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Monday, May 30, 2011

Commercial banks operating in Oman to open windows offering Islamic banking products

A. E. James

Mon May 30 2011 08:51:31 GMT+0400 (Arabian Standard Time) Oman Time

MUSCAT: In a major decision, the Central Bank of Oman (CBO) yesterday allowed commercial banks operating in the country to open windows offering Islamic banking products.

The decision was taken by the CBO board, which met under the chairmanship of Ali bin Mohammed bin Moosa.

However, it is not clear whether the existing banks will have to open exclusive branches for offering Sharia-compliant financial products, or whether they could be offered through the existing branches.

The CBO board also approved the application of Sheikh Said bin Ali Al Khalili to establish an Islamic bank called Bank Nizwa, following the recent government decision to open the market for Sharia-compliant financial products. In fact, several Omani banks are vying to launch Sharia-compliant products, in an apparent bid to take advantage of an untapped market.

According to experts, there is a huge potential for Islamic banking in Oman, provided that the regulating authorities formulate the right regulatory framework and financial institutions invest in developing a pool of talents.

The proposed Islamic bank and conventional financial institutions that offer Islamic products through window operation could capture 8-10 per cent of the market share of the country’s $40-$42 billion banking assets in four to five years time.

Unlike traditional banking, Islamic banks provide entrepreneurs with funds for their business ventures and get a return based on a pre-determined profit sharing ratio.

Apart from people bringing back their money parked in Islamic institutions outside the country, several locals, who are presently not coming under the formal banking system, are expected to approach Sharia-compliant institutions for their day-to-day banking needs.

This was the experience of the other markets when they introduced Islamic finance for the first time. In fact, Islamic finance in the Gulf region has been thriving in recent years.

PricewaterhouseCoopers, in a recent report, said the $1 trillion Islamic finance industry was expected to grow by between 15 and 20 per cent per year.

The Omani banks — they have close associations with regional institutions offering Sharia-compliant products — like ahlibank, BankMuscat, Oman Arab Bank and National Bank of Oman would have an edge in offering these products in the local market.

The commercial banks would be able to offer Islamic banking products only through their subsidiaries, as it is mandatory to have separate balance sheets and boards.

Banking sources said the interest margin available for Sharia-compliant products is much higher than the conventional banking sector. The interest spread or margin available for Omani banks is 3.3 per cent now. This could go up by 100 basis points to 4.3 per cent if they enter Islamic finance.

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