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Keynote Address At The Islamic Finance News UK Forum 2022

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Below is the speech on sustainability and and capital market innovation delivered in the UK by Datuk Zainal Izlan Zainal Abidin, Deputy Chief Executive, Securities Commission Malaysia.

“Assalamualaikum and Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,

It is great to be back in London for the IFN UK Forum. It is my pleasure to be able to deliver my remarks in person today and at the same time, to see some familiar faces in the room.

Firstly, I would like to thank the organisers for inviting me to share recent developments in Islamic finance in Malaysia, particularly in the Islamic capital market.

Based on the Islamic Financial Services Industry Stability Report 2022 by the Islamic Financial Services Board, the estimated size of global Islamic financial assets in 2021 was USD 3.06 trillion, an 11.3% year-on-year growth. Within the overall industry, the rate of growth of Islamic capital market was almost twice that of Islamic banking.

While size is an important measure of growth, qualitative aspects including the ability to continuously meet the needs of market participants reflect the more fundamental strength of the industry. In this regard, for Islamic finance to remain relevant, innovation must continue to be a key driver of progress.

The combination of factors in recent years, such as the intensified pursuit of the SDGs and the widespread impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, have recalibrated and refocussed the needs of businesses and individuals, the private and the public sectors, as well as the developed and the emerging markets. These, in turn, have accelerated the opportunities for the financial sector including Islamic finance to contribute towards achieving the desired outcomes.

In line with the theme of today’s Forum, two key areas that can harness these opportunities and enhance the growth potential for Islamic finance are sustainable finance and technology.

It is broadly acknowledged that the underlying principles of sustainable finance and Islamic finance are quite closely aligned. This provides cross leveraging opportunities to benefit from each other’s strengths towards addressing global sustainability issues and achieving the SDGs. Importantly for Islamic finance, such alignment can drive deeper discussions on incorporating the principles of Maqasid al-Shariah into financial products and services. All these opportunities, of course, require stakeholders to innovate in order to generate practical and practicable solutions.

Technology is a key enabler in driving greater breadth and depth in the development of Islamic finance. It enables better cost and operational efficiencies, and enhances access at many levels – access to information, access to investors, access to products, and so on. Technology facilitates the serving of the under-served segments and the cross-border offering of products and services, thus according Islamic finance with significant opportunities.

Ladies and gentlemen,

If I may now share some of the recent developments in the Islamic Capital Market in Malaysia. To set the context, some of you may recall that in 2014 the Securities Commission issued its Sustainable and Responsible Investment (or SRI) Sukuk Framework to develop sukuk as an SRI asset class and facilitate companies to raise financing for their green, social and sustainability projects. This was the first, and a pivotal milestone, in Malaysia’s sustainable finance journey. As of August 2022, 23 corporate issuers have raised financing under the Framework, including the world’s first green sukuk as well as issuances for social purposes such as education and affordable housing.

To broaden the range of Shariah-compliant SRI instruments, in June this year the SC introduced the SRI-linked Sukuk Framework. This Framework aims to facilitate companies including those in hard-to-abate sectors to tap into the capital market to meet their transition finance needs, thus enabling them to speed up their transition towards low-carbon emission activities.

In tandem with the release of the Framework, the SC has also recently expanded its SRI Sukuk and Bond Grant Scheme, which was established in 2018 to assist issuers in defraying up to 90% of the external review costs for SRI Sukuk, to now include SRI-linked sukuk issued under the new Framework.

Furthermore, the SC is working with Bursa Malaysia, the national stock exchange, on establishing a Voluntary Carbon Market (VCM) that will be introduced at the end of this year. The VCM, which is planned to be Shariah-compliant, will enable Malaysian companies to purchase voluntary carbon credits from climate-friendly projects and solutions.

Apart from the voluntary carbon exchange initiative, Bursa Malaysia in 2021 introduced the FTSE4Good Bursa Malaysia Shariah Index to provide investors with Shariah and ESG compliant investment choices. To-date, there are 65 constituents on this index, comprising Shariah-compliant listed companies that have exemplary ESG practices. And just last week, Bursa Malaysia launched the FTSE Bursa Malaysia Top 100 ESG Low Carbon Select Shariah Index to expand its sustainability-related products.

Ladies and gentlemen,

A significant development to drive initial growth in the Islamic social finance space was the launch of the Waqf-Featured Fund Framework in 2020 to facilitate the offering of Islamic funds with Waqf features. This initiative aimed to spur more innovative Shariah-compliant SRI fund products to be introduced in Malaysia and provide investors an opportunity to invest and concurrently contribute towards socially impactful activities that may also support the SDGs.

In the fintech space, the SC has undertaken various initiatives to establish an innovative ecosystem for financial technologies to prosper. In particular, emphasis has been placed on enhancing access to financing and increasing investor participation through digital platforms such as equity crowdfunding, peer-to-peer financing, digital investment management and digital asset exchanges.

In encouraging the development of Islamic fintech, the SC has entered into a collaboration with the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) to launch the first regulator-led Islamic fintech accelerator for the Malaysian capital market, known as FIKRA.

FIKRA, which means ‘ideas’, provides a collaborative platform to connect innovative start-ups with the SC, UNCDF mentors, industry experts and investors. The goal is to build a vibrant and well-supported Islamic fintech ecosystem by identifying and scaling innovative fintech solutions.

At its launch in May 2021, a total of 66 applications were received from 15 countries with value propositions addressing the three identified challenge areas, namely new Islamic capital market offerings; access to the Islamic capital market; and technology solutions to integrate traditional Islamic social finance instruments into the capital market.

In promoting greater inclusiveness through Islamic capital market, the SC introduced the Shariah Screening Assessment Toolkit for Unlisted Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises in 2021 as a guidance in screening the Shariah status of unlisted MSMEs. The Toolkit is intended to spur further growth of the halal economy through wider use of Islamic alternative finance, by facilitating equity crowdfunding and peer to peer financing platform operators to undertake the assessment.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In September last year, the Securities Commission Malaysia launched its third Capital Market Masterplan (CMP3), which serves as a strategic framework for further development of Malaysia’s capital market over a five-year period between 2021 and 2025. In the CMP3, the SC has committed to expanding Islamic capital market offerings to better support the needs of broader stakeholders of the economy and to facilitate the transition to an economy that is sustainable and inclusive.

Looking ahead, social finance and impact investing are potentially new growth avenues for the Islamic capital market. There are opportunities to explore integrating impact assessments with Islamic social finance instruments, which will enable investors to measure the impact of investments in the areas of socio-economic development and economic well-being. Another focus area under the CMP3 is promoting greater adoption of technology in the Islamic capital market. In addition, further study on the application of Maqasid al Shariah in the context of the Islamic capital market will also be explored.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Innovation must continue to be at the heart of the development strategy for Islamic capital market. Furthermore, driving the development of the Islamic capital market through the next phase of growth will require closer collaboration among the various stakeholders. While product and service innovation is key, initiatives to build capacity as well as awareness remain important, including raising awareness that Islamic capital market has universal applicability, and is not just for a limited segment of the market. In this regard, given the substantial amount of funding requirement globally to achieve the SDGs, Islamic capital market can and should play a more significant role as capital can then be mobilised more effectively, efficiently and productively.

On that note, I wish everyone a productive Forum ahead. Thank you.”

Datuk Zainal Izlan Zainal Abidin, Deputy Chief Executive, Securities Commission Malaysia
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