The Banker’s 2021 Top Islamic Financial Institutions ranking highlights a resilient sector across the globe.
After a challenging period, Islamic banks can be confident of brighter prospects in the coming year.
While uncertainty over the state of the global economic recovery remains, the much-improved prognosis for key Middle East and Asian economies bodes well for the world’s largest sharia-compliant lenders. Other markets outside Islamic finance’s traditional heartlands, meanwhile, continue to display impressive growth.
Total sharia-compliant assets worldwide (excluding Iran and Lebanon) grew by 10.8% to $1.48tn at the end of 2020, two-thirds of which is held by standalone Islamic finance institutions, according to data compiled by Maris Strategies.
Growth in the sector is forecast to hold steady at 10–12% for 2021 and 2022, according to forecasts from S&P Global Ratings, prompted by improvements in standardization and better economic growth prospects in key markets such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Accelerated economic development projects in Saudi Arabia, together with increased investment in Qatar for 2022’s football World Cup, are also set to support growth in the sector in the coming years, the agency said.
Asset growth for Islamic lenders was markedly slower in 2020 than the banking sector as a
The number of sharia-compliant lenders reporting profits in excess of $100m for the year fell from 74 in 2019 to 71 in 2020, according to Maris Strategies. Yet the average return on assets for Islamic lenders stood at 1.37% in 2020, compared with the average of 0.51% for the global banking sector.
Islamic banking’s heartland remains the Middle East and north Africa (MENA), with lenders in the region holding 70% of the world’s sharia-compliant assets. Assets in the region grew by 9.8% during the year to $1.0tn, compared with a 12% growth in 2019, according to Maris Strategies.
These figures do not include data on Iranian lenders, which have been omitted from 2021’s rankings. Lebanese Islamic lenders have also been omitted from this year’s rankings, given the country’s economic crisis and the collapse of the Lebanese pound since 2019.
Growth in the sector is forecast to hold steady at 10–12% for 2021 and 2022
Saudi Arabia remains the single biggest market for Islamic finance both in MENA and beyond, with four lenders in the global top 10 ranking of Islamic banks..
All four Saudi banks in the top 10 — Al Rajhi Bank, National Commercial Bank (NCB — now rebranded as Saudi National Bank), Alinma Bank and Riyad Bank — posted a rise in sharia-compliant assets of more than 15%.
Buoyed by surging oil prices, the Saudi government announced a revised investment strategy in October 2021, implying further commercial financing opportunities for the country’s Islamic (and conventional) lenders in 2022 and beyond.
Al Rajhi Bank remains the largest Islamic bank in the world, its asset base growing 22% to $125bn in 2020. Second-place NCB saw its sharia-compliant asset base rise by 27% — the highest rise by any lender in this year’s top 20 — to $80.9bn for 2020. This figure has subsequently risen to more than $100bn following NCB’s landmark merger with Samba Financial Group, completed in April 2021, to form Saudi National Bank.
Third-placed Dubai Islamic Bank also saw its asset base benefit from its merger with local rival Noor Bank, completed in January 2020, resulting in a growth of 24.9% to $78.8bn, in an otherwise subdued year for UAE-based lenders.
While the country’s Islamic lenders saw a 5% rise in assets in 2020, sharia-compliant assets held at Islamic windows of conventional banks such as Emirates NBD and First Abu Dhabi Bank fell by 2.4% during the year, according to the country’s central bank. Sharia-compliant assets accounted for around a quarter of the country’s total banking assets at end-2020.
Oman Arab Bank saw its sharia-compliant asset base increase by over 400% to $2.3bn in 2020, following its acquisition of Alizz Islamic Bank, completed in June 2020, giving it the fastest growth worldwide of sharia-compliant assets for a conventional lender with more than $500m in assets.
While GCC lenders saw a 9.3% increase in their overall asset base during the year, led by Saudi lenders, banks in the wider MENA space (excluding the GCC) saw an aggregate rise of 28.9% for the period, thanks to impressive growth in markets including Egypt, Palestine and Tunisia.
