UK Islamic banks to double in five years

With the Sharia-compliant market growing by up to 15 per cent a year and estimated to be worth a trillion dollars (Dh3.67tn) by 2010, the number of Islamic investment banks in the UK is predicted to double within five years, said Samer Merhi, the executive director of the Gatehouse Bank, an Islamic finance house based in the UK. It has the potential to grow because of the high demand and the interest to make the UK the international heart of Islamic finance business, Mr Merhi said at an Islamic finance forum in Kuala Lumpur last week. Gatehouse, a subsidiary of the Securities House of Kuwait, which started operating in London in April, is one of five Islamic investment banks based in the UK. There is also one fully fledged retail bank, the Islamic Bank of Britain, which became the first independent Islamic bank in Britain to register with the Financial Services Authority (FSA) in 2004. It was an institution established with considerable input from the Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank to give the two million-plus Muslims in the UK a bank of their own, although now more than 20 other conventional UK banks are offering customers Sharia-compliant products. With active encouragement from the government – and, particularly, then-chancellor Gordon Brown – the UK became the first EU member state to authorise Islamic banks. Though the French are now doing their best to catch up, it has maintained its lead by adopting a level regulatory playing field for both traditional and Sharia-compliant banks. David Sapsted reports.