II Innovation in Islamic social finance to fight against COVID-19

Innovation in Islamic social finance to fight against


6 Islamic FinTech

Islamic FinTech: the digital transformation bringing sustainability to Islamic finance

Mohammad Atif M. Kabir Hassan, Mustafa Raza Rabbani, and Shahnawaz Khan

6.1 Introduction

As the Islamic finance sector is booming, from a market of just USD 200 billion in 2003 to 2.4 trillion in 2017 to 2.5 trillion in 2018, it is expected to get around 4 trillion in assets by 2030 (Reuters, 2018). Islamic finance continues to grow in different asset classes and economies through the emergence of innovative and disruptive financial technology'. The present chapter is divided into five parts. It starts with the discussion of financial technology (FinTech) and sustainable Islamic finance by defining and explaining FinTech, Islamic finance, and sustainability. In the second part, a brief review of FinTech and sustainability is presented. In the third part, the importance of sustainability for a successful financial system is discussed. In the fourth part, various FinTech models like a zakat management system, Islamic P2P lending, and crowdfunding are discussed, and it is argued that these FinTech models can make Islamic finance more sustainable. Finally, in the conclusion, recommendation and further scope of the study is presented.

In the aftermath of the global financial crisis of 2008-2009, Islamic finance became the centre of attraction and economists, policy-makers, and other stakeholders across the globe realized that Islamic finance has the potential to offer improvements over the conventional financial system (Gheeraert & Weill, 2015). As turmoil and crisis offer a chance to push for a change, it also guarantees that tomorrow is going to be better than today. With FinTech around, there will remain little difference between the real and financial economy as FinTech ensures high-tech, automated, and seamless two-way communication (Blackstad & Allen, 2018). However, there remains a kind of cynicism among industry' partners about the sustainability of the Islamic financial system. There are also concerns whether it can compete with its mighty rival, the conventional financial system, which has a stronger regulatory and policy framework along with institutional support. This chapter presents a critical discussion of Islamic FinTech and describes how FinTech can help Islamic finance emerge as a sustainable alternative. This chapter also elaborates on various FinTech models like a FinTech-based zakat management system, blockchain, internet of things (IoT), Islamic P2P lending, crowdfunding, artificial intelligence, and ethics. The chapter concludes by giving various examples showing that Islamic finance has already' passed the stern test of sustainability and is going to stay in the long run. Moreover, Islamic finance has the capability to provide an alternative financial system, and the emergence of Islamic FinTech will only help in bringing more stability and sustainability.

Nobel Prize winner and British economist Ronald Coase wrote a paper titled ‘The nature of the firm’ in 1937, where he described the three types of cost to the firm. According to Coase, the three types of costs are the cost of search, coordination, and contrasting. He proposed the idea that a firm would progress if the internal cost of performing a transaction is more than the external cost of performing a transaction. The Coase theory is about the information related cost. FinTech, being a disruptive technology, disrupts several functions of the financial system, and it reduces all three costs proposed by Ronald Coase (Coase, 1937).

6.2 Islamic finance and sustainable development

One of the key factors in the development of any financial system must be sustainability. Sustainability of any system is defined as ‘the situation of creating a system where it meets the demand of the current generation without compromising the future generation or providing an ability to the future generation to meet its own needs’ (Sadiq & Mushtaq, 2015; p. 46). The concept of‘sustainable development’ emerged in the 1960s, and is about moral values and ethics (Iqbal, 2005). The concept of sustainable development is more about environmental issues focusing on the negative effect of industrial development on the environment. The most significant route for sustainability comes from the United Nations’ 2015 agenda of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are the framework to achieve enduring and sustainable development for all. The SDGs refer to the global challenges we are facing, including poverty, hunger, education, and equality, etc.

The 17 SDGs have been listed by the United Nations not to leave anyone behind and they want to achieve them by 2030. It is an ambition that requires a ‘decade of deliver}'’, starting from 2020 to be achieved by 2030. But it seems that time is running short because of the current global pandemic, the decline in healthcare, and the global recession, among many challenges. The enormity and magnitude of the challenge is gigantic, and it requires a great deal of cooperation among institutions and individuals to work in unison. It requires financial products that are innovative, disruptive, and aimed at the long-term vision of financial inclusion and development for all. A vigorous and healthy financial system such as Islamic finance is needed to unlock finance across the value chain.

