Business | Markets

The missing link in Sharia finance

Time ripe for a dedicated media entity to cover increasing number of asset classes

  • By Rushdi Siddiqui, Special to Gulf News
  • Published: 00:00 January 30, 2011
  • Gulf News

Financial editors and news bureau chiefs of major conventional and western media organisations have to look at not only the importance of a news story, but also its time sensitivity. Islamic finance stories must compete against numerous "conventional" news stories like central bank news on interest policies and inflation, earnings announcements from Fortune 500 companies, buyouts by major private equity firms, trade and unemployment numbers, and so on.

Today in Islamic finance we do not have an Islamic finance central bank, either at the country or global level.

We do not have Islamic financial and economic indicators (though existing indicators provide preliminary insights), but, we do have infrequent developments on acquisitions, funds launched, sukuk issued, etc.

The local media is the first to cover many of the press releases on Islamic bank branch openings, charge/credit card or product/fund launch, speaking/sponsoring at conference, winning awards, Ramadan tents, etc. But, its rare to find such ‘news' covered by the (western) media based in Islamic finance hubs. Why?

Coverage variance?

The local media, as part of its ‘civic' duty, to their readers, who may also be Islamic bank customers, are providing an information service that is often-times overlooked by major western media.

The major western media is typically the first one to break news on some controversy in Islamic finance, be it a sukuk default, fund closing, etc. Obviously, this says something about western media's definition of ‘news-worthiness' of news.

To capture the pulse of Islamic finance is not only about finding the balance between press releases and time sensitive news, but also providing supporting data alongside conventional data for benchmarking.

Islamic finance has many stakeholders, such as regulators, industry bodies, scholars, etc., but, interestingly enough, dedicated media is incomplete. There is coverage of Islamic finance by western and local media, but capturing, covering and analysing the daily pulse of Islamic fin-ance for a country, region or globally, comparable to conventional, is missing.

We have been hearing from many quarters about the lack of awareness (and education) about Islamic finance over the last decade, implying the media formula, as part of Islamic finance, has not succeeded. The message we have repeatedly heard about Islamic finance can be said to be more aligned towards "cheerleading", and less about its functionality.

As a result, the buy-in by Muslims, especially those residing in the West, is tepid, at best, and the cross sell to non-Muslims is still a distant dream. For example, Islamic Bank of Britain, the only deposit-taking Islamic bank in the UK, established in 2004 with 50,000 customers (UK Muslim population is 2 million), recently had a rescue capital injection of £20 million from its founding shareholder, Qatar Iinternational Islamic Bank. A preliminary conclusion may be that in the UK, retail Islamic finance is not well known with target expectations not met.

The question then becomes, who is filling the media's role for Islamic finance insights? Today's Islamic finance bloggers provide two important and gap-filling media functions: frequent news coverage and deeper analysis without an editorial boss. The internet has, at one level, has removed the ‘monopoly' of news coverage by traditional news sources, hence, anyone with a strong opinion and ability to write is an amateur roving ‘reporter' of a story in real time.

However, blogging is only the beginning of the deeper dive into Islamic finance media.

Weak link

To build global awareness about Islamic finance, does the industry need to (initially) establish a dedicated online version of an Islamic Wall Street Journal or Financial Times or dedicated business channel like CNBC? But, a more precise question would be: is there sufficient content of news and data to initiate such a project for this $1 trillion (Dh3.67 trillion) industry?

The industry continues to float ideas of an Islamic mega bank, international liquidity management platform, establishing infrastructure to increase intra-OIC trade and investment, etc, but where are the proponents for Islamic finance media company for building a global Islamic finance media entity in real time?

Today, dedicated media is a weak link in the Islamic finance chain. Local papers, like the widely circulated Gulf News, in the major Islamic finance hubs, and major West-based papers carry the major equity indexes, currency pair, rates, price of oil and gold, etc., on the front page of their business sections, yet do not carry the closing of a Sharia compliant equity or sukuk index. Why? Do stories need to be complimented with data?

After 40 years, the time has arrived for a dedicated Islamic finance media entity to cover the increasing number of asset classes, hubs, regulations, standards, institutions, players, products, indexes, etc, extend to the halal industry, Muslim lifestyle, and showcase the link between conventional finance and capital markets.

 

Rushdi Siddiqui is Global Head of Islamic Finance at Thomson Reuters. The views expressed are his own and do not reflect those of his organisation or Gulf News.

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