliant microfinance package aimed specifically at smallholder farmers.
Wasil is an example of how microfinance and Islamic finance can be successfully combined.
An estimated 650 million Muslims live on less than $2 a day. Examples like Wasil show that Islamic microfinance can play a key role in bringing the poor into the financial mainstream in a way that doesn’t force them to choose between their religious practices and their wallets.
But despite an impressive increase in the number of financial service providers that offer Sharia-compliant microfinance products in Muslim countries, Islamic microfinance is still limited to a few countries. The range of offerings is narrow as well – most are largely focused on the cost-plus-markup product known as murabaha, which is geared toward asset purchases.
Talk about timing! This week has seen back-to-back initiatives that underscore the growing importance of Islamic finance – and the significant role that the World Bank Group can play in unleashing its potential for financing international development.
This Tuesday, October 29, Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom announced that the U.K. will become the first non-Muslim country to issue a Sukuk or Islamic bond, with a £200 million issue planned for early 2014. Cameron also announced plans for a new Islamic index on the London Stock Exchange. These initiatives are all part of a grand plan by the U.K. government to turn London into a global capital of Islamic finance.
The very next day, on Wednesday, October 30, World Bank Group President Jim Kim inaugurated the World Bank Global Islamic Finance Center in Istanbul. Envisioned as a knowledge hub for developing Islamic finance globally, the center will conduct research and training as well as provide technical assistance and advisory services to World Bank Group client countries interested in developing Islamic financial institutions and markets.
Islamic finance can connect millions around the globe to the economy (Credit: The Reboot, Flickr)
In the wake of the global financial and economic crisis, the need for a new development model which is more sustainable and also fosters inclusive growth has become more apparent. Could Islamic finance be the answer? Islamic finance promotes risk-sharing, connection to the real economy and emphasizes financial inclusion and social welfare. Can these dimensions contribute to inclusive growth and sustainable development?
Islamic finance is based on two intrinsic features: risk-sharing and the link between financial transactions and the real economy. Because all financial contracts are backed by real sector assets and risk-sharing among partners, including financing institutions, Islamic financial instruments have relatively more stability than conventional instruments and tend to be more flexible against unanticipated shocks. This critical link brings prudence to the system, promotes equity relative to debt, broadens financial participation, and minimizes overall vulnerability.
Can Islamic Microfinance give more people access to the financial services they need to grow their business? (Credit: DFID, Flickr Creative Commons)
Research has shown that financial sector development and the efficiency of financial systems are closely linked to economic growth. Ensuring the provision of financial services to the poor can also address the challenge of poverty alleviation and directly target financing towards economically and socially underprivileged groups. Appropriate financial services, such as savings services, investment, insurance, and payment and money transfer facilities, enable the poor to acquire capital to engage in productive ventures, manage risks, increase their income and savings, and escape poverty.
Islamic finance is growing in countries like Malaysia (Credit: Asian Development Bank, Flickr Creative Commons)
Over the last three decades, the concepts of Islamic finance have captured the attention of researchers. One of the core principles of Islamic finance is the prohibition of interest and debt-based financing. Instead, economic agents are encouraged to engage in financial instruments of risk-sharing rather than risk transfer. Although the principles of Islamic finance go back several centuries, its practice in modern financial markets became recognized only in the 1980s, and began to represent a meaningful share of global financial activity only around the beginning of this century. The growth of this market has been driven by the high demand for Islamic financial products, as well as the increasing liquidity in Gulf region due to high oil revenues. Table 1 shows the growth trend in Islamic finance for the banking sectors by different regions, with estimates of total Islamic banking assets reaching $1.8 trillion by the end of 2013. Figure 1 shows how the growth of the Islamic financial sector in 2006–10 period surpassed the growth of conventional financial sector in all segments of the market, ranging from commercial banking, investment banking, and fund management to insurance in several Muslim-majority countries.