“Islamic Finance is now readily available in the UK, whereas before, Muslims would have to go to conventional banks like Lloyds TSB and Barclays bank,” says Percy who launched the London-based wholesale Sharia’a-compliant bank last July. “And there’s a big difference between Islamic banks and conventional banks that provide Islamic services.”
BLME has an independent Sharia’a board that vets all of the bank’s transactions and contracts to make sure they are Islamic and then certifies them accordingly. Most notably, Sharia’a law prohibits interest payments and certain types of investment – for example, in alcohol and gambling sectors.
“I could see there was a tremendous opportunity both for BLME but also the Islamic finance market in London,” says Percy who has more than 30 years of banking experience, including working at Schroders and Barclays.
Since it received its banking licence from the FSA last July, BLME has already completed a variety of deals resulting in total assets of £297m.
“The oil-rich GCC states have foreign assets of approximately $1.6 trillion and now that there is a credible choice of international Islamic banks, they’ll migrate some of those assets to banks like ours,” says Percy.
He adds: “A lot of Arab investors want access to the much larger and more mature equity, bond, foreign exchange and commodity markets the UK provides, as well as the pool of talent that exists here”
With Muslims now making up 25 per cent of the world’s population, demand for Islamic finance is not only coming from the traditional high net-worth market, but also being fuelled by the growth of the Muslim middle-classes in Europe and other Western financial areas.
“Islamic finance is becoming very much more mainstream and influential in that there are sizeable transactions being carried out,” reflects Percy.
The recent increase in authorisations by western governments is also boosting the industry. “When you have Islamic financial institutions which are visible, it all becomes more readily accepted and known about,” says Percy.
“There are more institutions coming – I know of one opening shortly.”