This article also leads to consideration of another important question about whether the focus on 'innovation' as it relates to mimicking additional conventional products (for example, Islamic hedge funds and multi-tranched sukuk) makes sense for the industry as a whole. There is clearly room for innovation in Shari'ah-compliant products, but just as the debate rages in the conventional financial world about whether financial innovation is beneficial for society, I think it is important to consider the question about which innovations are beneficial for the investors in the products or whether they are simply a new product that can contribute to the profits of the firms structuring them.
In contrast to the innovations that merely mimic more complex conventional financial products, the focus of innovation would be more beneficial were it to focus on developing alternatives for controversial but incredibly necessary products like commodity murabaha/tawarruq. These products have come under fire recently for their similarity with interest-based products where there is only nominal trade in an underlying asset in order to structure short-term liquidity management tools.
Another area where the industry's efforts would provide a real benefit to the industry would be in creating more standardized types of sukuk which could be priced competitively with conventional debt. Were there ready-made sukuk structures that were accepted by the majority of scholars--an easy one to start with would be ijara--then it could reduce structuring costs and encourage issuers to bring sukuk into the market. The use of similar structures by a broad number of issuers would also have the effect of increasing the comparability between different sukuk issues and holders of one sukuk could use standard credit analysis to compare it to other sukuk in the secondary market without worrying that structuring differences would lead one sukuk to behave differently, for example if there were a default.
Innovation can benefit both the developers of the innovation as well as the broader Islamic financial industry, but this need not always be the case. For example, the Total Return Swap engineered by Deutsche Bank was certainly an innovation--it used a wa'd swap to create a Shari'ah-compliant wrapper for non-Shari'ah-com-pliant hedge funds--but it also led to Sheikh Yusuf DeLorenzo to dub the fatwa permitting it as the "Doomsday Fatwa for Islamic Finance". He dubbed it thus because if it is possible to use a wa'd swap instead of an alternative structure, it makes it possible for any non-compliant product to be fairly inexpensively wrapped using the wa'd swap and could compromise the legitimacy of the entire industry if adopted throughout. Innovation in finance is different from innovation elsewhere because it is possible for the innovation to do little more than generate profits without contributing any broader benefit. In the wake of the global credit crisis, in part caused by this type of innovation, the importance of considering whether a given innovation is beneficial or detrimental.
Another excerpt from the Yasaar Media's Islamic Investment Banking 2009 report is published in AMEinfo, this one focuses on venture capital.
Islamic private equity could be the beneficiary of asset fire sales and mergers & acquisition activity following the economic downturn according to the managing director of Rasameel Structured Finance, Issam Al Tawari.
- The rankings of largest banks in the GCC is out with four of the banks located in the UAE.
- Malaysian asset manager Corston-Smith is planning a $282.5 million Shari'ah-compliant fund.
- QInvest has proposed launching a $200 million Shari'ah-compliant fund focusing on shipping assets.
- The Azerbaijani Islamic financial industry remains nearly non-existent because there are no laws authorizing Islamic banks, but this could change in the future as there is one bank that now offers Shari'ah-compliant products, although not murabaha due to regulatory restrictions.
- Mauritius continues to try and attract Islamic finance as an attractive location to structure Islamic financial products.