The importance of Islamic financing
Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim nation – out of the 260 million people living in the country, 87 percent identify as Muslim. But the country remains a laggard when it comes to developing a robust finance industry.
One of the factors contributing to the slow growth of inclusive economic development is lack of Islamic financing.
What is Islamic finance and how does it differ from conventional practices?
The main difference between Islamic and conventional finance is the treatment of risk, and how risk is shared. In a conventional loan, the financier has a contractual right to receive interest (and capital repayment) irrespective of the condition of the borrowers’ business.
The main principles of Islamic Finance is the avoidance of all haram (harmful) activities such as charging interest. Islamic financial institutions must ensure that ambiguity (gharar) or gambling/speculation (maysair) is minimised in transactions and contracts. Complying with Shariah law also means these Institutions are not permitted to invest in alcohol, pork, pornography or gambling. – Financial Times
Promoting risk-sharing instead of debt-financing, reduces poverty and inequalities, which are the necessary objectives that need to be addressed by economic development policy makers. – Journal of Business & Financial Affairs
Indonesia has long been a contestant to become a global hub for Islamic financing, and created a road map for its development since 2017. The government believes Islamic finance will be an engine of stability and drive financial inclusion. Both Muslims and non-Muslims can benefit from Islamic Finance as it aims, by principle, to be a more transparent system of finance.
The risk-sharing features in Islamic financings also help ensure the soundness of individual financial institutions and discourage the types of lending booms and real estate bubbles commonly seen as precursors to the global financial crisis.
By focusing on asset-backed and shared-risk principles, Islamic financing has the potential to persuade more financing by small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) to kick start their businesses. With so many beneficial qualities, it seems strange Islamic financing isn’t more widespread in the country, why is that? Without the right financial literacy, people are reluctant to shift from conventional financing.
Lack of Islamic finance in Indonesia
The establishment of Islamic banks in Indonesia 25 years ago is considered late compared to other Muslim-majority countries such as the Philippines (in 1973) and Malaysia (in 1983).
Indonesian authorities were reluctant to support it for a long time because the country was colonized by Dutch adopted Western-led financial institutions that dominated international finance since the end of World War II.
But after the global financial crisis in 1998, Indonesia was keen to find alternatives to broaden its financial base and better protect itself from global financial shock.
Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) put together the National Committee for Sharia Finance (KNKS) in 2017 to boost Islamic finance and tackle the challenges surrounding Shariah banking in the country.
And while Shariah banking assets continued to increase in 2017, amounting to IDR 435 trillion (US$32.2 billion), or about 5.8 percent of total assets of Indonesian banks – up from 4.83 percent in 2015 – it was still small compared to Saudi Arabia’s 51.1 percent, Malaysia’s 23.8 percent, and the United Arab Emirates’ 19.6 percent.
The adoption of Islamic finance is also in line with government initiatives working to address barriers to SME growth, such as limited access to finance, which is frequently cited as a problem for smaller firms that lack sufficient collateral for loans.
In the last five years, SMEs have played a large role in Indonesia’s economic structure. Last year, SMEs accounted for 60.3 percent of the total GDP from 57.84 percent in 2012.The Governor of Bank Indonesia Agus Martowardojo hopes the role of SMEs to GDP can increase to 70 percent by this year.
A new early stage fintech startup hopes to help the government achieve their ambitious goal. Ex-bankers and friends Bembi Juniar, Dima Djani, and Harza Sandityo created Alami to boost Shariah financing and focus on educating SMEs about its benefits.
“Alami is a technology company that aims to facilitate small businesses to obtain Islamic financing from banks. It will accommodate Shariah financing, filter and provide accurate ratings for prospective borrowers and facilitate communication between banks and prospective borrowers,” explains Dima.
“I hope through the technological advancement that we offer, we will speed up Shariah banking processes and increase efficiently by at least 50 percent.”
Popularising Islamic-based finance in an unbanked country
Alami was founded in December 2017 and was the runner-up start up in the INSEAD Venture Competition held in Singapore and Paris. The company has raised at least US$100,000 in pre-seed funding round from undisclosed angel investors.
Dima Djani, one of the founders of Alami, shares with ecommerceIQ that the lack of infrastructure, lack of support from key opinion leaders, and lack of education on Shariah finance are main roadblocks to the country’s slow adoption of Islamic financing.
“People don’t learn about this at school, and we believe technology is needed to spread the benefits of Shariah finance,” says Dima.
“Me and two other founders are young professionals with banking backgrounds. We create technology to simplify the loan process for SMEs to get financing and for bankers to easily focus on SMEs,” says Dima.
The startup positions itself as a strategic partner to the few existing Islamic banks, not as a direct competitor and has already partnered with three prominent Islamic financial institutions: BNI Syariah, Bank Mega Syariah and Jamkrindo Syariah, with a total transaction value of IDR 9 billion and IDR 50 billion.
“The most common deals SMEs need money for is working capital to expand, either through trade finance or plain working capital financing and they are coming from the chemical and construction industries,” shares Dima.
How does Alami services work?
There are two simple steps SMEs need to follow to use Alami’s service:
- .SMEs register and fill out a form on Alami’s website – data to be shared includes corporate and some historical financial information
- The system assigns a rating indicating the SMEs risk and matches the business to Alami’s bank partners
According to Dima, Alami is an abbreviation of Alif-Laam-Meem, the first sentence of the second Surah or chapter of the Al-Quran (the meaning which only God knows according to Muslims).
But philosophically for Dima and his two other founders, Alami means to motor Islamic finance 2.0 in Indonesia.
“We see Alami as the second chapter trying to improve the Islamic finance sector in Indonesia through technology, creating value for our partners and being a unique Islamic-based fintech startup,” Dima elaborates.
“It is thought that wealth should be created through legitimate trade in assets,” – Dima, co-founder of Alamai
What’s next for Islamic financing in Indonesia?
The startup announced its collaboration with Kapital Boost, the Singapore-based Shariah-compliant crowdfunding platform for SMEs to address the lack of financing available to SMEs in Indonesia earlier this year.
Under the partnership, Alami will leverage its SME network in Indonesia to direct businesses to Kapital Boost, who will facilitate fundraising and financing from global investors.
“We believe SMEs are a huge economic contributor for Indonesia and by helping them to grow, we are impacting positively on Indonesia’s economy,” shares Dima. “That’s our aim.”
“Our plan is to be one stop solution for Shariah finance in Indonesia, we are committed to popularizing Islamic finance in Indonesia and work hard to create easy to use technology for both SMEs and our bank partners,” says Dima.