Islamic finance and banking have been growing at an unprecedented pace since the inception of the first Islamic bank in Dubai in 1975. Islamic finance and banking have achieved unprecedented growth in the last decade or so and passed the test of time during the financial crisis of2008 by being the most stable and sustainable financial system (Aliyu et al., 2017). Even during the unprecedented growth of Islamic finance, it has not deviated from its objective of social justice and sustainable and social development. In contrast with its conventional counterpart, Islamic finance and banking gives utmost importance to the social component of economic and business activities. The global financial and social community needs to discover the social objective of Islamic finance in terms of asset-backed financing, its support of the real economy, and superior financial solidity.

There are, of course, challenges to Islamic finance to provide a more stable and sustainable financial system. The challenges need to be addressed and exploited to make the most of the available prospects, and it looks auspicious for Islamic finance due to the following reasons.

6.3 Ethical finance

Ethical finance is defined as finance that considers not only current financial returns but also environmental and social factors (Gangi & Trotta, 2015). Islamic finance has already positioned itself as the sustainable financial system due to its ethical predisposition and providing financial services based on the rule and regulation prescribed by sharia. It is based on the profit and loss sharing (PLS) method of investing instead of guaranteed profit and interestbased financing (riba). Riba is strictly prohibited under sharia law as sharia riba intends to exploit low-income families against the rich. Islamic finance also links its transactions to real assets to avoid any sort of ambiguity/uncertainty (gharar), gambling or speculation (maysir) is not allowed, and Islamic finance cannot invest in any unethical or haram business like pork, terrorism, antisocial activities, alcohol, pornography, and betting, etc. (Wahab et al., 2007). The investment options provided by Islamic finance are asset-based, i.e., it is required to acquire real assets, and it is less likely to lead to a debt crisis (Aliyu, 2015). Islamic finance offers a number of financial instruments that can be developed into an ethical finance alternative not only for micro and small entrepreneurs but also for corporations. Some instruments, like Qardh-Al-Hasan (capital finance), Murabaha (equipment finance), Ijarah (leased equipment), Mudaraba (partnership mode of financing), and Musharaka (project finance) are easy to manage and popular financing methods as ethical finance. The beauty of all these financing methods is the participatory, i.e., profit and loss sharing mode of financing (Rahman, 2010).

Islamic finance is ethical and sustainable as it is in alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals due to its four basic features. The four basic characteristics of Islamic finance are:

  • 1. Asset backed. It means that Islamic finance believes in lending based on the trade rather than just money lending and borrowing. In other words, sharia does not permit transactions that are not based on real economic activities. Examples include murabaha, Agency/tvakala, etc.
  • 2. Ethical. Islamic finance principles are based on ethical values along with Islamic values as ethical values are imbibed in Islamic values. Islamic finance aims to serve ethical finance not only to Muslims but to humanity at large. Islamic finance is based on the religious values of Islam, and it prohibits unethical activities such as interest (Riba), uncertainty (Gbarar), and gambling (Maysir) (Nienhaus, 2011).
  • 3. Share risks equitably. One of the major reasons behind the global financial crises of 2008 was risk transfer in the form of an interest-based system where risk is transferred solely to one party (Kayed & Hassan, 2011). Islam prohibits interest and promotes a financing method where risk is shared rather than transferred. Various data and analyses show that due to this reason, Islamic finance handled the global financial crisis better than its conventional counterpart (Hasan, 2016).
  • 4. Good governance. Strong governance is a critical factor for the progress of a vibrant and sound finance industry. As good governance and sustainability are directly related, Islamic finance makes sure that good governance practices are in place to safeguard the interest of all stakeholders, while also upholding the capability and sustainability of Islamic financial instructions (Kassim et al., 2018).
  • 6.4 Fintech and sustainable development

Sustainable development is one of the basic objectives of economies around the globe. Financial institutions, governmental agencies, and social bodies around the world are considering how they can achieve sustainable development and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (UN-SDGs), in addition to their financial and economic development. The regulators and financial institutions have to balance their objective of stability in terms of monetary policy, financial integrity, financial inclusion, and customer protection in addition to sustainable development (Amer et al., 2020). The role of new disruption in the field of finance in the form of FinTech, is going to be crucial and decisive in achieving the above objectives.

