Islamic banking has become a major global industry with a growth of 10% to 15% per year over the last decade, to reach between USD 700 and 750 billion of assets worldwide nowadays. Currently, Islamic Banking is particularly developed in the Middle East, is definitively on the rise in the Asia-Pacific region, and is currently in an infancy stage in North Africa and in Europe.
North Africa represents a large and still untapped market of nearly 200 million people, with 95% Muslims, except in Sudan where Muslims represent 70% of the population. Furthermore, with an average GDP per capita of US$2,334 in 2007, the North African region is richer than the African average (US$1,137). Islamic banking is still a niche market in North Africa. This could be explained by the fact that North African consumers are traditionally less conservative than Middle East consumers and are used to conventional banking products and services. Furthermore, governments have not particularly encouraged Islamic banking development in their countries. However, things have recently begun to change with:
– New Islamic banks entering these markets; for instance, the UAE Noor Islamic bank which opened an office in Tunisia in June 2008
– Governments creating new regulations; for instance, in 2007, the Moroccan Central Bank decided to authorize certain kinds of Islamic financial products, called alternative financial products, in response to consumers’ demand.
The demand for Islamic Banking product exists in North Africa but also in Europe, where Muslims population is estimated at nearly 15 million people, and is particularly significant in France, the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Sweden, and UK. UK has taken the European leadership in Islamic Banking since 2004, when the FSA authorized the Islamic Bank of Britain, the first Shariah compliant retail bank in Europe. In 2006, the European Islamic Investment Bank, the EIIB, also obtained a license from the FSA. In France, the government recently expressed its wish to change the regulation to allow Islamic banking, and the first Islamic banks should appear in 2009. In the meantime, two Islamic banking products have already been launched in 2008 in a French overseas department, La Réunion, by BFCOI, a subsidiary of Société Générale.
In addition to the large and untapped Muslim population, Islamic banking is currently beginning to attract non-Muslim customers, who are interested in this alternative way of banking. Indeed, a growing number of non-Muslims are turning to Islamic banking as customers, spooked by turmoil in the Western banking system increasingly see the sector as safe and more connected to the real economy. In my opinion, Islamic banking will benefit from this new consumers’ interest and grow even more quickly than it recently did.