Bank Negara Malaysia is offering up to two new Islamic banking licences to foreign firms to set up banks with at least $1bn of paid-up capital, a move that the industry hopes will spur more lending and create bigger Islamic banks that can compete with global lenders.
“Bank Negara Malaysia is still assessing the applications for mega Islamic bank licences,” it said in a statement in response to a Reuters query. “The announcement of the licences will be made on completion of the assessment.”
Bankers say the bid to create a well-capitalised Islamic bank, which dates back to at least 2006, has been fraught with difficulties such as a struggle to raise sufficient capital and disagreement as to where the lender should be located.
One of the project’s main backers is Saudi Arabia’s Sheikh Saleh Kamel, founder and chairman of Bahrain-based Islamic bank Al Baraka. Malaysia’s central bank has not disclosed the applicants for the licences but there has been market speculation that the Islamic Development Bank and Al Baraka could be keen.
Islamic finance has become a popular source of alternative funding after the credit crisis but most sharia banks lack sufficient capital to compete with Western lenders on mandates to syndicate financing, arrange bonds and supply project finance.
The Shariah finance industry’s assets are estimated at $1 trillion, a fraction of the conventional sector’s $232 trillion, excluding derivatives.