Among the standouts in the wider region is Faisal Islamic Bank of Egypt, which saw its asset base grow by 14.1% to $7.3bn. Palestinian Islamic lenders Arab Islamic Bank and Palestine Islamic Bank reported asset growth of 22.5% and 14.6%, respectively, for 2020, while Bank Zitouna reported almost 20% growth for the year.
Asian sharia-compliant lenders saw their aggregate asset base increase by 10.3% to $396.4bn.
Malaysia, the world’s most developed Islamic banking market, remains dominant in the region, with four lenders in the main top 20 rankings and more Islamic lenders than any other country in Asia. Maybank and CIMB remain the comfortable leaders in the country, their Islamic windows growing by 4.1% and 7.1%, respectively.
However, attention is increasingly turning to growing demand for Islamic finance across the rest of the region, particularly in Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh, host to three of the world’s four largest Muslim populations.
Despite having the world’s largest Muslim population, Islamic banking in Indonesia remains underdeveloped compared with Malaysia and the Middle East, with sharia-compliant assets accounting for less than 10% of the country’s total asset base. Of particular significance is the formation in early 2021 of Bank Syariah Indonesia (BSI) from three state-owned Islamic lenders, creating the country’s largest sharia-compliant lender. BSI intends to double in size within the next few years by targeting pious consumers in the country’s burgeoning middle class, offering a compelling online banking experience with tailored Islamic content, the bank’s CEO Henry Gurnadi told Reuters.
With an equivalent asset base of $16.5bn at end-2020, BSI comes in just behind Bangladeshi-lender IBBL, the highest-ranked non-Malaysian Asian lender in this year’s rankings, whose asset base grew by 24.3% to $16.7bn.
Fellow Indonesian lender Bank Mega Syariah was the world’s third-fastest growing sharia-compliant bank with at least $500m assets, and the fastest in Asia in this year’s rankings, with its asset base doubling to $1.1bn in 2020.
Pakistani lenders have also reaped the benefit of increasing interest in Islamic banking in recent years, with the central bank reporting an asset base rise of around 30% in the past year. The country’s 10 largest Islamic lenders each reported sharia-compliant asset growth of 14% or more in 2020. Meezan Bank, the country’s largest Islamic bank, saw its asset base increase by 35.7% to $11bn during the year.
The country’s banks make up five of the world’s top 10 fastest growing Islamic windows with more than $500m assets, led by Bank Al Habib, which saw its asset base rise by 48.1% to $1bn.
Bangladeshi lenders also registered impressive growth during the year; while IBBL comfortably remains the country’s largest lender, eight of the country’s largest Islamic banks posted an asset rise of 10% or more in 2020.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the fastest regional growth in this year’s rankings come from the two regional groupings where Islamic finance remains in its comparative infancy. After slipping back in 2019, Islamic banking in sub-Saharan Africa saw a surge of growth, with assets increasing by 35.7% to $19.5bn. However, this growth was eclipsed by banks in Australia, Europe and America, which together saw their asset base grow by 47.1% to $29.9bn.
Nevertheless Nigeria’s Jaiz Bank, one of only two fully fledged Islamic banks in the country (the second, TajBank, began offering services in late 2019), reported a 40% rise in assets in 2020, making it the ninth-fastest growing Islamic bank with more than $500m in assets in the 2021 rankings.
The growth of sharia-compliant assets in Australia, Europe and the US highlights the potential for Islamic finance in countries outside its traditional heartlands. Turkey remains the key market in the grouping, with a Muslim population of 75 million. The country’s banks enjoyed a successful year, with TürkiyeEmlakKatılımBankası and ZiraatKatılımBankası AŞ both ranking in the top 10 fastest growing fully sharia-compliant banks with more than $500m in assets, with rises of 119% and 65% respectively.
Yet opportunities for growth are not confined to Muslim-majority countries, with fintechs such as Alif and Algbra preparing to launch digital sharia-compliant offerings to appeal to Muslims and non-Muslims alike in the UK and other European markets.
In the UK, Bank of London & the Middle East and Gatehouse Bank recorded asset growth of 11.6% and 22.3%, respectively. The US’s fledgling Islamic finance sector meanwhile saw interesting gains during the year, with University Bank Islamic Financial Corporation (Ann Arbor) and Bank of Whittier both recording more than 50% rises in their asset bases.