FinTech is the use of innovative technology-based financial services that aims to compete with traditional and conventional financial services. It is an emerging and disruptive technology, that aims to improve financial services and give the user a better experience and choice. FinTech is defined as ‘The fusion of Information Technology’ and Finance for providing the financial services at an affordable cost with a seamless user-friendly experience’ (Rabbani, 2020).

FinTech covers everything from crowdfunding to mobile payments to robo advisory services and from digital currency like cryptocurrency/Bitcoin to blockchain technology. In other words, it consists of such powerful innovations that are bound to challenge traditional financial services. Various studies have identified FinTech as the key contributor in transforming the finance sector over the next five years. Islamic finance must be ready to adapt to this challenge and transformation (Jamil & Seman, 2019).

6.5 Islamic FinTech and sustainability in Islamic finance

Islamic financial institutions have embraced FinTech with open arms as on principle, Islam adopts any innovation or technology that does not violate the basic principle of sharia (Haider et al., 2020). Islamic economies have already realized the importance of FinTech in sustainable development. FinTech Bay in Bahrain has recently launched a Global Islamic and Sustainable Fintech Centre (GISFC), in association with its local, regional, and international partners.

The aims of this initiative are to accelerate the growth of FinTech in the field of Islamic finance with a focus on the sustainable, social, and responsible innovation in Islamic finance. Globally, major players in Islamic finance like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, and Bahrain are making changes to their policies and regulations in the form of regulatory ‘sandboxes’ to foster further innovation in the field of Islamic finance (Rabbani et al. 2020). The new innovations are aimed at capturing the untapped demand of new customers with new and attractive financial services. Islamic FinTech aims to achieve long-term growth along with sustainability as its central and strategic goal.

6.6 The proposed model of sustainable development ‘IslamicFintech4SD’

The proposed model is intended to bring more transparency, user-friendliness, availability and collaboration to different sections of the Islamic financial system. If technology is combined with finance in the right way, it can bring more accuracy, accountability, and transparency to work in the best interest of society. Our proposed model ‘IslamicFintech4SD’ is intended to create a targeted alliance between Islamic financial institutions, multinational companies, start-ups, and new disruptive crowdfunding and P2P lending institutions along with sharia compliance. Based on the experience all around the world in conventional as well as Islamic finance, the present chapter proposes a five-step strategic model (IslamicFintech4SD Gearbox) to achieve sustainable development through Islamic FinTech. The first pillar is simplifying the process of opening an account and electronic ‘knowing your customer’ (eKYC), an anti-money-laundering (AML) process along with digital ID. The second pillar is a digital payments system, and the third pillar is the introduction of new innovative artificial intelligence (Al) and blockchain-based Islamic financial services. The fourth pillar is to use the first three pillars to deliver government services to achieve financial inclusion, and finally, the fifth and last pillar is to ensure sharia compliance of all four pillars of sustainable development in Islamic finance.

The five pillars of sustainable development in Islamic FinTech are elucidated below.

6.6.1 First pillar - simplified account opening and eKYC, AML, along with digital ID

Digital ID is central to achieve many important and transformational changes in developing economies. Many studies have proven that government schemes and other relief work do not reach all people due to a lack of formal identification documents like digital ID. Many developed countries like the USA, Bahrain,

Saudi Arabia, and the UK already have digital ID for its citizens and residents, but the problem is with developing countries like India, Pakistan, and African countries. In most developing countries, people have basic identification documents (Banerjee, 2016).

