Sharia-compliant UAE pension scheme gets backing

'Most GCC nationals lack the opportunity to choose whether their pension should be invested in a conventional or Sharia-compliant manner,' said a report from Rasmala Investment Bank yesterday.

Abdulla Al Awar, chief executive of the Dubai Islamic Economy Development Centre, gives the keynote at the launch of a white paper on the outlook for Islamic finance by EIIB-Rasmala investment bank in the DIFC yesterday. Antonie Robertson / The National
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A Sharia-compliant UAE pension scheme would be a major boon to the country's Islamic asset management industry, Islamic finance experts said.

The Islamic asset management industry, mostly based in Saudi Arabia and Malaysia, has about US$60.7 billion in assets under management.

But the global pensions industry manages assets exceeding $30 trillion, and virtually none of this business is directed towards Sharia-compliant asset managers.

A report from the European Islamic Investment Bank, or EIIB-Rasmala, yesterday claimed that about half of the funds that would otherwise be directed towards the UAE’s asset management industry went offshore instead.

“Most GCC nationals lack the opportunity to choose whether their pension should be invested in a conventional or Sharia-compliant manner,” the report said. “Developing a robust pension industry in the GCC, centred around Dubai as an asset management hub, would allow substantial growth in the Islamic asset management industry.”

Bashar Al Natoor, the global head of Islamic finance at the credit ratings agency Fitch, said government support was necessary for the industry to flourish.

“The growth of Islamic banks, initially, came when the government pushed for them and supported them,” he said. “When you have government-mandated demand in asset management, you will get more variety, selection and sophistication in the product offering. But you need the demand for the industry to flourish.”

Sayd Farook, a projects adviser at the Dubai Islamic Economy Development Centre (DIEDC), said the UAE needed to enact regulation to facilitate “inward investment of pensions, as opposed to letting that capital drain out of the country”.

Pension reform, where institutions are mandated to invest in domestic pension funds, would really help the asset management industry, he said.

“There’s a lot of capital flight, whether it’s expats investing back home or investment agencies looking for returns abroad, and the way you can stem that tide is to manage that capital locally,” said Mr Farook. “This is the right time to think about [pension reform]. This is a great way to start redirecting money towards the needs of the asset management industry and the needs of the local financial services industry.”

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