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Saturday, July 26, 2014  

Sultanate’s first Islamic bank sees more room for growth
Anita Joseph

MUSCAT The potential for Islamic banking in the Sultanate is tremendous as nearly one third of Omanis stay away from conventional banking at present, according to an official of Bank Nizwa, Oman’s first Islamic bank, which officially opened on Saturday.

When a third of a country’s population is not participating in any economic activity, then it needs to be addressed, Ahmed Bin Saif Al Rawahi, chairman of the founding committee of Bank Nizwa, told Oman Tribune.

The bank unveiled its logo on Saturday. All products and services of the bank will be Sharia compliant.

“We found that above 30 per cent of the cash is lying in banks in interest-free deposits, and many Omanis are doing business in neighbouring countries for want of Islamic banks here. We also discovered that people form small groups which engage in activities similar to banking, but in an unregulated manner,” he added.

“All these factors, coupled with effective economic fundamentals and the growth in the Omani banking market, showed us that Islamic banks have tremendous potential here,” Al Rawahi said.

He said his bank did not see existing banks as threats.

“We do not see existing banks as threats, but think their presence will help promote Islamic banking and help people know more about it.

“It doesn’t help to be confrontational at this point, especially because Omanis and resident consumers are open-minded and intelligent. They know the difference between both kinds of banking systems and act accordingly.”

The bank is expected to start operations by July end, and will launch its initial public offering (IPO) in April.

“The prospectus is almost ready, in its final form and we will soon submit it to CMA,” Rawahi said.

The IPO will offload 60 million rials (40 per cent) of its paid up capital of 150 million rials. 

The bank will initially offer an entire portfolio of banking services in a phased manner, in tune with factors like marketability, Sharia board approval and the approval of the Central Bank of Oman, Rawahi said.

The bank was invited by CBO to review the Islamic Banking Regulatory Framework (IBRF) for the country, and found it “comprehensive”.

“There are only a few minor issues which can be discussed, and I commend CBO for coming out with the rule book,” he added.

The bank is working towards an operating model, procuring IT infrastructure and the creation of internal policies and procedures.

“We are in the process of obtaining approval for establishing the head office and its first three branches — in Shatti Al Qurum in Muscat, Nizwa and Sohar. We have plans to expand in the country,” Rawahi said.

He added the bank has opted for a healthy balance between experienced regional Sharia scholars and local Omani talent, in appointing its Sharia board members.

“The CBO stipulates that there should be at least three Sharia board members (Omanis or non-Omanis). And so we have opted for four members. The reason for this regional-local mix is to ensure the effective transition of knowledge from the region to the local Omani context,” Rawahi said.

The list of members has been finalised, but unless the final contract is signed, the details cannot be divulged.

“But we have roped in some of the best brains and talent,” he said.

The bank has begun a recruitment drive, and has received 5,000 applications for 150 vacancies.

“Sometimes, Islamic banking products can be a little more expensive than conventional banking products, unless countries amend a few of their taxation rules,” Rawahi said.

“We are in talks with the government in this regard and the initial indication is positive, but it is too soon to tell when something will be done. In the meantime, to be competitive, we are employing cutting-edge technology, some of the best banking minds and are planning to be intensively consumer-centric.”

The bank’s new logo, in purple and yellow represents a tasteful blend of tradition and modernity.

“The human being is always at the centre of the bank, which will be based on the timeless values of Islam. Purple colour depicts the richness of Omani culture, while Yellow shows innovation and creativity,” said Marie Succar of Wolff Olins brand consultants, who developed the logo.

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