Monday, January 4, 2010

Takaful -Insurance- Part IV (Authenticity, Supervisory Board & Status of Takaful)

Shari'ah Authenticity

Shaikh Yusuf Talal DeLorenzo, Islamic scholar, position is that unless a financial product or service can be certified as Shari’ah compliant by a competent Shari’ah supervisory board, that product's authenticity is dubious. At that point, it will be the responsibility of the individual investor or consumer to determine on his or her own that the product complies with the principles and precepts of the Shari’ah.

Shari'ah Supervisory Board [Religious Board]

The role of Shari’ah Supervisory Board members is to review the takaful / retakaful operations, supervise its development of Islamic insurance products, and determine the Shari’ah compliance of these products and the investments. The Shari’ah Supervisory Board have to carry their own independent audit and certify that nothing relating to any of the operations involve any element that is prohibited by Shari’ah.

Islamic financial institutions must adhere to the best practices of corporate governance however they have one extra layer of supervision in the form of religious boards. The religious boards have both supervisory and consultative functions. Since the Shari’h scholars on the religious boards carry great responsibility, it is important that only high calibre scholars are appointed to the religious boards.

An Islamic financial institution is required to establish operating procedures to ensure that no form of investment or business activity is undertaken that has not been approved in advance by the religious board. The management is also required to periodically report and certify to the religious board that the actual investments and business activities undertaken by the institution conform to forms previously approved by the religious board.

Islamic financial institutions that offer products and services conforming to Islamic principles must, therefore, be governed by a religious board that act as an independent Shari’ah Supervisory Board comprising of at least three Shari’ah scholars with specialised knowledge of the Islamic laws for transacting, fiqh al mu`amalat, in addition to knowledge of modern business, finance and economics.

They are responsible primarily to give approval that banking and other financial products and services offered comply with the Shari’ah and subsequent verification that of the operations and activities of the financial institutions have complied with the Shari’ah principles (a form of post Shari’ah audit). The Shari’ah Supervisory Board is required to issue independently a certificate of Shari’ah compliance.

The day-to-day application of Shari’ah by the Shari’ah Supervisory Boards is two-fold. First, in the increasingly complex and sophisticated world of modern finance they endeavours to answer the question on whether or not proposals for new transactions or products conform to the Shari’ah. Second, they act to a large extent in an investigatory role in reviewing the operations of the financial institution to ensure that they comply with the Shari’ah.

The concept of collective decision-making, in other words, decisions made by more than one scholar, is especially important. Shari’ah Supervisory Boards function is to ensure that decisions are not unilateral, and that difficult issues of finance receive adequate consideration by a number of qualified people.

Shaikh Yusuf Talal DeLorenzo, Islamic scholar, position is that unless a financial product or service can be certified as Shari’ah compliant by a competent Shari’ah supervisory board, that product's authenticity is dubious. At that point, it will be the responsibility of the individual investor or consumer to determine on his or her own that the product complies with the principles and precepts of the Shari’ah.

Status of Takaful

As Islamic finance continues to expand, there is likely to be a huge takeoff of other products such as pensions, education, marriage and health Takaful plans. There is also a huge scope for mortgage Takaful.

Islamic principles strong emphasis in Takaful on the economic, ethical, moral and social dimensions, to enhance equality and fairness for the good of society as a whole should also have appeal for the ethically minded.

[source: Institute of Islamic banking and Insurance (IIBI)]

Takaful -Insurance- Part III (How it Works, Interest & Reinsurance)

How does Takaful Work

All participants (policyholders) agree to guarantee each other and, instead of paying premiums, they make contributions to a mutual fund, or pool. The pool of collected contributions creates the Takaful fund.

The amount of contribution that each participant makes is based on the type of cover they require, and on their personal circumstances. As in conventional insurance, the policy (Takaful Contract) specifies the nature of the risk and period of cover.

The Takaful fund is managed and administered on behalf of the participants by a Takaful Operator who charges an agreed fee to cover costs. These costs include the costs of sales and marketing, underwriting, and claims management.

Any claims made by participants are paid out of the Takaful fund and any remaining surpluses, after making provisions for likely cost of future claims and other reserves, belong to the participants in the fund, and not the Takaful Operator, and may be distributed to the participants in the form of cash dividends or distributions, alternatively in reduction in future contributions.