Since the financial crisis of2008, the banks and financial institutions are required to follow strict regulations related to ‘knowing your customer’ (KYC) and AML. The crisis paved the way for institutions and regulators to make policies to safeguard the interest of customers and other stakeholders as well as increase transparency (Moyano & Ross, 2017). The evolution of digital currency like Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies also brings the risk of money laundering and terrorist funding. An authentication check is of utmost importance to ensure the safety, security, and prompt deliver)' of financial services in the digital age. Electronic KYC, or eKYC, is the process of verifying the identity of the user online before providing financial services to the user. The objective behind eKYC is to ensure that the companies are regulated, and it is easy to identify any fraudulent trade practices or money laundering activities. Digital transformation has made verification and identification more challenging as it has given criminals and hackers a chance to exploit the organizations’ own failure. The banks and FinTech companies have already started artificial intelligence (Al) based eKYC for account opening and other financial services. The АІ-based eKYC includes image-based eKYC and video-based eKYC.

  • • Vid-based eKYC. The video-enabled eKYC app enables the customer to submit their KYC information through the video anywhere at their own convenience. The Al-powered FinTech automatically verifies the video information and authorizes the transaction. It improves the quality of services along with convenience and saves the cost associated with it.
  • • Imag-based eKYC. The user uploads the images of the required documents to the online portal of the bank’s website from anywhere at their own convenience. The Al-powered FinTech matches the live photo from the available government-linked databases for safe and secure transactions.

A machine-learning-based algorithm has the potential to fight anti-money-laun-dering activities. Machine learning uses algorithms rather than just computer programs, and it can make decisions and modify decisions without human oversight. It is capable of making faster, more accurate, efficient, and better decisions. The banks and financial institutions can have FinTech with eKYC and AML processes as it will enable them to automatically verify the customer’s records and if they have any criminal or antisocial link, the FinTech will warn them of suspicious activity. The machine-learning-based AML and eKYC FinTech has the potential to save time and money, along with making efficient and effective decisions to better serve customers.

6.6.2 Second pillar: use of digital payment system

Digital payments like bwallet, Apple Pay, BenefitPay, and Samsung Pay have been quite popular due to attractive cashback, speed, cashless transactions, comparatively higher security than credit/debit cards, and no transaction costs (Anshari et al., 2019). Digital payment is another FinTech where payments are made through digital technology'. In the digital payment method, both the receiver and payer use digital technology to pay and receive money An efficient digital payment system is the central foundation of financial inclusion and the financial and sustainable development of an economy (Arner et al., 2020). The digital payment is simple, easy to use, and efficient; even the less wealthy, less educated, and SMEs can have access to this payment platform. Mobile money is one example of this.

Mobile money is the use of smartphones to pay bills, store, use, save, and receive money. It is a facility associated with the smartphone that stores money using a mobile app linked to the mobile number. It can be linked to the mobile number or the bank account number depending on the contract between the service provider and customer. Some of the popular mobile money options include PayPal and Alipay.

Mobile money can be used for online payments like PayPal, Stripe, and Payoneer; point of sale (POS) payments like Square and Bindo; mobile payments like Apple Pay and Samsung Pay. It also has some options like Alipay and WeChat pay which can be used for multiple purposes like POS payments, online payments, and mobile payments.

Mobile money is very much linked to the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN as it facilitates access to financial services for everyone. It also enables the less wealthy and the vulnerable to be resilient to financial shocks like the financial crisis, COVID-19, and other financial and environmental disasters (Jones et al., 2017). It offers tremendous scope to facilitate the ability of underdeveloped regions to financially reach out to the deprived and vulnerable sections of society at a low transaction cost, leading to financial inclusion. There are multiple benefits to mobile money. It can be used to provide financial services at lightning-fast speed efficiently with more security that can help with financial inclusion at a very low cost.

