IFN Best Service Provider Poll 2013: The Results

IFNFollowing an intensive voting process throughout the month of October, the results are finally in for the Islamic Finance news Best Service Providers Poll 2013. With over 4,000 votes cast, the awards represent the pinnacle of industry achievement as decided by the leaders of the industry itself: with participation from a cross-section of Islamic finance including issuers, investors, lawyers, asset managers and regulators from around the world.


Islamic Finance news provided a list of 10 contested categories designed to recognize the best supporting providers for Islamic financial services, based on our exhaustive market knowledge and experience. Voting was then opened to our readers and the results are an independent and impartial reflection of industry opinion. With 4,234 votes of which 1,377 were discounted due to irregularities, the final 2,857 votes were spread across one of the widest nominee ranges in the history of the poll; with a clear trend this year of multiple new entrants and an increasingly competitive landscape. And although many of the winners will come as no surprise as the top players continue to build upon their position as industry stalwarts, this year saw several key players encroaching on traditional strongholds; demonstrating the widening breadth, depth and sophistication of a sector that has this year stormed ahead in terms of market development and focus.

AAOIFI keeps the top spot The highly respected Accounting and Auditing Organization for Islamic Financial Institutions (AAOIFI) took the award for Most Outstanding Standard Setting Body for the third year in a row, reflecting the dedication and depth of its commitment to bringing much-needed consistency, accountability and regulation to the industry. Dr Khaled Al Fakih, the secretary-general of AAOIFI, commented that: “We are grateful for the support that we have always received from the industry, and especially from members of our boards and committees. This award will undoubtedly spur us even more in carrying out our ongoing standards development and review program.” As one of the leading industry bodies the win comes as as little surprise, and demonstrates the appreciation of AAOIFI’s valued services. However this year the competition was considerably closer than previous years, with runner up the Islamic Financial Services Board (IFSB) and third place International Islamic Financial Markets (IIFM) closing the gap and snapping at AAOIFI’s heels. Interestingly, it should also be noted that while the majority of votes for both AAOIFI and IIFM came from a global spread of voters, the majority of IFSB votes came from Malaysia, suggesting strong support from the domestic market for its homegrown association.

Twin win The awards for Best Islamic Consultancy Firm and Best Shariah Advisory Firm both went to Dar Al Sharia, who took the double prize for a fourth consecutive year. Established in 2007 as a subsidiary of Dubai Islamic Bank, the firm has cemented its reputation as one of the world’s leading providers of unique, innovative and commercially viable Shariah compliant solutions.  “I am very pleased to learn of Dar Al Sharia being voted once again for the coveted twin awards. Alhamdolillah, this is the fifth year in a row that Dar Al Sharia has won the Best Shariah Advisory Firm award and the fourth consecutive year for the Best Islamic Finance Consultancy award,” said CEO Sohail Zubairi. “Our continued winning exhibits the highest professional approach adopted by Dar Al Sharia, which has exceeded the expectations of our clients and patrons, resulting in their spontaneous vote to us, for which I am extremely grateful. I am very proud of every member of Dar Al Sharia team and dedicate these awards to them.”

Continuing the competitive trend however, runners up Amanie Advisors significantly closed the gap compared to 2012, and the competition was very tight. Amanie has taken advantage of the continued growth of the Islamic market to expand into multiple offices across both the Islamic and non-Muslim world incuding Kuala Lumpur, Dubai, Luxembourg, Cairo, Astana, Melbourne, Muscat, Seoul and Dublin; positioning itself strategically to take advantage of the ever-growing demand for Islamic advisory services. This geographical reach is clearly standing it in good stead with the votes for Amanie coming from an exceptionally wide range of jurisdictions, while Dar Al Sharia saw its win derive primarily from its Gulf stronghold.

In third place for both awards, UK-based Islamic Finance Advisory & Assurance Services (IFAAS) might be a relatively small player compared to the two giants, but it is making waves across the industry with a wide range of institutional clients across Europe, Africa, Middle East and beyond, through offices located in the UK, France and Bahrain, suggesting that we can expect to see more from it in the future.

KFH back on top In one of the few new wins this year, KFH Research in 2013 reclaimed the crown for Best Islamic Research Firm from the International Shariah Research Academy for Islamic Finance (ISRA) who took first place in 2012. Baljeet Kaur Grewal, CEO of KFH Research, reiterated the importance of the recognition that the award confers: “KFH Research are delighted to be honored by the industry on this award. Our commitment to research excellence, the integrity of our work and the professionalism of the team have made a significant impact to the development of the Islamic finance industry. The views and analysis provided by KFH Research are much sought after by regulators, multilaterals and Islamic finance practitioners – a role KFH is proud to be a part of to contribute to the development of Islamic finance globally.”