Pricing Transactions linked to Interest-rate Benchmark

There are continuing debates on whether the spirit of Shari`ah is being violated by the practice of "benchmarking" linked interest rate benchmark such as London Interbank Offered rate (LIBOR) plus an agreed mark-up in also pricing returns on Islamic finance transactions . At a very fundamental level, the reason for the debates is the lack of understanding to clearly discern the difference between the use of LIBOR as a benchmark for pricing and the use of non-Shari’ah compliant assets as a determinant for returns.

However, benchmarking touches upon the integrity of Islamic Finance as a whole, and the concept of Shari’ah-compliance vs Shari’ah-based approach in particular. There are practical challenges delaying a switch to participation-based structures, such as Musharakah and Mudarabah, that require financiers to participate in the underlying asset in a financing transaction.

Retakaful or Reinsurance

Frequently, the scale of insurance risks underwritten is too great for one insurer to carry safely. In these circumstances, companies use reinsurance to mitigate their own risk exposure. When insurers insure a risk again with another company, it is called reinsurance which allows the insurance industry to spread its losses, lessening the impact of claims on any one company.

There is currently a shortage of retakaful capacity and the lack of companies in the market presents a challenge as well as an opportunity. The challenge is to have a large enough Takaful market to justify ReTakaful business. There is also a global need for strong and credible retakaful operators to assist the growth and expansion of takaful business. Shari’ah scholars have allowed takaful operators to reinsure conventionally when no retakaful alternative is available, although retakaful is strongly preferred.

However, this conventional reinsurance represents a dilemma, as it is contrary to the customer’s preference of seeking cover on Islamic principles. Structurally retakaful operating principles are similar to the takaful operating principles, and the same Shari’ah principles apply.

[source: Institute of Islamic banking and Insurance (IIBI)]

Takaful -Insurance- Part II (Gambling and Insurance, Principles of Takaful & Conventional Insurance)

Gambling and Insurance

Gambling and insurance are two distinct and different operations. Gambling is speculative in its risk assessment whereas insurance is a pure risk and is non-speculative. In gambling, one may win or lose by creating that risk. In insurance, the risk is already there and one is trying to minimise the financial effects of that risk. Insurance shifts the impact of that risk to someone else and relieves the person of risk. The risk nevertheless still remains.

While gambling promotes dissension, ruin and hatred, insurance based on cooperative principles, enables the insured to lessen the financial impact without which it could drive the individual and his dependents to poverty, thereby weakening their place in the society. There is nothing in Islam that prevents individuals from making a provision for their dependents. Seen collectively for large groups of insured population, insurance strengthens the financial base of the society.

Islamic scholar, Yusuf Ali, in his translation of The Holy Qur’an, comments on Sura (chapter) Al-Baqara, ayat (verse) 219, "Insurance is not gambling, when conducted on business principles. Here the basis for calculation is statistics on a large scale, from which mere chance is eliminated. The insurers charge premium in proportion to the risks, exactly and scientifically calculated".

Basis and Principles of Takaful

Islamic insurance requires each participant to contribute into a fund that is used to support one another with each participant contributing sufficient amounts to cover expected claims.

The underlying principles of Takaful may be summarised as follows:

  • Policyholders co-operate among themselves for their common good.
  • Every policyholder pays a part of the contribution as a donation to help those that need assistance.
  • Losses are divided and liabilities spread according to the community pooling system.
  • Uncertainty is eliminated in respect of subscription and compensation.
  • It does not seek to derive advantage at the cost of others.

Theoretically, Takaful is perceived as cooperative insurance, where members contribute a certain sum of money to a common pool. The purpose of this system is not profits but to uphold the principle of "bear ye one another's burden."

Why No to Conventional Insurance

In modern business, one of the ways to reduce the risk of loss due to misfortunes is through insurance. The concept of insurance where resources are pooled to help the needy does not necessarily contradict Islamic principles.
Three important differences distinguish conventional insurance from Takaful:

  1. Conventional insurance involves the elements of excessive uncertainty (gharar) in the contract of insurance;
  2. Gambling (maysir) as the consequences of the presence of excessive uncertainty that rely on future outcomes
  3. Interest (riba) in the investment activities of the conventional insurance companies;
  4. Conventional insurance companies are motivated by the desire for profit for the shareholders;
  5. Conventional system of insurance can be subject to exploitation. For example, it is possible to charge high premium (especially in monopolistic situations) with the full benefit of such over-pricing going to the company.