6.6.3 Third pillar: new innovative AT, IoT-, and blockchain-based

Islamic financial services

Innovation is the new normal in the field of finance. Without innovation, financial institutions would not be able to satisfy their customers’ expectations and ultimately would result in a failure to compete and survive. There are several conventional financial institutions like CITI Bank, Standard Chartered Bank, and Barclays, etc. who have dedicated financial incubation and innovation centres to conduct trials and innovation using Al, big data (Khan & Kannapiran, 2019), blockchain, and IoT, etc. at different levels (Hassan, 2020). In contrast, Islamic financial institutions (IFIs) are not showing agility and dexterity in this regard, despite knowing that agility and FinTech are the future of Islamic finance (Rabbani, 2020).

Artificial intelligence is a widely accepted and proven disruptive technology, and it has already disrupted many sectors such as natural language processing (Shahnawaz, 2011; Khan et al., 2018), finance and machine translation (Shahnawaz & Mishra, 2013a; 2013b; 2015; Khan & Usman, 2019). The presence and the potential benefit of Al in the finance sector can be multifarious. According to an estimation, with Al implementation, the finance sector can save around USD$1 trillion by 2030 (The Financial Brand, 2018). Al can be implemented in IFIs in the following ways:

  • 1. Front office. At the front office for credit score, Takaful (Insuretech) and chatbots as financial adviser, and based and in Islamic financial intuitions.
  • 2. Middle office: With Al implantation in the middle office, tasks such as eKYC and AML can save around USD$350 billion by 2030 (The Financial Brand, 2018). It can also be used for sentiment analysis of consumers for market development.
  • 3. Back office. Financial institutions can save around $200 billion if Al is implemented properly for the backoffice task. Al can be implemented in the back office for capital optimization, market impact analysis, customer satisfaction analysis, modelling for risk management, and asset and wealth management, etc. (Khan, 2019).
  • 4. Regulator}' Technology (Regtech). Al-based Regtech helps financial institutions with regulatory' requirements. Since Islamic financial institutions have to strictly' follow the rules and regulations prescribed by' sharia, the importance of Regtech becomes immensely important (Rabbani & Khan, 2020). Islamic financial institutions will have to take the initiative and develop its own sharia tech that not only caters to general regulatory' requirements but also helps them with sharia compliance.

To maintain the growth rate of the industry' in the coming years, Islamic financial institutions will have to change their usage of financial resources from fully focusing on development of human resources to investment in Al-based financial services for efficient, transparent, and faster delivery' of financial services.

Blockchain and loT, along with artificial intelligence and the other fourth industrial revolution (4IR) technologies, present a great opportunity' for IFIs to solidify their position in the real economy. Crowdfunding, P2P lending, and asset-backed, sharia-compliant cryptocurrencies like X8 currency, are certainly a step in the right direction (Peredaryenko, 2019).

6.6.4 Fourth pillar: use of the first three pillars to deliver government services to achieve financial inclusion

Financial inclusion is the key to achieving the objective of sustainability and balanced regional development. We argue that financial inclusion should not be seen as an end in itself; rather it is to be considered as a tool to achieving the broader objective of sustainable development including the UN-SDGs. There is a strong viewpoint from scholars and academics that FinTech-based financial services, as discussed under the first three pillars, supports financial inclusion and it is a key factor in achieving the objective of financial inclusion (Arner et al., 2020; Demirguc-Kunt et al., 2018; Gabor & Brooks, 2017). Today, governments and financial institutions are focusing on FinTech-based services to reach the maximum customers and citizens to deliver financial services. Paytm - India’s largest FinTech company has almost doubled its customer base, and it has already reached more than 200 million users. The company is claiming that they are on course to achieve a 300 million user base in 2020 (Sivathanu, 2019). Another example of the use of digital finance to achieve the objective of sustainable development and financial inclusion is the ‘India stack strategy’. The India stack strategy was a well planned and executed digital technology initiative supported by favourable government regulations and policy (Schuetz & Venkatesh, 2020). We argue that the first three pillars of the IslamicFintech4SD can be used to deliver government services and achieve the objective of sustainable development and financial inclusion. Here, the idea of the present study is to achieve the following three-part vision:

  • 1. Digital infrastructure shall be the basic right of every citizen in ever}' country. The government shall consider this as a basic utility like electricity and water.
  • 2. There shall be on-demand delivery and governance of these services.
  • 3. IslamicFintech4SD will empower the citizens and residents of the country.

