A billboard advertises Rakbank’s Islamic banking offering. The new Ilsamic banking unit was a major contributor to its overall Dh650 million in new lending this year. Image Credit: Ahmed Kutty/Gulf News

The Islamic window is increasingly becoming an important part of UAE’s conventional banking landscape, with one of the leading lenders starting a new division early this year and others expanding on their existing offerings, thereby contributing an increased share to the overall financial fortunes of the group.

Some banks’ financial results point to the Islamic unit gathering pace.

Though a standalone Islamic bank, Emirates Islamic Bank (EIB) is very much under the conventional Emirates NBD Group umbrella and its positive contribution is starting to make a difference. EIB made a net profit of Dh115 million in the first half of this year compared to a loss of Dh90 million a year earlier.

Dubai’s biggest lender, Emirates NBD has almost doubled the contribution of the Sharia-compliant activity to its total operating income, increasing from 5.9 per cent in 2011 to 11.6 per cent in 2012.

“That’s a significant increase,” said Raghu Mandagolathur, senior vice president-research at Kuwait Financial Centre, also known as “Markaz.”

The Islamic segment’s contribution to overall revenue of Mashreq was 10 per cent in 2012, remaining constant from the previous year, according to Moinuddin Malim, chief executive of Mashreq Al Islami. Looking ahead, the bank is aspiring to increase this contribution gradually to 15 per cent by 2015.

This, Malim said, will be done “without any cannibalisation of the existing business while adding on new bank deals and customers.”

Examining overall Islamic Banking assets in the region, Mandagolathur believes that the industry is poised for a growth.

“Our research shows that Islamic banking assets in GCC is poised to grow from $445 billion in 2012 to $628.6 billion in 2016 at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.02 per cent,” said Mandagolathur.

That growth expectation to be witnessed in the UAE as part of GCC is the reason behind RAKBANK’s (The National Bank of Ras Al Khaimah) thrust in the Islamic segment. It is the new entrant in this space, starting RAKBANK Amal in January.

“With an anticipated surge in demand for Islamic Banking in the country over the coming years, RAKBANK wants to ensure that it is at the forefront through Amal’s competitive products and services,” said Mufaddal Khumri Idris, head of RAKBANK Amal.

Since its launch early this year, the bank’s Islamic banking portfolio has shown strong growth month on month.

“Shariah-compliant finance products today make up 30 per cent of the bank’s business, whether in terms of auto finance, credit cards, or personal finance,” said Idris. “Amal also continues to see a healthy trend in accumulating low-cost Saving and Current accounts.”

The new unit was a major contributor to its overall Dh650 million in new lending this year, said Idris.

While the competition is expected to grow fierce, it still makes sense to ramp up the Islamic side of the business with more products and services being readied for different customers.

According to Idris, Islamic business finance solutions are set to be launched by the end of September, while Ijarah products will be available to customers by year end.

In fact, some industry observers believe that the recent hiring of Peter England, the former retail head of the Malaysian lender CIMB Group as the new chief executive of RAKBANK, might indeed give a further fillip to its burgeoning Islamic business.

Regarding competition in the industry, Mandagolathur says Islamic banks or Islamic windows of conventional banks have to compete with conventional banks standalone or with Islamic windows.

“The competition will be between segments more than between banks as it is the product offering that will face competition,” he said. “Islamic segment is certainly a growth segment which all players will vie for a share. And so, it makes sense to tap that market.”

For Mashreq, historically the growth in this segment, which was launched in March 2010, has come from corporate finance, where it has offered Islamic alternate solutions to its customers for working capital finance, factoring, term financing and profit rate swaps.

“Today, we have completely revamped our Islamic retail offerings and are aggressively pushing home finance, personal loans, autos finance, SME finance,” said Malim. “Our ambition is to emulate the same market share as that of our industry.”

But it is not going to be easy.

“It is a tough task as Mashreq Al Islami is not a standalone Islamic bank but an Islamic window in a conventional bank,” said Malim.

However, he believes that with a superior product platform compared to some of the existing Islamic banks and quality service, Mashreq Al Islami could stand out from their competitors and help them accelerate their business.

In the wholesale banking arena, Mashreq Al Islami has launched Islamic alternative for Factoring, Export Finance, Call Account, etc. It has the region’s top performing Islamic Fixed Income Fund, and there are plans to shortly launch the Islamic equities funds.

On the retail side, Mashreq Al Islami have plans to launch Islamic alternative for credit card.