Bank of Maldives introduces Islamic banking services

With additional reporting by Mohamed Said Fathih and Ismail Humaam Hamid

The Bank of Maldives (BML) has introduced Islamic Banking Services today (January 22).

The service inaugurated by Minister of Islamic Affairs Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed will be operated under the name ‘BML Islamic’ which will offer its personal and business customers with deposit and financing products.

“This is a big and proud day for our Bank,” said BML’s CEO and Managing Director Andrew Healy. “Today we start to provide alternatives to those who wish to strictly follow Islamic principles in their banking.”

“We look forward to rolling out a broad range of products and services – for both personal and business customers – over the next two years”.

Islamic banking and capital market services – compliant with Islamic Shariah – were introduced in the Maldives in 2011, with the opening of the Maldives Islamic Bank.

The Capital Market Development Authority began reporting on the Islamic Capital Market for the first time last year, while Maldives Monetary Authority Governor Dr Azeema Adam said that the industry’s potential was still being realised.

“One of the reasons for the phenomenal growth of Islamic finance is the perception that it is more ethical, compared to conventional finance, which is traditionally viewed as predatory when needed,” Azeema told the Maldives’ first Islamic banking conference last September.

BML CEO Andrew Healy

The new BML service will be provided by existing branches of the bank but Islamic bank accounts and finances will be “fully segregated from the rest of the Bank’s Services”, explained a BML press release.

“ATMs and card machines and will be fully Shari’ah-compliant, with Islamic accounts,” the statement continued, while Wadi’ah accounts can now be opened at any BML branch.

Prominent Islamic scholars have expressed their support for the move, with Dr Aishath Muneeza, Sheikh Fayyaz Ali Manik, and former Islamic minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari all contributing to BML’s promotional campaign.

“I believe this is a service which has been much needed for the people of Maldives. This allow lot of people across the country to go about their financial transactions as per Islamic Sharia,” said Sheikh Fayyaz.

Islamic minister Shaheem today described the move as “great news for many Maldivians”, saying that “BML’s commencement of Islamic financial services, to coincide with the day Maldives embraced Islam, is a memorable occasion”.

Other recent changes to services provided by the national bank included 22 state-of-the-art ATMs across Malé in November as well as the bank’s first US dollar ATM at its main branch the following month.

Related to this story

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Islamic finance has gained confidence in Maldives: Deputy Islamic Minister Dr Muneeza

Islamic finance has gained confidence in the Maldives with increased awareness among the public of its role in eliminating Riba (interest), according to Deputy Islamic Minister Dr Aishath Muneeza.

Writing in the Islamic Finance News website, Dr Muneeza stated that Islamic finance has been “spreading like wildfire” since the introduction of Islamic banking and capital market services in 2011.

“Demand for Islamic finance is evident and has proved that there is inherent demand for Islamic finance as the Maldives is a country with a 100% Muslim population. It is hoped that in the upcoming years the Maldives can be used as a global case study to prove the success of Islamic finance,” she wrote.

Under Islamic Shariah, any risk-free or guaranteed rate of return on a loan or investment is considered riba, which is prohibited in Islam.

In her article, Dr Muneeza explained that the first form of Islamic finance introduced in the country was Takaful in 2003, which involves mutual protection of assets and property and joint risk-sharing.

Conventional insurance is also prohibited in Islam because of forbidden elements such as Riba.

Following the wider introduction of Islamic finance in 2011, Dr Muneeza observed that it is now “considered as an integral part in the development of nation”.

The previous year meanwhile saw the introduction of “new innovative Islamic finance instruments” by both the government and private corporations, she noted.

In 2013, the government signed the first sovereign private Sukuk – an asset-backed bond which is structured in accordance with Shariah for trade in the market – deal in addition to the central bank issuing the first Islamic treasury bill.

Moreover, she added, four pieces of regulation governing Sukuk, Islamic securities, Shariah advisors, and the capital market Shariah advisory council were introduced last year.

The government-owned Housing Development Corporation also issued the first corporate Sukuk while the first Islamic hire-purchase product was unveiled by a private company, she noted.

In addition, the government formed the Maldives Hajj Corporation – of which Dr Muneeza is the chairwoman – as a pilgrimage fund and issued Halal certificates for fish products.

The Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC) hired a Sukuk advisor for real estate projects commencing this year, she added.

