Sharia banking ‘creates unique partnerships’

If society is looking for a new kind of banking partner it need look no further than Al Baraka Bank, the first lender to be fully Sharia-compliant


Starting operations in 1992, Al Baraka Bank Lebanon became the first Islamic Bank in the country to work under the rules of Fiduciary Contract Law Number 520 – dated June 6, 1996 – in full compliance with Islamic Sharia. When the Lebanese Parliament decreed the Islamic banking law in 2004, the bank became a fully fledged Islamic bank. Today, the bank has seven branches, including one in Beirut and others in major Lebanese cities.

Beyond banking
Sharia principles are very important to Al Baraka Bank. These principles embody the belief that banking has a crucial role to play in society. Stewardship is an integral part of this ideology, where managing resources responsibly is a permanent policy. To meet this responsibility Al Baraka uses Sharia principles when participating in its customers’ successes, sharing in the social development of families, businesses and society at large.
To Al Baraka, the word ‘partnership’ means that its own successes and those of each of its customers are as intertwined as their jointly held beliefs. The bank sees money as a means to capitalise on opportunities and create a better society for all. Money becomes the conduit by which Al Baraka enters into new opportunities and takes part in a common effort for mutual reward. As steward of the resources entrusted, Al Baraka’s efforts contribute to the building of the community, at home and in the wider world.

Vision and values
The bank believes that society needs a fair and equitable financial system: one which rewards effort and contributes to the development of the community. The bank’s mission is to meet the financial needs of communities across the world by conducting business ethically and in accordance with Al Baraka’s beliefs, practicing the highest professional standards and sharing the mutual benefits with the customers, staff and the shareholders – all who participate in its business success. It is essential for banks in the 21st century to have a strong set of key values administered throughout its employee chain. Robust engagement with clients creates strong bonds that form the basis of long-term business relationships. It is this drive and perseverance that impacts the customers’ lives and that of the wider society, creating a positive, lasting impression for those who come into contact with the bank.

It is this neighbourly attitude that allows Al Baraka to thrive in its local community. Indeed, its doors are always open; its customers always experience a warm-hearted, hospitable welcome and accommodating service. This ongoing commitment to customer service allows patrons to rest assured in the knowledge that their financial interests are being managed to the highest ethical standards and that they are making a positive social contribution towards a better society.

Positioning and philosophy
Al Baraka’s intimate knowledge of its customers, communities and local markets, combined with its geographic reach and international influence, make it possible for it to build lasting partnerships and create more value for the businesses, families and communities it serves. The main objective of Al Baraka Bank is to apply the Islamic Sharia into the development of the economy in which the bank operates, in addition to enhancing social solidarity and developing individual capabilities.

Moreover, the bank offers Sharia-compliant services in the different commercial, industrial and agricultural sectors. All the bank’s activities and operations are controlled by the necessary regulatory agencies: the Central Bank; the Banks Supervision Committee; the internal auditor of the Al Baraka Banking Group (ABG); the external auditor of the Al Baraka Bank Lebanon; as well as the Sharia Board Committee, comprised of several key scholars and religious figures specialised in Islamic financing and the economy.

Products and services
The product and service offering from Al Baraka Bank is wide, meeting almost every financial and banking need of its customers. These products include: deposit services; retail and corporate financing products and services; personal banking programmes; credit, charge, debit and internet cards; Automated Teller Machines (ATMs); transfers and remittances; as well as trade and finance services.

Lebanon is a potentially lucrative market for Islamic banking when taking into account its diversified community. The country, however, still has a shortage of Islamic financial operations in terms of growing conventional transactions and its fairly newly instituted Islamic banking law and Central Bank regulations. Despite that, Al Baraka Bank is rather new and small in comparison to conventional banks. It is witnessing impressive growth, reflecting its ability to meet the changing pattern of demand by consumers and businesses. Its competitiveness and its ability to withstand the more challenging environment is growing on a daily basis.

The bank has implemented a new structure on both the administrative and organisational levels. It has recruited qualified executives and is investing in staff training as well as internal development programmes that support employees and give them a strong competitive edge. Moreover, the bank’s administration is keen on staying up-to-date by introducing the latest technology.

Looking toward the future
Taking into consideration the local and regional evolution of Islamic banking, Al Baraka Bank is optimistic about the future, especially when it comes to the development of the investment, agricultural, industrial, commercial and tourism projects. From this standpoint, the bank aims to:
– increase the investments in the local market by financing development projects in the real estate, health and social sectors;
– enhance the bank’s reach across the country in efforts to cater for customer needs;
improve on the application of transparency in all of the bank’s dealings;
keep abreast of global developments in various sectors.

A trusted parent company
Al Baraka Bank is one of the banking units of the ABG, based in Al Manama, Bahrain, with a group ownership of 98 percent. The ABG’s antecedents go back to the late 1960s, when the ‘Pioneer of Islamic Banking’, Sheikh Saleh Kamel, began creating Islamic contracts for use in his business operations when dealing with conventional banks (there being no Islamic banks in existence at that time).

This early insistence on the strict adherence to fundamental Islamic principles was then quickly overtaken by the next stage of development when, in the early 1970s, Sheikh Saleh Kamel oversaw the establishment across the Arab world of a series of Islamic financial institutions bearing the Al Baraka name. The creation of ABG arose from the need, identified through the wisdom of Sheikh Saleh Kamel, for a truly global Islamic banking service for Muslims worldwide.

Proof through performance
ABG is a Bahraini Joint Stock Company (JSC) listed on the Bahrain and NASDAQ Dubai stock exchanges. It is a leading international Islamic bank with a Standard and Poor’s investment grade, long-term counterparty credit rating of BBB- / A-3 (Short Term) with a negative outlook. ABG offers retail, corporate and investment banking and treasury services, strictly in accordance with the principles of the Islamic Sharia.

The authorised capital of ABG is $1.5bn, while total shareholders’ equity amounts to about $1.8bn. ABG achieved a net income of $166m in the first nine months of 2011, an increase of 13 percent on the net income achieved in the first nine months of 2010. Total assets increased by three percent and deposits by four percent – from records taken at the end of September 2011 – compared with the end of December 2010. The group’s financial statements for the first nine months of 2011 showed that the continued expansion in business reflected positively on its revenue, with a total operating income of $535m, an increase of 15 percent over the same period in 2010. This increase was achieved despite an enlargement in operating expenses on account of further expansion in the branch network and enhancements in IT infrastructure and human resources.

The total assets of the group amounted to $16.4bn at the end of September 2011, an increase of three percent over the comparative figure at the end of 2010. Customer deposit and other accounts and equity of investment accountholders have also witnessed an increase of four percent from $13.6bn at the end of December 2010 to $14.1bn at the end of September 2011, which indicates continued customer confidence and loyalty to the group.