Friday, May 07, 2010

Growth of Islamic Banking in Turkey

On Wednesday, FT contained a special insert called "Istanbul as a Financial Centre." The headline read, "Ambition yet to be matched by reality," a state of affairs which is then explained in articles about lack of political and social consensus, a conservative business oligarchy that offers little power and protection to equity holders, and competition from Moscow to be the regional hub both for multinationals and financial services. All this is set across the backdrop of a city that is potentially very attractive to highly skilled migrants. As for the Turkish economy, as George Bush used to say, "The fundamentals are strong."

What caught my eye was the article by Delphine Strauss on the growing stake of Islamic banks in Turkey's financial sector. These banks have grown at almost double the rate of commercial banks over the last three years. In Turkey's case in particular, we could chalk this up to a political climate that is increasingly friendly to these institutions, as the Islamic AKP has entrenched its power. Yet it appears that these banks are increasingly competitive across the Islamic world. In a very interesting article in October's Anthropology News, BU PhD candidate Sarah Tobin, analyzes the gains made by Islamic banks during the global financial crisis (UC Berkeley, sadly, doesn't give me access to the article online; as for the performance of Islamic banks, it should be noted, that the Dubai credit crisis damaged them considerably). Tobin, whose work is in Jordan, sees the rise of these institutions as more than just the result of their cautious investments in a volatile market. Islamic banks are providing all kinds of non-pecuniary services, from giving customers a daily feeling of religious authenticity, to "Islamicizing" certain transactions that the Koran on some readings would seem to disallow, to scoring brownie points with an Islamic regime -- which is where Turkey might come in, though it sounds like many of the banks' biggest customers are religiously conservative Anatolian businessman, the new elite of the AKP world.

One gets the sense from Strauss's report on Turkey that the Turks lag behind the rest of the Islamic world on this score both because of the secular Kemalist legacy and because participation in Islamic finance is more "political" -- or less "authentic" than elsewhere. On this account, if the AKP loses power tomorrow, the sector shrinks precipitously. Here, Tobin's article is a helpful companion. She underscores that with each bank maintaining its own Shari'ah board charged with interpreting a great diversity of financial instruments, practices, and markets ultimately, as I understand it, in light of the Koranic injunction against taking and receiving interest, no clear standard of "Islamic banking" exists. The local diversity of Islamic law surely plays a role too. And though Jordanian banks may be more conservative than those in Dubai, it seems the charge of "un-Islamic" might be leveled against anyone at anytime. This is not to say that particular forms of investment, types of enterprise, and grand strategy do not pattern the Islamic banking sector. They do, and that's what I find so interesting. The FT piece, for example, describes "sukuk-style bonds," which are offered but twice a year, and are indexed to the revenues of government agencies. Whatever Islamic banking is, it's certainly not a simple reaction against modernity. Standard & Poor's just started rating a Shari'ah-compliant fund from Qatar last Tuesday.


J. said...

Noah, from what I recall, there are certain standards and even certifying bodies that attest to the Shari'a compliance of investments, banks and different financial vehicles. Sukuks are like bond issues, just that they do not charge interest but are structured like "leases" or "rents", I believe. Don't know the exact details, though. What I do know is that many of the major major investment projects that are being kicked off now in Saudi Arabia in the infrastructure sector (power stations) and in petrochemicals (refineries) are now partly financed through "tranches" based on sukuk and other "tranches" that are regular loans granted by international financial institutions. We're talking about investments of 5-10 billion dollars where a third could be sukuk and other portions are standard financial instruments. I doubt there is anything of that scale in Turkey at this time.

Noah K said...

Thanks. Very interesting this sukuk stuff. Yeah, I can see that what is building up in Turkey is nothing compared to the Gulf. But what I was getting at with the lack of standards is really about uniform standards. It sounds like some nations have certifying boards that issue licenses, as Malaysia seems to. On the other hand, each institution has its own board with its own credentialing process. There isn't a central body that sets the rules. That's what I mean about diversity of certification.