18 November 2015
Global Islamic finance assets had an estimated value of $1.8 trillion in 2014 and are expected to almost double by 2020 to reach $3.2 trillion, according to the ICD Thomson Reuters Islamic Finance Development Indicator.

The projections come ahead of the 2015 World Islamic Banking Conference (WIBC 2015), which will be hosted by Thomson Reuters, the world's leading provider of intelligent information for businesses and professionals, and The Islamic Research and Training Institute (IRTI), an affiliate of the Islamic Development Bank Group.

The Roundtable, set for December 1, 2015 in Bahrain, is titled 'Capturing Growth Opportunities in Emerging Islamic Finance Markets'. It aims to highlight the investment opportunities in high-growth emerging Islamic finance markets covering key regions, including Central Asia, North Africa, and the Americas. The Roundtable will be inaugurated by high-level officials representing some emerging Islamic finance markets, including Nurlan Kussainov, Deputy Governor of the National Bank of Kazakhstan; Janet L Ecker. President and Chief Executive Officer of the Toronto Financial Services Alliance; Fadi al Faqih, Chief Executive Officer of the Bank of Khartoum, and a number of other government and corporate representatives.

As global acceptance of Islamic finance continues to grow, more non-Muslim sovereigns are starting Islamic finance initiatives by first introducing Islamic finance regulations and assisting Islamic financial institutions to establish their operations, and then tapping the Islamic capital markets through sovereign sukuk.

Canada, which is considered to have the most effective and safest banking system in the world, is one country that is looking to position itself as a regional hub for Islamic finance in North America. The primary competition within North America for Islamic finance comes from the United States. Although it is a much larger market overall, it does not have a proportionately larger Muslim population than Canada.

This advantage is joined with an outward looking orientation that is more favourable to Islamic finance than in the United States, both in terms of regulatory aspects like the ability of UCITS to reach both the Canadian and global market and even seemingly small things like official counts to accurately measure Canada's Muslim population.

Oil-rich Kazakhstan is adopting Islamic finance in efforts to diversify the country's dependence on oil income amidst the sharp fall in crude prices. Kazakhstan plans to position Astana, Kazakhstan's second largest city, to become an international financial centre of the new Silk Road and a regional hub of Islamic finance. The country has made significant progress toward creating a market economy and has achieved considerable results in its efforts to attract foreign investment through a series of reforms to liberalize the economy and facilitate foreign investment.

Kazakhstan in 2009 became the first country in the CIS and Central Asia to introduce legislation for Islamic banking and to create the legal basis for the development of the industry. Still, the country's Islamic finance industry is in its nascent stage with total assets of US$75 million at the end of 2014. The republic has only one full-fledged Islamic bank, Abu Dhabi-based Al Hilal Islamic Bank, which started operations in 2010, and a five-year sukuk issued by the state-owned Development Bank of Kazakhstan in 2012. However, Kazakhstan introduced a "Road map on the development of Islamic Finance until 2020" that outlines the development and implementation of Islamic finance in the republic, which will create condition for their activities. The country expects Islamic banking assets to reach 5 per cent of total Islamic banking assets in the short-to-medium term.

Despite allowing Islamic banking, takaful, Islamic leasing, and murabaha, the current legal framework for Islamic finance, do not permit conventional banks to offer Islamic banking services nor allow the conversion of current banks into full-fledged Islamic ones. However, new amendments are underway to allow this conversion and are set to come into effect in early 2016. Kazakhstan also plans to issue the country's first sovereign sukuk by early 2016, to prompt incentives for more corporate issuances.

Sudan currently has 34 Islamic banks and 16 takaful providers operating in the country under the fully Islamic financial system. Faisal Islamic Bank, established in 1977 in Sudan, is one of the first fully-fledged Islamic banks in the world.

© Oman Daily Observer 2015