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Thursday, 31 May 2007

HSBC to set up Asia-wide Islamic banking unit

Bloomberg News, 31 May 2007

BANGKOK: HSBC Holdings, the largest overseas bank offering Islamic services in Malaysia, plans to set up a stand-alone unit there to serve Asia's growing Muslim population. HSBC Amanah, the Kuala Lumpur-based Islamic-banking arm, has applied to the central bank for a license that would let it sell wealth management, mutual fund and retirement products to bigger Muslim countries like Indonesia, the managing director, Mohamed Ross Mohd Din, said. "If we can do it successfully here, then let's see what we can do in Indonesia, Bangladesh and Brunei," Mohamed Ross, 55, said in an interview Monday in Kuala Lumpur. "We are seeing an explosion of growth of Islamic finance globally. The Muslim population is growing faster than any other group."
HSBC Amanah is expanding its reach in Asia as rivals like Standard Chartered, ABN Amro and Allianz, Europe's biggest insurer, increase their offerings that comply with Shariah, or Islamic law. Global assets complying with Shariah are worth $500 billion and growing by more than 10 percent a year amid rising oil wealth in the Middle East, Standard & Poor's estimates. Opportunities to sell Islamic banking products abound in Asia, home to at least half of the world's Muslim population of 1.6 billion. Asia's emerging economies will expand 8.4 percent this year compared with U.S. growth of 2.2 percent, the International Monetary Fund said in April.

The Islamic financial services industry worldwide, including banking assets, may grow to $2.8 trillion by 2010 from as much as $1 trillion now, the Malaysia-based Islamic Financial Services Board and Saudi Arabia's Islamic Development Bank estimate. "Western banking and financial institutions have found it practical and profitable, and are adopting it with great speed and enthusiasm, not to mention at a handsome profit," President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia told delegates at the World Islamic Economic Conference in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday.
Islamic law bans the payment and receipt of interest, prohibits investment in businesses like gambling and alcohol and stresses profit-sharing. "In Malaysia we are trying to develop the concept of wealth management" to appeal to individuals, Mohamed Ross said. HSBC Amanah and HSBC Amanah Takaful Malaysia, a joint venture offering Islamic insurance formed by HSBC Insurance Asia-Pacific Holdings, are developing retirement planning, wealth protection and investment-linked Islamic life insurance policies, he said.
The world's top five banks by assets - the Zurich-based UBS, HSBC, Barclays in London, the Paris-based BNP Paribas and Citigroup in New York - offer Islamic services. Personal wealth in the Middle East is expected to increase to $1.8 trillion by 2010 from $1.2 trillion in 2005, according to a June report by Merrill Lynch & and Capgemini Group. The region's high-net-worth individuals increased to 300,000 - or 9.8 percent - between 2004 and 2005, the report said. Kuwait Finance House and Al Rajhi Bank of Saudi Arabia hold Islamic banking licenses in Malaysia. Qatar National Bank, the Gulf emirate's largest lender, opened a Singapore office in April to compete for new banking business in the Asia-Pacific region, said the chief executive, Ali al-Emadi.
HSBC, which is based in London, offers Islamic banking services through HSBC Amanah. The unit has about 200 employees and representative offices in countries including Bangladesh, Brunei, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Britain and the United States. HSBC Amanah in Malaysia, with assets of 5.37 billion ringgit, or $1.6 billion, has 30 employees. In its effort to become a hub for Islamic finance, Malaysia is giving tax breaks for such products. Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said in March that the government would allow overseas investors to own 100 percent of Islamic financial institutions conducting foreign currency business. Last August, the central bank said it would allow local and overseas banks and insurers to conduct Islamic business transactions in foreign currencies at the Malaysian International Islamic Financial Center.

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