An increasing number of Kuwaiti lenders are moving away from traditional banking in a bid to tap into a booming market for Sharia-compliant financial products in the region - a move that could soon see Islamic financing overtake conventional banking in the Gulf state.
Commercial Bank of Kuwait (CBK) is the latest to unveil plans to turn into a fully-fledged Islamic institution. CBK announced in July that it had received regulatory approval to issue up to KD120m ($425.16m) in bonds in preparation for the transition, which received the approval of 85% of its shareholders in April.
The move by CBK, to be completed by the end of 2014, will help Kuwait cement its position as a provider of Sharia-compliant products and services. There are already five other Kuwaiti Islamic banks; Kuwait Finance House (KFH), Boubyan Bank, Al Ahli United Bank, Kuwait International Bank, and Warba Bank, which was established in 2010. This compares with four conventional banks.
Kuwait’s Islamic banking assets grew by 8.7% during the first nine months of 2013, reaching KD22.5bn ($79.7bn), while Islamic financing grew by 11.2% to hit KD13.5bn ($47.8bn) during the same period, reported in The Banker in April. This exceeded the growth rates in the overall banking sector, which saw a 7.1% growth in assets and a 7.5% growth in loans between January and September.
This move toward Islamic banking follows a broader regional and indeed global trend. Islamic finance industry's assets worldwide are estimated to have grown 18.6% annually to reach $1.8trn at the end of 2013, according to KFH Research, which projects that total Islamic financial assets will reach $2.1trn globally by 2015.
The Sharia compliant sector has expanded rapidly within Southeast Asia and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), whose assets accounts for more than a third of the worldwide total according to KFH. Other banks in this region are also looking to make the switch to Islamic banking. Malaysia's Agro Bank plans to convert to Islamic banking by 2015 while the country’s SME Bank is planning a full conversion by 2018 according to Reuters. In Pakistan, Faysal Bank and Summit Bank are mulling similar plans.
Growing market share in Kuwait
In Kuwait, the sector’s history goes back to 1977 with the establishment of KFH Group, Kuwait’s largest Islamic bank. For the last three years to end-2013, KFH total assets grew at a compounded annual growth (CAGR) rate of 8.8% to reach KD16.1bn ($57.2bn).
CBK, the state’s fifth-largest lender by assets, is following in the footsteps of both Boubyan Bank and Ahli United Bank (AUB) Kuwait in converting from a conventional lender, drawn by the sector's rapidly rising popularity and promising outlook for growth, which continues to outpace that of conventional lenders. According to Reuters, CBK’s conversion will increase Islamic banks’ market share in Kuwait above an estimated 40%.
AUB Kuwait, (formerly known as the Bank of Kuwait and the Middle East) posted a record $579.4m in net profit in 2013, a 72.6% increase over 2012’s $335.7m, which Deputy CEO Ahmed Zulficar attributed to the switch to Islamic Banking: “Since the bank’s conversion to Islamic banking, our performance has improved”.
Islamic finance expert Blake Goud, who writes for the Thomson Reuters Islamic Finance Gateway, noted that AUB had no debt when it switched to Islamic banking in 2010, which was beneficial due to the fact that less instruments had to be converted from conventional to sharia-compliant.
As a result, it had converted the majority of its loans and advances to sharia-compliant financing by the end of its first year as an Islamic Bank. “Contrast that with a similar balance sheet from CBK which has significant assets and liabilities under a year, but will now have a sizeable additional interest-based liability longer than one year (17% of existing liabilities) that will remain on its balance sheet post-conversion,” said Goud.