Interest-free liquidity management is the major concern for Islamic banks. The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) requires Islamic banks and conventional banks to maintain the same Cash Reserve Requirement (CRR) of five per cent and Statutory Liquidity Requirement (SLR) of eight per cent.
Islamic banks can hold their required reserver in special current accounts with SBP or with the National Bank of Pakistan. Any return on these accounts is the absolute discretion of the SBP. Recently, the SBP has introduced new SLR policy for the Islamic banks allowing them to invest in Wapda Sukuk but not exceeding five per cent of their investment potfolio.
Efforts are being made since 1979 to Islamise the financial system for which . the SBP initially introduced 12 Islamic modes of financing to replace interest-based instruments. The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) in a separate report in 1980 advised the SBP to replace the money market discount rate with the arrangement whereby the SBP would be empowered to finance the banks on profit and loss sharing basis. Among other recommendations one was to set up interest-free ‘common pool of funds’ on cooperative basis to replace the existing interest bearing government securities.
The SBP initially took drastic steps towards the development (and implementation) of financial instruments based on Islamic principles. Later the whole process came to a standstill. No effort had been made towards the elimination of interest from inter bank transactions; inter-government transactions and foreign currency accounts.
Pakistan has witnessed the second wave of Islamisation of financial system since 1999. This time the Supreme Court of Pakistan asked the government to take steps towards the elimination of interest from the economy. A meeting held under the chairmanship of the president of Pakistan decided to allow Islamic banks to operate parallel to conventional banks. In addition, conventional banks were also allowed to offer Islamic banking services through dedicated Islamic windows.
Now, six Islamic banks and 13 conventional banks with a total network of 200 branches offer Islamic banking products and services. In addition, non-bank financial institutions such as Islamic Mutual Funds, Takaful companies, Mudaraba companies, House Building Finance Corporation etc. are also the active participants. Efforts are also been made for the development of Islamic Sukuk (bond) market. Islamic banking is targeting to capture 10 per cent of the total financial sector in the years to come.
Islamic banking is asset-based banking. History proves that assets prices increase with the increase in GDP while the interest rate decreases at the same time. In other words, interest rate and the assets prices have inverse relationship with each other. Concerns are raised then how can the Islamic money market operate as efficiently as the interest based money market under the current parallel banking concept. Here an attempt has been made to develop a conceptual framework to address this important issue.
Conventional banks operate under the concept of lender-borrower relationship where interest is considered as the rental income on capital. The depositors are assumed to be capital providers. Profits of the banks are distributed at the discretion of the bank managements.
But the Islamic banks follow the concept of Mudaraba (profit sharing) based on investor-entrepreneur relationship. Here Islamic banks consider depositors as entrepreneurs. The profits generated through this relationship are divided between the two parties as per agreed ratio.
Further, researchers divide Islamic bank customers into three broader categories (a) religiously motivated customers (b) high profit motivated customers (c) customers who are religiously motivated but also expect returns at least similar to conventional banks. Customers of second and third categories generally dominate in terms of numbers in any Islamic bank. They expect returns on deposits similar to conventional banks.
In the money market, the main objective is to meet short-term liquidity requirements. The market facilitates banks with deficit in cash to borrow from the banks having surplus money. Islamic money market conducts a similar function of meeting the short-term liquidity needs. Instead of interest, it allows Islamic banks to share surplus capital on profit -sharing basis.
Islamic and conventional money markets can be assumed to offer similar returns on investments. Low returns in Islamic money markets may badly affect the overall profitability of Islamic banks in the initial stages of their development. Even if, Islamic money market offers returns higher than conventional market, the Islamic banks may still not enjoy an advantageous position.
The present parallel banking set-up allows conventional banks to transact in the Islamic money market through their separate Islamic branches and earn returns equal to Islamic banks. Existing Islamic banking arrangement thus puts Islamic banks in a disadvantageous position as they would transact only in the Islamic money market. But at the same time, other banks through their Islamic and conventional branches can deal in both Islamic and the conventional money markets. The scenario leaves the SBP with no option but to manage the Islamic and conventional money markets returns at the same level.
Special attention should also be paid for developing Islamic money market instruments to meet the liquidity requirements plus to match the current market financing rates on constant basis. Current available Islamic financial instruments are either long-term or fixed in nature which create funding mismatch problem.
At present, Islamic banks use short- term deposits on variable rates to finance medium and long-term projects. The situation leads Islamic banks either to maintain high liquid ratios or to avoid long-term financing that can affect the overall profitability.
Various Islamic countries have developed Islamic money market instruments under the concepts of Wakala (agent), short-term Sukuk (bonds), and securitisation of assets etc. There are many others short- term instruments which are acceptable in one Muslim country but are subjected to some restrictions in other Muslim countries--- especially those issued under the concept of buy-back agreements and Bai Al-Inah (sale of debt).
Likewise, Islamic money market is also facing serious research deficiencies in the area of oversight of financial instruments. Innovations are needed to facilitate Islamic banks to manage their liquidity gap as efficiently as the conventional banks.
The writer is an Associate Professor at Lahore School of Economics, Lahore.