The key difference between Takaful and conventional insurance rests in the way the risk is assessed and handled, as well as how the Takaful fund is managed. Further differences are also present in the relationship between the operator (under conventional insurance using the term: insurer) and the participants (under conventional it is the insured or the assured). Takaful business is also different from the conventional insurance in which the policyholders, rather than the shareholders, solely benefit from the profits generated from the Takaful and Investment assets.

[source: Institute of Islamic banking and Insurance (IIBI)]

Takaful -Insurance- Part I (Definition)

What is Takaful?

This concept has been practiced in various forms for over 1400 years. It originates from the Arabic word Kafalah, which means "guaranteeing each other" or "joint guarantee". The concept is in line with the principles of compensation and shared responsibilities among the community.

Takaful originated within the ancient Arab tribes as a pooled liability that obliged those who committed offences against members of a different tribe to pay compensation to the victims or their heirs. This principle later extended to many walks of life, including sea trade, in which participants contributed to a fund to cover anyone in a group who suffered mishaps on sea voyages.

In modern-day conventional insurance, the insurance vendor (the insurance company) sells policies and invests the proceeds for the profit of its shareholders, who are not necessarily policyholders. There is therefore a clear disjunction between policyholders and shareholders. Payouts to policyholders may vary depending on financial performance, but a minimum positive return is always contractually guaranteed.

Takaful is commonly referred to as Islamic insurance; this is due to the apparent similarity between the contract of kafalah (guarantee) and that of insurance.

However, takaful is founded on the cooperative principle and on the principle of separation between the funds and operations of shareholders, thus passing the ownership of the Takaful (Insurance) fund and operations to the policyholders. Muslim jurists conclude that insurance in Islam should be based on principles of mutuality and co-operation, encompassing the elements of shared responsibility, joint indemnity, common interest and solidarity.

In takaful, the policyholders are joint investors with the insurance vendor (the takaful operator), who acts as a mudarib – a manager or an entrepreneurial agent for the policyholders. The policyholders share in the investment pool's profits as well as its losses. A positive return on policies is not legally guaranteed, as any fixed profit guarantee would be akin to receiving interest and offend the prohibition against riba.

For some time conventional insurance was considered to be incompatible with the Shari’ah that prohibit excessive uncertainty in dealings and investment in interest-bearing assets; both are inherent factors in conventional insurance business.

However, takaful complies with the Shari’ah (which outlines the principles of compensation and shared responsibilities among the community) and has been approved by Muslim scholars. There is now general, health and family (life) takaful plans available for the Muslim communities.

Prohibitions of Gharar, Maysir and Riba

Gharar: An insurance contract contains gharar because, when a claim is not made, one party (insurance company) may acquire all the profits (premium) gained whereas the other party (participant) may not obtain any profit whatsoever. Ibn Taimiyah, a leading Muslim scholar, further reasoned "Gharar found in the contract exists because one party acquired profit while the other party did not". The prohibition on gharar would require all investment gains and losses to eventually be apportioned in order to avoid excessive uncertainty with respect to a return on the policyholder's investment.

Maysir: Islamic scholars have stated that maysir (gambling) and gharar are inter-related. Where there are elements of gharar, elements of maysir is usually present. Maysir exists in an insurance contract when; the policy holder contributes a small amount of premium in the hope to gain a larger sum; the policy holder loses the money paid for the premium when the event that has been insured for does not occur; the company will be in deficit if the claims are higher that the amount contributed by the policy holders.

Riba: Conventional endowment insurance policies promising a contractually-guaranteed payment, hence offends the riba prohibition. The element of riba also exists in the profit of investments used for the payment of policyholders’ claims by the conventional insurance companies. This is because most of the insurance funds are invested by them in financial instruments such as bonds and stacks which may contain elements of Riba.

[source: Institute of Islamic banking and Insurance (IIBI)]