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By Jennigay Coetzer – Business Day – 23, February, 2011

There is increasing interest in Islamic banking in South Africa, with industry players reporting good growth and new players coming into the market. “The industry as a whole is growing, and so are we,” says Shabir Chohan, CEO of Al Baraka Bank.

The bank opened its doors in 1989 and had the market to itself until 2005 when Absa opened an Islamic banking division, or window, and other banks followed suit. “Since the other institutions entered the market it has lifted the whole industry and raised the level of awareness of Islamic banking in this country,” says Chohan.

Today Al Baraka’s customers have access to ATMs, debit cards, home loans, motor vehicle finance, and internet banking for personal and small business use. It also offers equipment finance, and trade finance, for example to cover start-up costs for a new business, or a stock shipment.

In this case, the bank purchases the goods from the supplier and sells them to the customer, on a cost plus an agreed profit percentage basis, on a deferred basis, over an agreed period.

The bank is bound by the original transaction terms, which are transparent and open, and the customer pays the bank in fixed installments, or a lump sum at the end of the agreed period, says Chohan.

The Banking Sector Education and Training Authority BankSETA has developed an Islamic banking course that has been made freely available to financial services organisations, micro-financiers, universities and financial associations across and the rest of Africa.

CEO Max Makhubalo says all four of the major South African banks, specialist Islamic banking organisation Al Baraka, and Investec are using the material to train their staff.

He says the Central Bank of Tanzania, and the National Bank of Commerce in Tanzania, which is an Absa subsidiary, are also using.  Enquiries about the training material have also been received from other parts of Africa, including countries like Malawi, Uganda, Kenya and Mozambique.

He says universities have also shown an encouraging level of interest in incorporating the training material into their curricula in their commerce and law faculties. “It is our conviction that all current students of financial qualifications who will be future professionals in the finance field should receive some basic training in Islamic banking,” says Makhubalo.

Islamic short term insurance, known as Takafol in Arabic, is an area of Islamic finance that is attracting increasing interest among the Muslim population. “This is one of the fastest growing sectors in Islamic finance,” says Uwaiz Jassat, CEO of Takafol SA.

With Islamic insurance, individuals and businesses contribute to a mutual fund, the monies from which are invested according the terms of Shariah laws, and if contributors have a loss the fund reimburses them. At the end of year if there is a surplus in the fund it is distributed proportionately to the contributors, in line with what they have contributed.

If there is too little money to distribute the funds could be rolled over to the next year.
Any benefits the contributor has received from the fund during the year are deducted from their payout. If the amount of the claims are greater than the amount accumulated in the fund, the shortfall is covered by insurance.

Jassat says the company is planning to introduce a life insurance product before the end of the year. He says Takafol is looking at expanding into other African markets in conjunction with Absa.

Jennigay Coetzer is a freelance business and technology journalist with 25 years experience, and she writes regularly for Business Day. She also runs media training and writing skills workshops, and is the author of A Perfect Press Release – or Not?, a guide to writing and distributing effective press releases, an electronic version of which can be downloaded free from her website: www.jennigay.co.za.

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