Islamic financial technology plays an important role in fostering financial inclusion and reducing poverty by delivering valuable government schemes to those with low income because in developing countries like Malaysia, Pakistan, and Bangladesh people are dependent on government schemes (Firmansyah & Ramdani, 2018). The government must use digital payment systems and new innovative AT, IoT-, and blockchain-based Islamic financial services to achieve financial inclusion and sustainable development.

6.6.5 Fifth pillar: sharia compliance

Despite the fact that Islam is a religion that is more than 1400 years old, Islamic banking came into existence only in the 1960s and 1970s (Hassan & Lewis 2014). Any advancement, disruption, or innovation is welcome in Islam as long as it does not violate the basic ethos and principles of the Quran (Allah’s holy words) and Sunnah (teaching and practices of the Holy Prophet Muhammad ®). Islamic finance and banking follow the Quran and Sunnah and it is brought to the common people by way of sharia. Sharia is the way of life for Muslims that they should obey, together with the rules of fasting, salah, zakat, and all other economic dealings. It is basically a guiding light that guides Muslims in every facet of life, including social, political, and economic life. (The aims of sharia are to the help and guide Muslims as to how they should live their life according to the will of Allah and his holy prophet Muhammad (Hassan, 2013; Haider et al., 2020).) Some of the basic principles of sharia are summarized as follows:

  • 1. The community as a whole is more important than the interest of individuals.
  • 2. All the wealth in this world belongs to Allah. We the humans are merely the trustees of the wealth. We must manage and spend our wealth according to Allah’s will, which promotes social justice and equality and prohibits certain activities like illegal and haram activities.
  • 3. All economic and business dealings must be respectful of other people, the environment, and Allah. The primary reason for this principle is to prohibit the accumulation of wealth by a few people, leaving others in poverty. Islam does not have a concept where a few are multi-millionaires and rest are beggars (Kayed & Hassan, 2011).
  • 4. Sharia prohibits business transactions with an element of riba, maysir, or gharar and products and services prohibited by the law of the land and declared haram.

Most FinTech-based financial services are flexible enough to adapt themselves according to the needs and requirements of sharia (Todorof, 2018). All the FinTech-based financial services discussed above under IslamicFintech4SD like blockchain, loT, Al, and Regtech, etc. are very much inconsistent with the principles of sharia. Sharia compliance of FinTech-based financial services is not only important from the point of view of Muslims, but sharia also brings a dimension like sustainability and inclusion to FinTech because Islamic principles have inbuilt characteristics like sustainability and inclusion.

6.7 Conclusion

One of the most pressing goals of the 21st century is to achieve development that is sustainable and inclusive. Disruptive technologies like FinTech allow financial institutions to do businesses by doing experiments and innovating and developing new models of business. The paper discussed and argued that FinTech-based financial services bring sustainability to the finance industry (Piliyanti,

  • 2019) . The study suggests that there is a need to build a community of experts and enthusiasts to do a critical evaluation of sustainable development through FinTech. Certain digital finance and FinTech-based financial services need to be refined and adapted as per the principles of sharia. The paper further argues that Islamic finance and banking have huge potential and can be the next big thing in the finance world as sustainability characteristics are built into the principles of Islamic finance (Hassan, 2013). Islamic finance, in combination with financial technology', can achieve sustainable development and financial inclusion, which has been the most critical issue of late as identified in the UN-SDGs (Arner et al.,
  • 2020) .

SZwm-compliant FinTech has provided another opportunity to Islamic financial institutions and banks to solve the sustainability challenge in the real economy and provide a financial model that is long-lasting and unaffected by crises such as the financial crisis and CO VID-19 pandemic. To realize and overcome this challenge, the IFIs are required to develop and experiment with new innovative financial services in line with sharia principles. The proposed model, IslamicFintech4SD, can help Islamic financial institutions achieve the Sustainable Development Goals if implemented properly. The promise of both social and commercial reward should motivate all concerned stakeholders to put this model into practice and achieve sustainable and inclusive development.


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