Posts Tagged ‘Goldman Sachs’

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Exposing the overpaid, incestuous sharia boards

April 30, 2012

An important article comes our way from the Spears Wealth Management Survey.  A few stunning quotations:

  • “The most in-demand shariah scholars are paid $2,000 a day”
  • “Some scholars charge around $1,000-$1,500 per hour of consultation — in addition to an annual bonus of between $10,000 and $20,000 per board seat”
  • “Remuneration for a fixed shariah board membership can exceed $200,000 a year plus fees”
  • “The top twenty shariah scholars in the world hold between fourteen and 85 board memberships each”
  • ‘The top ten scholars in the world make up 40 per cent of all board memberships”
  • The top five scholars “make up around 25 per cent of the entire boards across the globe”
  • “The top two scholars share 51 per cent of their board memberships”

Read it all.  As Shariah Finance Watch has pointed out for a long time, the sharia advisers are paid quite the pretty penny.  But this piece really puts that in black and white, and points many of the broader flaws of governance in the sharia finance industry.

One cannot read this and still believe mainstream media assertions that sharia finance is somehow more ethical and less risky than conventional finance.  Without even getting into the moral problems of anti-Semitism and jihadist sympathies of the sharia scholars, this sector—from a purely financial standpoint—is hopelessly marred by corruption, shakedowns, conflicts of interest, nepotism, and lack of oversight.  Investors must take note.

I believe this article by Sophie McBain was first published around Apr. 26:

Islamic Finance’s ‘Scholar Problem’: Why Are Shariah Scholars Paid So Much?

Dollars for Scholars

IT MAY BE an unusual career move, but becoming a shariah scholar for an Islamic bank is nice work if you can get it. A quick poll of bankers, lawyers and academics working in Islamic finance revealed unanimous agreement that shariah scholars — who approve every new Islamic banking transaction to certify its compliance to Islamic shariah law — are paid ‘a lot’, but few volunteered figures. Welcome to the opaque world of Islamic finance, and the fledgling industry’s ‘scholar problem’.

Among those who did give figures on shariah scholar salaries, there was considerable variation. Professor Rodney Wilson, a member of the Durham Centre for Islamic Economics and Finance, says that the most in-demand shariah scholars are paid $2,000 a day. Reuters has quoted an unnamed banker as saying that some scholars charge around $1,000-$1,500 per hour of consultation — in addition to an annual bonus of between $10,000 and $20,000 per board seat.

Dr Murat Ünal, CEO of Funds@Work, an investment consultancy and Islamic finance specialist, says that remuneration for a fixed shariah board membership can exceed $200,000 a year plus fees, while advising on a large transaction such as a sukuk (Islamic bond) can generate commission running into millions of dollars. If this still doesn’t sound generous enough, consider that Funds@Work’s pioneering research into shariah scholars and their networks has found that the top twenty shariah scholars in the world hold between fourteen and 85 board memberships each.

There’s a reason for the inconsistency of these accounts: shariah scholar payments don’t have to be made public. And while conventional bankers have found themselves the target of a forceful backlash against bonuses, the quieter but equally insistent voices calling for limits to the influence and payment of shariah scholars struggle to find a platform.

The concerns of those campaigning for changes to the current shariah scholar system are critical to a fast-growing industry, which has the potential to bring millions of Muslims into banking for the first time and which offers a thoughtful critique of mainstream finance. The Islamic finance industry is predicted by Deutsche Bank almost to double to $1.8 trillion by 2016, but its economic potential may never be fulfilled because of its serious governance problems, with power concentrated in a small, ageing and reticent elite.

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Concerns about popular sharia finance method

November 23, 2011

Weekly word:  Ijara

Ijara simply means “to give something for rent”.*  In practice, ijara financing often works as a lease-to-own agreement.

In real estate, ijara is frequently used as the basis for a mortgage with a premium rolled into the monthly rental/lease payment toward an eventual purchase of a house.  Ijara-based home loans can be distinguished from murabaha mortgages by the timing of the “sale.”  Murabaha may allow the sale and technical transfer of ownership once the borrower begins making payments, whereas under ijara the sale is made when the lessee makes final payment.

Ijara is widely accepted among Islamists because even they cannot deny the logic of paying on a lease to use an asset until the leesee is able to buy the asset outright.

Ijara critique

But if ijara is simply a lease, why bother having it at all?  In other words, Muslims could just take out a conventional lease, which is a popular method of financing car purchases in the U.S.  One senior member of a Pakistani web forum makes the following observation:

I am in possession of a Car Ijara Document from Meezan Bank which claims to have their Car lease interest free and Shariah Compliant certified by Maulana Taqqi Usmani. Some body [sic] please explain [to] me the difference between their Arabic sounding Ijarah and Car lease by other banks.

Meezan bank gives you [a] car for 20% security (another name for down payment) and gives you [a]  car on monthly rent almost comparable in amount to interest being charged by other banks (instead of instalments [sic] as rent is allowed in Islam). After 3-5 years, whenever the term completes, car is gifted to you while your security deposit is forfeited (or the car is sold to you at the security deposit price). Now someone please tell me, where do you pay rent and get guaranteed ownership of the property after a fixed tenure. There are few other obscure differences regarding ownership of car, status of monthly instalments [sic] etc etc but they are more of playing with words than having any real value.

This seems to me as a case of “Halala” of interest. Just play with words and use some arcane Arabic terminology like Mudaraba and Ijarah etc etc and viola, you are certified Shariah compliant. And you always get some maulvi to give a fatwa in your favour in exchange of some pay/ emolument. I wonder how much Maulana is being paid by the bank to be its Sharia advisor?

Money Jihad too wonders how much Taqi Usmani is being paid to bless off on sharia finance products.  In theory, one difference between ijara and a conventional lease is that ijara rents received by the bank aren’t invested in pork bellies or Anheuser-Busch stocks, and a portion of the bank revenues are diverted as zakat to be distributed as pro-sharia men Mr. Usmani see fit.

Investors start souring on ijara

Sukuk (Islamic bonds) are one of the largest asset classes among the sharia finance industry.  Sukuk can be structured using any of the methods that Money Jihad has defined over the last couple months—murabaha, mudarabah, musharaka, ijara, etc.—but ijara sukuk have become the most popular (partly because the aforementioned Mr. Usmani panned the alternatives).

Nevertheless, when Goldman Sachs recently announced its record and troubling $2 billion sukuk issue, it eschewed ijara for a murabaha—a structural choice that prompted surprise and speculation among Islamic finance analysts.  Goldman Sachs has committed a moral failure by endorsing such a massive foray into sharia finance, but their decision to base it on murabaha suggests that there are practical risks to ijara that have not yet been fully communicated to the public.

* Kettell, Brian B., Introduction to Islamic Banking and Finance (Chippenham:  John Wiley and Sons, 2011).