During the recent AAOIFI webinar that took place on the 14th December 2020, much of the discussion was around the adaptability of Islamic Finance (IF) post Covid-19. The COVID-19 pandemic is an event which has provoked unprecedented reflections and shifts within the sector.
Many countries fell into economic depression despite government and central bank support, with supply chains, currencies and SMEs all affected. However, the pandemic also accelerated the set-up of the digitalisation trend – from the creation of blockchain technology platforms where users could mobilise funds in a transparent manner, to online banking, online schools, virtual meetings and more.
A study conducted by some of the participating banks in Turkey revealed that the pandemic presented some strengths where clients were giving priority to Murabaha debt to continue financing their business operations and there were no dealings in any derivatives instruments. It was also an opportunity for widening the distribution channels and increasing the number of customers. On the more challenging side, the contraction in economic activities caused a cash shortage in companies and where participating banks were not able to lend a helping hand. Participating banks had limited number of instruments for consumer credits.
In an Islamic Economic system, the gap between the real and financial sectors is non-existent. While the financial sector can move independently from the real sector (which is what happened during the financial meltdown of 2008, when profits were being made while the real economy shrank). It is evident that reform in IF is needed, and there is a huge opportunity for the industry to re-inject returns into the real economy towards the creation of employment and promoting real businesses. On the other hand, financial innovation relating to the environment such as green financing and sustainable financing is encouraged by the Maqasid Al-Shariah.
In this current climate the role of regulators is more imminent than ever in providing guidance & the necessary educational tools to Islamic Banks (IB) and the industry, especially where many Central Banks have failed to abide by Standards that are pillars to the economy. IFSB for example are working in line with Regulators in an attempt to bring together uniformity and good guidelines in the IB sector. The pandemic is placing enormous strains on corporate cash flows as business operations have temporarily ceased.
Banerjee et al (2020) estimate that 50% of firms in 26 advanced countries do not have enough cash to cover total debt servicing costs over the coming years. Some guidance for governance during the pandemic included:
- Board & executive directors are recommended to implement crisis management plans. Such crisis management plans should cover reporting practices and governance issues.
- Boards are recommended to emphasise stakeholders’ needs and ensure transparent reporting of transactions arising due to the pandemic (moratorium payments).
- Boards are recommended to emphasise ethical considerations while developing strategies to handle the pandemic.
- Sharia boards are advised to develop pro-active measures to ensure sharia compliance.
Some opportunities for IFIs included:
- Social safety net – IFIs need to develop fiscal plans for a sustainable future.
- Islamic Social Finance tools – e.g. Qard Hassan, Sukuk, Waqf, Zakaat are available for IFIs
- Fintech (Mobile banking, Sharia compliant crowdfunding, Islamic micro finance & smart contracts).