The West has much to learn from Islamic finance

2nd May 2012

In a report, Empowering Risk Intelligence in Islamic Finance: Managing Risk in Uncertain times, Deloitte's Islamic Finance Knowledge Center said that the approach to risk management used in Islamic finance has more in common with the western approach than is often assumed.

The report – based on a survey of 20 Islamic financial institutions located across the Middle East and South-East Asia, which have aggregate assets of $50 billion – suggested that Islamic finance, a cash-rich sector, has much to teach the west's financial system, which has yet to fully recover from the near-death experiences of 2007-09.

The Empowering Risk Intelligence report found that Islamic financial institutions came late to adopting formal approaches to risk management. 79% of respondents had established their risk-management departments in the past five years, with only 5% having a risk management department prior to 2002. But things are changing, and fast. The report found that 83% of Islamic finance firms today have both a formal risk-management function and a risk committee responsible for overseeing all risks.

Yet Deloitte acknowledged there is room for improvement in the risk management area. Key risk-management and regulatory challenges facing the Islamic sector include that two-thirds of Islamic financial institutions don't have any external credit rating, and that only 25% have considered or received an external rating from a specialist Islamic rating agency such the Bahrain-based Islamic International Rating Agency. The report said:

"This constitutes a real challenge posed to industry participants and standard-setters such as the [Kuala Lumpur-based] Islamic Financial Services Board, [Bahrain-based] Accounting & Auditing Organization for Islamic Financial Institutions (AAOIFI), [Bahrain-based] International Islamic Financial Market (IIFM) and the Islamic International Rating Agency (IIRA), to enforce best practices."

The report suggested that the main causes of shariah-compliance risks include non-standardized practices, diverse interpretations of shariah law, and the fact shariah laws are unenforced in many jurisdictions.

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