I was interested by the Asian Development Bank's decision to work with the Islamic Financial Standards Board over a five-year period to "support member countries in legal and regulatory aspects of meeting the IFSB's standards". The reason cited by the ADB is that the majority of the IFSB's membership is located outside of the three countries with the largest Muslim populations (Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh, which are home to only 7 members).
The development of Islamic finance has naturally occurred in countries that have either decided to extensively promote Islamic finance (like Malaysia) or countries where there is a large number of ultra-high net worth Muslims because that is where the profits are likely to be easier to come by. With more resources to be potentially tapped by Islamic financial institutions, it will attract larger institutions that can provide the scale needed for Islamic finance to become large enough to reach the scale where it becomes profitable.
As I wrote in my newsletter (which you can subscribe to on the right side of the blog), the recent decision by HSBC Amanah to leave many of the markets where it operates is a recognition that the bank is so large that many of the markets where Islamic finance exists are not large enough to support a bank of its size (and also move the needle in terms of its profitability).
HSBC noted that although it is leaving 6 of the 9 markets where it offered Islamic banking services (with most post-restructuring business based in either Saudi Arabia and Malaysia), it expects to retain 83% of the pre-restructuring revenues. Included in the markets it is exiting are Bangladesh (it will remain in Indonesia, although with a limited presence), two of the three largest Muslim-majority countries in the world.
Islamic finance exists already in Pakistan, Indonesia and Bangladesh, although these countries represent a small portion of total Islamic finance assets, with no countries appearing in the 9 largest countries (according to data as of the end of 2010 from The Banker, included in the UK Islamic Finance Secretariat's 2012 report). The assets outside of those 9 countries accounts for just $83 billion, 8% of the total Islamic finance industry, even though 570 million people, most of them Muslim, live in these three countries.
It boils down to a simple point. Islamic finance, like conventional finance, is by and large not focused across the wealth distribution, it is targeted at people of moderate or high net worth. And where microfinance has developed to provide financial services to those without significant wealth, there has been limited development of Islamic finance and it has not received much support from the Islamic finance industry. The ADB helping countries adopt IFSB standards will not change this, but by supporting Islamic finance in countries where it is not well developed, and where there is likely to be demand for it, it may provide the governments with greater familiarity with Islamic finance that is a precondition for adopting regulations that could allow Islamic microfinance to develop.