“Furthermore, regulatory consents have been given to the Islamic banking window of Bank of Maldives and the Takaful window of Allied Insurance Maldives to start their operations. Some products of these companies have been given consent by the Maldives Monetary Authority,” she wrote.

The government also planned to form “a national-level technical committee to monitor and supervise sovereign Islamic finance issues,” she revealed.

Definitely, 2013 is a super duper hit year for the growth of Islamic finance industry,” Dr Muneeza suggested.

Developments expected in 2014 meanwhile included the inauguration of “Islamic windows” by the Bank of Maldives and Allied Insurance. The government anticipated that “a large number of customers will switch from conventional banking to Islamic banking when this takes place.”

Islamic fund management would also be introduced this year while the government had plans to “introduce an Islamic finance centre that will not only provide offshore Islamic financial services, but this centre will act as the Islamic finance hub for the whole South Asia region.”


Capital Market Authority and Islamic Ministry unite to promote Islamic finance

The Maldives Capital Market Development Authority (CDMA) has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry for Islamic Affairs to further develop an Islamic capital market in the country.

Among the most prominent details of the agreement was a joint commitment to establish the ‘Maldives Centre for Islamic Capital Market and Finance’.

“This is going to help in promoting the various services available in Islamic financial services under one organisation,” read a press release from the CDMA.

Other features of the arrangement include the scheduling of meetings between the CDMA’s Capital Market Shariah Advisory Committee and the Ministry’s Fiqh academy, a program of training events on the practice, and the ministry’s endorsement of Shariah advisors registered with the CDMA.

The CDMA is an independent body charged with regulating the capital market and the pension industry in the Maldives, with statutory powers to license brokers, asset managers, and investment advisors.

“The vision of CMDA is to develop an Islamic capital market parallel to the existing conventional capital market in Maldives,” reads the authority’s website.

The country’s first shariah-compliant bank opened just over 18 months ago, when the Maldives’ Islamic Bank (MIB) first began offering services to the public after what the company’s head described as strong demand.

MIB is part owned by the Ministry of Finance and Ministry (15 percent), with the remaining 85 percent owned by the Islamic Corporation for the Development of the Private Sector (ICD) – a Saudi based multilateral organisation designed to promote Islamic finance globally.

2011 also saw the first public offering for a Shariah compliant company on the Maldives Stock Exchange – Amana Takaful (Maldives) Plc – for which shares were oversubscribed, report the CDMA.

Amana Takaful offers Shariah compliant insurance services, including third party vehicle insurance, which became mandatory in the country earlier this month.

Director of Amana Takaful Osman Kassim explained at the time that Islamic finance was “a phenomenon worth 1.4 trillion and growing at a rate of 20 percent annually,” which functioned through the prohibition of riba, or interest.

“Taking a return without participating in the risk of the return is not allowed, be it 1 percent or 99 percent. Any additional revenue is riba,” he said. “Even if you give a loan and he gives a gift, and is not in the habit of giving a gift, that is also riba.”

Islamic finance in its current form emerged 40 years ago, Kassim explained, first in Egypt and the Arab Emirates.

“It promises to be a just system. Interest is oppression – the charging of something where nothing is due,” he said, noting that in the wake of the global financial crisis, “All major banks now have Islamic financing products, and the more adventurous have their own Sharia Councils.”

Islamic finance and financial products also differ from conventional services in that they abstain from ‘Maisir’ and ‘Gharar’ – speculative transactions – considered akin to gambling under Shariah.

Minivan News was unable to gain further comment from the Ministry of Islamic Affairs at the time of press.


Vice President meets with Saudi Fund and IBD

As part of his ongoing visit to Saudi Arabia, Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed met with Deputy Chairman of Saudi Fund for Development Dr Yusuf Al-Bassam on 21 March.

Dr Waheed briefed Dr Al-Bassam on the upcoming Donor Conference and asked for the participation of the Saudi Fund.

Dr Al-Bassam assured the vice president of the assistance of the Saudi Fund and added the Fund would also assist the government in its tsunami housing projects.

Dr Waheed met with the President of the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) Dr Ahmad Mohamed Ali Al-Madani at the IDB headquarters yesterday.

He then met with senior officials of the IBD Group to discuss the Donor Conference and the introduction of Islamic banking in the Maldives.

The IBD assured their participation in the Donor Conference and said they were willing to work with the government in realising its key development areas.

Vice President Waheed also visited Mecca and performed Umra.