News / Economy

Islamic Banks Rebrand to Attract Foreign, Non-Muslim Customers

A woman walks past a branch of Noor Islamic Bank, which changed its name to Noor Bank in January 2014, in Dubai in 2010.
A woman walks past a branch of Noor Islamic Bank, which changed its name to Noor Bank in January 2014, in Dubai in 2010.
Reuters

Islamic banking is based on core principles of the religion. So it is striking that some banks are removing the word "Islam" from their names - a sign of both the potential of Islamic finance to grow, and the obstacles to it becoming mainstream.

In January, Dubai-based Noor Islamic Bank changed its name to Noor Bank. Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank (ADIB), the emirate's largest sharia-compliant lender, now plans to call itself Abu Dhabi International Bank when operating abroad.

In both cases, the changes are part of the banks' plans to expand. They aim to move well beyond a relatively small group of customers who stress religious permissibility, to a much larger customer base for whom pricing and service quality are key.

This approach could help Islamic banks establish themselves globally, not just in the Muslim-majority regions of the Gulf and southeast Asia, and appeal to larger numbers of non-Muslims as well as Muslims.

But the banks feel that to broaden their appeal and compete directly with conventional institutions for customers, they need to play down their Islamic nature among the general public.

"Rebranding is an essential part of widening the appeal of the industry, whether we call it ethical, alternative or sustainable finance," said Yerlan Baidaulet, a member of the board of executive directors at the Saudi Arabia-based Islamic Development Bank, a multilateral institution. "Our mindset has to be global, we have to think wider in terms of customer appeal. Why monopolise the concept and keep calling it only Islamic?"

Growth

Islamic banks, which follow principles such as bans on interest payments and pure monetary speculation, have been growing rapidly in the Gulf and southeast Asia for a decade.

In the six-country Gulf Cooperation Council they now account for about a quarter of total banking assets.

In the past couple of years growth has slowed in some countries, however, as the banks have largely run out of new customers who are willing to base their choices primarily on an institution's Islamic credentials.

In Qatar, for instance, asset growth rates of Islamic banks have dropped to just above those of their conventional peers, cutting a large lead which the industry previously held. Islamic banking assets in Qatar grew 12.2 percent in 2013, down from 35.1 percent in 2011, central bank data shows.

So to continue expanding, the banks have two options. One is to compete for the mass of consumers - by some estimates, 60 or 70 percent of the population even in a mainly Muslim country - who base their choice of bank on non-religious factors.

ADIB is in the process of acquiring a large number of such customers; in April it said it had agreed to buy the United Arab Emirates retail banking operations of Barclays for an expected price of 650 million dirhams ($177 million).

The Abu Dhabi bank is now trying to persuade roughly 110,000 former Barclays customers to stay with ADIB rather than moving to conventional banks. This involves competing directly on non-religious aspects of its service.

The other growth option for Islamic banks is to move into new markets in Asia, Europe or Africa, in countries which have Muslim minorities but where establishing a profitable presence will require attracting large numbers of non-Muslims.

The banks have no intention of changing the sharia-compliant nature of their products. But removing the word "Islam" from their names is a way of avoiding any perception that Islamic banks focus on religious issues while neglecting aspects such as quality of service.

Islamic Bank of Britain (IBB), which was acquired in January by Qatar's largest Islamic bank Masraf Al Rayan, is studying whether to rebrand itself to appeal to a wider customer base, said IBB chief executive Sultan Choudhury.

"We have to look at branding - sometimes the positioning as an Islamic bank can work against us," he said. "After the takeover we want to look at how we present the bank to customers. We have to consider how to position the brand to be all-inclusive."

IBB, based in Birmingham, offered a savings account promotion last year for which it estimated 55 percent of applications were from non-Muslims. It had similar success in marketing products in Scotland by avoiding any of the Arabic terminology often used to describe Islamic financial products, Choudhury said.

"Ultimately the contracts are sharia-compliant...but this helps in consumer understanding."

Ethical

Tirad Mahmoud, ADIB's chief executive, said Islamic banks had an advantage over conventional banks in being able to stress the moral foundations of their business - a consideration which has become more important since banking abuses fueled the global financial crisis.

For example, Islamic banks reject much of the complex financial engineering used by conventional banks. Returns on Islamic bank accounts are based on investment income rather than on interest payments.

"The real competitive advantage that Islamic banks have is that they are ethically constructed. We need to promote this. The denomination doesn't matter," Mahmoud said.

ADIB says a survey which it commissioned found 1,000 retail customers in the UAE, Egypt, Turkey, Indonesia and Britain believed a lack of ethical principles was the biggest problem in their banking relationships.

However, the survey also showed that while Islamic banks were perceived as treating customers more fairly than conventional institutions, they were seen as lacking best industry practices and failing to deliver a simple banking experience. Rebranding can help to change that.

Name changes can also help Islamic banks expand in markets where regulation limits their branding options: ADIB has plans to enter Turkey, Algeria and Saudi Arabia, all of which restrict the use of religious terms, Mahmoud said.

In Turkey, for example, Islamic banks describe themselves as "participation banks" to comply with staunchly secular legislation.

"In respect of awareness of participation banks, there has not been any problem. Everybody knows they are Islamic banks and operate according to Islamic banking principles," said Osman Nihat Yilmaz, deputy secretary general of the Participation Banks' Association of Turkey."Less religiously-linked branding could be useful for the industry if it wants to attract non-Muslim clients." 

ADIB'S Mahmoud rejected the idea that removing the word "Islam" from banks' names was in any way compromising their Islamic nature. Instead, he said, it could put the focus where it should be: on the quality of banks' services.

"Some Islamic banks are unfairly using their Islamic label in Muslim communities," he said. "It is an emotional label that is very powerful in these communities, but are we leveraging on emotions?"

You May Like

Turkey's Controversial Reform Bill Giving Investors Jitters

Homeland security reform bill will give police new powers in search, seizure, detention and arrests, while restricting the rights of suspects, their attorneys More

Audio Slideshow In Kenyan Prison, Good Grades Are Path to Freedom

Some inmates who get high marks could see their sentences commuted to non-custodial status More

Ali Regained Title in Historic Fight 40 Years Ago

'The Champ' knocked Foreman out to regain crown he had lost 7 years earlier when US government accused him of draft-dodging and boxing officials revoked his license More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisiai
X
Henry Ridgwell
October 30, 2014 11:39 PM
Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisia

Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Africa Tells its Story Through Fashion

In Africa, Fashion Week is a riot of colors, shapes, patterns and fabrics - against the backdrop of its ongoing struggle between nature and its fast-growing urban edge. How do these ideas translate into needle and thread? VOA’s Anita Powell visited this year’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa in Johannesburg to find out.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.

All About America

AppleAndroid

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.7893
JPY
USD
107.68
GBP
USD
0.6238
CAD
USD
1.1214
INR
USD
61.185

Rates may not be current.