Business | Banking

Islamic finance could lead banks' recovery

Gatehouse Bank chief feels industry needs level playing field to achieve its potential of helping world economy

  • By Babu Das Augustine, Deputy Business Editor
  • Published: 00:00 April 25, 2011
  • Gulf News

Richard Thomas, CEO of Gatehouse Bank
  • Image Credit: Supplied
  • Richard Thomas, CEO of Gatehouse Bank, believes Qatar’s move to restrict conventional banks from entering Islamic financial services is a move in the right direction.

Dubai: Islamic finance is gradually building momentum across the world and will likely lead the re-emergence of the global financial industry from the recent crisis. However, the industry needs a level playing field to achieve its potential, said Richard Thomas, Chief Executive of London-based Gatehouse Bank, in a recent interview with Gulf News.

"Over the years, the conventional banking industry has been underpricing risk through excessively cheap debt. At such low levels of pricing it was impossible to compete with conventional banks," Thomas said.

He believes that competition has to be fair in the context of pricing and taxation. In the past, taxation rules in most developed markets favoured financing through debt compared to equity, but in the aftermath of the financial crisis that exposed the weaknesses of excessive leverage there is a move to create a level playing field for equity funding and asset-backed financing which lies at the core of Islamic finance.

Segregation

Thomas said the recent decision by the Central Bank of Qatar not to allow conventional banks to offer Islamic financial services is a move in the right direction to create a level playing field for pure Islamic institutions to compete with conventional institutions.

"This should be the way forward as it brings more regulatory clarity on balance sheets as sources of funding and methods of financing leave no scope for ambiguity," he said.

Thomas believes that Islamic banks will continue to have good growth prospects in the UK as long as their offerings do not imitate those of their conventional peers.

Gatehouse, a subsidiary of the Securities House Kuwait, says people are becoming more receptive to Islamic finance. The London-based wholesale investment bank's business has picked up across all segments.

"We are now taking business from conventional banks because we have a different business model and are not part of that mega-debt culture. We have seen a pick-up in business mainly in corporate asset finance, real estate, also the trade-related business."

Gatehouse focuses on wholesale merchant banking and investment banking and is looking at expansion into the Middle East and South East Asia.

"Currently we have assets in the US, UK, GCC and a small exposure in Malaysia. We are confident about the long-term prospects of the GCC model and are keen to take more exposure here with a physical presence," he said.

Gatehouse launches brokerage

Dubai: Gatehouse Bank, a wholesale Sharia investment bank in London, has created a joint venture with Paul Napier, a Lloyd's Insurance Broker based in London, to form Gatehouse Napier, the world's first Sharia compliant insurance broker offering premium Takaful and Re-Takaful commercial risk solutions in London.

Gatehouse Napier brings the best of talent and expertise from London, home to the world's largest specialist insurance market and a strong financial services regulatory environment, and also an aspiring platform for the development of Sharia financial services.

"This partnership will help meet demand fuelled by an exponential increase in Sharia-compliant investor activity into the UK market. Gatehouse Napier will help provide insurance protection for Sharia investors investing in large commercial assets in London and Europe," said Richard Thomas, CEO, Gatehouse Bank and director of the board for Gatehouse Napier.

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