Dubai Exports, an agency of the Dubai Department of Economic Development (DED), Government of Dubai, led an Islamic Financial Services Trade Mission to Germany. The Mission was organised in partnership with the German Emirati Joint Council for Industry and Commerce (AHK) and sought to assist firms from the UAE to enter the largest economy in Europe.
Eng. Saed Al Awadi, CEO of Dubai Exports, said that, “two years ago we started promoting UAE’s capabilities and expertise in Islamic or Shariah compliant financial services to major markets abroad. We were not surprised by the overwhelmingly positive response and the successful outcomes that have been achieved to date. This mission builds on from our previous successes and allows our firms in the sector to target new markets”.
Al Awadi’s comment is strongly supported by statistics which show that global Islamic banking assets have grown approximately 10% per annum from the mid 1990s when they were about US$150 billion.
Today, global Islamic financial assets stand at approximately US800 billion. Industry experts claim that over the next decade the sector may reach US$4 trillion. In fact, some areas of Islamic finance, such as insurance or takaful, has been doubling in size each year since 2002.
The growth of Islamic Financial Services has been driven by a growing Islamic population that is enjoying a rapid rise in purchasing power, due to better education and employment opportunities. This has been supported by financial engineering and innovation in the provision of Islamic financial products and services. No longer is Islamic finance limited to simply the provision of interest free bank accounts but includes a whole spectrum of products such as fund of funds, exchange traded funds, hedge funds and real estate investment trust which are all gaining widespread acceptance.
These new products have increased investor awareness of Islamic products and made them more willing to invest in them. The same is true in the corporate sector whereby Islamic financial innovation has developed products while being Shariah compliant meet the needs of the modern business.
“The financial innovation has been greatly assisted by financial centers and their regulators who have understood the importance of the sector and its unique structure. In this respect the UAE has become the leader and pioneer with the first recognized Islamic bank being established in the country, the first Islamic stock exchange and not only does it have the greatest number of listed Islamic bonds or sukuks, but also the largest ever sukuk issued” stated Al Awadi. The Mission was accompanied by leading firms in the sector based in the UAE with the principle aim of showcasing the high level of expertise in the area in Dubai as well as to connect the participants with potential opportunities in Germany.
Germany has the largest Muslim population in Europe of 4 million with an estimated wealth in excess of 35 billion euros. The German potential is huge for the Islamic finance world because the growth rate of the population is high as well as being young. Three quarters of the Muslim population in Germany is below the age of 49.
In addition, estimates show that the Muslim population in Germany has a much higher saving ratio of 18% compared to 10% for the country as a whole. More importantly, a survey in 2010 showed that 72% of Muslims living in Germany are interested in Islamic Financial products. The survey found that if such products were to be offered in Germany 60% of respondents would consider an investment. An amazing 94% of them stated that they would purchase such products if offered by an Islamic financial institution.
In the case of the Islamic insurance sector it is estimated to be worth more than 1 billion euros. Studies show not only is the retail component lucrative but so is the corporate sector. Muslim entrepreneurs generated more than 50 billion euros in profits last year and this is and ideal market for the launch of Shariah compliant corporate products.
Neil Miller the Global Head of Islamic Finance at KPMG and one of the participants on the Trade Mission stated that, “I have been pleasantly surprised by this Trade Mission in that it is apparent that since my previous visits to Germany over the last 5 years, there is a genuine desire on the part of the authorities to support the establishment of Islamic financial Institutions.
Miller has considerable experience in Islamic finance and was involved in the setting up of the first Islamic bank and Investment House in the UK. Miller continued to state, “that the export led real economy with its deep manufacturing and technology base in sectors that are inherently compatible with Shariah investment objectives offer a natural fit for Islamic finance which is also concerned with the real economy”. The regulatory changes are being discussed although at an early stage nevertheless gave comfort to the firms in the Trade Mission that they can make a valid contribution to the Islamic financial services landscape in Germany.
Saud Siddqiui the Chief Operating Officer of Dar Istithmar stated that, “The Trade Mission was an excellent Initiative by Dubai Exports which has provided firms such as ours to meet with the real decision makers and players in the Islamic finance space and to explore how we can contribute in their efforts to launch Shariah compliant products and services.” Siddiqui continued to state that, “the discussions with government authorities allowed the participants to better understand the regulatory framework of the country so as to develop a more appropriate strategy for expansion into the country”.
The clear message that came from the Trade Mission to Germany was that there are no regulatory provisions which prohibit Islamic financial products and services in the country. This means that offering Islamic financial products in the German market is possible. The German state of Saxony Anhalt has already issued an Islamic bond or sukuk. However, there are still some changes that need to be made in order that Islamic financial products are treated at par with conventional ones.
The participants in the Mission brought them to the attention of the authorities and trust that it will be only a very short while before UAE firms enter the sector in Germany. UAE firms in the Islamic finance sector have been growing at home and have been keen to enter new markets overseas.
Al Awadi furthered that, “our mandate is to support UAE firms to export their products and services overseas and this mission is one of the many ways in which Dubai Exports has be spearheading this in export drive of the emirate. I am sure that as more countries make the necessary regulatory changes so as to treat Islamic finance at par with conventional products it will allow our firms to gain greater market coverage.”