Competitive Pricing of Islamic Financial Products
by Warren Edwardes
May 95, Horizon, Institute of Islamic Banking & Insurance, London link
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This speech was delivered to The Institute of Islamic Banking and Insurance, London on Tuesday, 18 April 1995. Warren Edwardes is CEO of London-based financial product innovation management consultancy, Delphi Risk Management Limited, and Professor of Capital and Derivatives Markets at the Korean Banking Institute. He was previously on the Board of Charterhouse Bank and has worked in the treasury divisions of British Gas, Barclays Bank and Midland Bank. Prof. Edwardes has designed and implemented numerous innovative financing, investment and derivative structures. left to right; speaker, Warren Edwardes with the conference chairman, Jeremy Martin, Partner at Trowers and Hamlin and Ali Hassan Ali, Director General of the Institute of Islamic Banking & Insurance.
Let me set the scene
with some definitions. Competitive Advantage is a function of
either providing comparable buyer value more efficiently than
your competitors - providing a product or service at low margins;
or performing activities at comparable market costs but in unique
ways that create more buyer value than competitors and, hence,
command a premium price - product differentiation.
Price can be
defined as Value plus a reasonable sum for the wear and tear
of conscience in demanding it.
Islamic Financial Products
Whilst conventional wisdom states that Islamic Banking in its present form dates back to the late 1970s, the theme is not new. Usury was an issue 400 years ago in Europe. In Shakespeares «Hamlet», a Danish father advised his son: " Neither a borrower nor a lender be; for loan oft loses both itself and friend and borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.". In a Venetian setting he wrote about how a money lender demanded his "pound of flesh". Even before the advent of Islam, in Roman times, Horace wrote: "Happy the man who far from schemes of business, like the early generations of mankind, ploughs and ploughs again his ancestral land with oxen of his own breeding, with no yoke of usury on his neck."
A traditional non-Islamic financing product involves the lending of Principal for Interest. The LDC debt crises of a decade ago and continuing problems in many if not most African countries shows that interest servicing can soon overwhelm a nations GNP. Banking Principles are confused with Interest - Self interest.
Nevertheless, many Islamic Banking products are really not so very different from some banking products available in the conventional market. Islamic products, like non-Islamic ones, produce either a fixed pre-determined return for the investor in, say, a Murabaha or Ijara form - or a return depending on the performance of the underlying business, say, Musharakaor Mudaraba, which in the West one might call Venture Capital or equity investment. We heard last month from Iqbal Ahmed Khan of The Islamic Investment Company of Bahrain about how he was creating a fund of stock-market listed Islamically-ethical investments. Ethical "green" investment funds in the West have also been established and provide a comparison.
Clearly, if the products have close substitutes in the conventional banking world, significant product differentiation does not exist. The Islamic banks clients will see a large premium over a Western near-substitute and demand a lower price or better performance - or more than likely there will be new entrants to the market - both Western and Islamic.
We have seen in the past few months clear evidence that markets are increasingly global. Turbulence caused in the Mexican markets can have an effect on markets as far away as Thailand and Indonesia. Funds are increasingly foot-loose and move in search of value wherever opportunity shows itself. Only a short while ago, the South African bond market was in a world of its own. With the opening of markets, Rand interest rates now track interest rates in the rest of the world.
News and information travels fast. This is the age of the Information Superhighway. Financial products will soon be available throughout the world via the Internet. Barclays Bank has a World Wide Web page and so has Fidelity. First Mortgage Securities has just closed its first mortgage through the Net. It would not be too surprising if early in the next millennium, the largest financial institution in the World turned out to be not Tokyo Mitsubishi or some other product of Japanese or US bank mergers - but Microsoft Bank. Islamic investors in the Gulf could be buying financial products from Malaysia, the UK or the US directly from their computers and satellite-linked modems.
Nevertheless, cultural differences do exist. The retail market is traditionally parochial. The only major foreign retail banks in the UK are Australian or Irish - and National Australia Bank has retained the regional names of Clydesdale and Yorkshire Banks. British banks have generally had disastrous results in the US and patchy results in the rest of Europe. Citibank, a firm that has recently opened an Islamic bank in the Gulf, experimented with a retail network in the UK some 20 years ago - without much success.
Margins will fall through competition. Fixed rate home mortgages were introduced to the UK market some six years ago. Initially they were a novelty and margins were attractive. Now, every bank and building society is offering them. The same happens in the capital markets. US Commercial Paper issued by prime corporates was issued at 200 basis points below LIBOR in the early 1980s. The margin below LIBOR now would be about 25 basis points. Islamic banking is like any other banking business and the same market forces apply. Profit margins fall as new financial institutions enter the Islamic Banking market.
Of course, a devout Muslim may wish to invest in an Islamic fund. Other politically-sensitive Muslims may wish to be seen to be investing in Islamic instruments. They would be prepared to sacrifice some return for the privilege. However, the market is no longer in its infancy. There are many Western Bankers here. These institutions compare returns directly with returns on Haram investments. Competition has already reduced the returns on Islamic products. An Islamic Bank cannot take its clients for granted.
I introduced Islamic retail products for a South African client - a major "western" bank. The local Islamic banks were providing low returns in an environment where direct comparisons with conventional banking products could be made. The superior returns and service offered by my client over the Islamic banks, combined with the prime rating of the bank proved very attractive to Muslim private clients and businesses. What helped, of course, was the fact that whilst interest was taxed in that jurisdiction, capital gains was not.
Fairly or unfairly, Western Banks are regarded as better credit risks than Islamic Banks. It is incumbent on Islamic banks to reduce their costs and improve customer service. They do not have a captive clientele.
Costs are a function of overheads and the pricing of risks. Overheads can be streamlined through business process re-engineering.
Risks have to be identified and measured. Risks can take a number of forms. The following list, in alphabetical order, is by no means exhaustive:
The probability of losses due to these risks must be evaluated and incorporated into the pricing of the product.
The way ahead - Innovation
A common theme at Islamic banking meetings and conferences is the need for greater innovation. Bankers, Islamic and Western, should apply more creativity in the creation of products that meet the genuine needs and demands of Islamic investors and borrowers. Last Friday, during the Prince of Wales Innovation awards for 1995, the winner said: "We were prepared to listen to the marketplace and then look at the things we were good at and then put the two together".
The successful purveyors of Islamic Financial products, they may be Western ones, will be those which are the first to identify the emerging and evolving needs of the Islamic consumer and to offer product improvements which satisfy those needs. Banks should seek out buyers with the most difficult needs - they will become part of the firm's Research and Development programme.
Trends will have to be spotted early. The successful Islamic bank will be the one that leads the market having identified the trend. Even if the bank is on the right track now in providing a range of Islamic products, it will simply get run over if it just sits there. Competition is inevitable and is healthy. It is only when you are pursued that you become swift. And don't worry if a competitor imitates you; if he follows your tracks, he can't pass you - but keep one step ahead.
At a certain point, however, Competitive Pricing becomes unprofitable pricing - thats when the Islamic Banking Sector has to reduce costs further on the product, look for a government subsidy, tax break or regulatory controls. Certain priority sectors in Pakistan, for example, are allowed favourable rates.
The best way is not to over-focus on defence. Attack the market vigorously through innovation. Understand your customers needs and move on to a fresher, more appropriate, more profitable Islamic Financial Product.
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