The category saw the closest battle of the poll, with KFH Research only emerging as the winner in the final two days of voting following a month of neck and neck competition. In such a valuable marketplace and with research so vital to the continued development of the industry, Dr Mohamed Akram Laldin, the executive director of ISRA, emphasizes the importance of responding to industry needs: “ISRA’s success is in its ability to combine between the theoretical and application of Shariah in Islamic finance. ISRA always takes into account the market needs in its research, and tries to bridge the gap between academia and practitioners.”

In a strong performance against two industry giants, third place went to Gulf Investment House which saw an impressive contingent of support suggesting that they will be a player to watch in the coming year and can be expected to post a more creditable performance in 2014.

Tight finish for Takaful The Takaful sector provided some excitement this year. Despite last year’s winner, Etiqa Takaful, reclaiming the top spot for the second year in a row with a consistently strong performance; runners up Abu Dhabi National Takaful Company overtook a number of key industry players to claim second place in what became a photo finish over 2011 winner Takaful Ikhlas. In the re-Takaful space, Takaful RE cemented its position as industry leader for the second year in a row, in a close fight with Swiss Re ReTakaful. The category was hotly contested this year and a number of key players fought it out at the finishing line, with honorable mentions going to Saudi Reinsurance Company, 2011 winner MNRB Takaful, and Munich Re ReTakaful.

Rating the market Demonstrating its dominance over the industry, S&P Dow Jones Indices (SPDJI) was voted the Best Islamic Index Provider, winning the award by the biggest margin in any category this year. Charbel S Azzi, its  regional head for the Middle East & Africa, told Islamic Finance news that: “S&P Dow Jones Indices is proud to be the leading provider of Shariah compliant benchmarks, and this award recognizes our continued innovation in delivering products that meet investor requirements.”

Despite the shadow cast by SPDJI, there is still room for competition in the index arena however, and runners up MSCI and IdealRatings both performed well, with MSCI edging out its US challenger by a whisper to take second place, and it looks as if the game will heat up in the coming years with ambitious plans from the younger players. Mohamed Donia, CEO of IdealRatings, rallied with a rousing commitment to future growth that bodes well for future development: “IdealRatings’ mission is providing exclusive quality service to the Islamic finance sector. Our latest addition, Islamic Indices, has been serving clients for one year now. [Being placed in an] IFN Islamic Index Award has brought IdealRatings one step closer to its vision, namely to be the one and only comprehensive Islamic finance service provider.”

However for now S&P are the undoubted leaders in the field, and the group this year once again took home the award for Best Islamic Ratings Agency. Stuart Anderson, the managing director and regional head, for Standard & Poor’s Middle East, commented that: “S&P Ratings Services is honored to have again won this award, which is recognition of our commitment to ratings excellence and support for development of the Islamic finance sector at a policy level.”

In a surprise finish, second place went to the International Islamic Ratings Agency (IIRA), edging Fitch Ratings and Moody’s Investor Services into third and fourth, respectively. Although the battle this year was very close, it is interesting to see that despite its relatively small size and focus IIRA won out over the bigger players in the Islamic finance space, suggesting that Islamic players are more concerned with Shariah principles than with size, spread or quantity of ratings.

Broking the deal In a field that has widened considerably in the past year, the award for Best Interbroker for Islamic Transactions went once again to UK-based DDCap, continuing an unbroken winning streak since the poll’s inception. The group took home a comfortable lead, and managing director Stella Cox expressed herself as delighted with the achievement, highlighting the competitiveness of the sector and explaining the factors behind DDCap’s success. “We acknowledge that the interbroker space is a competitive one, which encompasses numerous, effective private sector firms and public sector initiatives. Currently, most of our client banks advise us that commercial considerations are a key factor in determining their choice of service provider, but we also work to ensure that our own service provision addresses all aspects of customer requirement and, especially, that of their respective Shariah supervisory bodies.

“Accordingly, we have endeavored to continue to meet our clients’ expectations of us through recent development of new technology to improve the efficiency of our trade execution and processing service, and we are continually investing to enhance our platform. During the past 12 months we have also implemented additional programs of review and validation to support the substance of our services.” She also emphasizes the essential and indispensable role played by scholars in the industry, and in particular the group’s Shariah Supervisory Board. “We are immensely grateful for their ongoing, direct support of our business development and governance objectives.”

The UK continues to dominate the brokerage space, with Eiger Trading taking second place; narrowly beating GFI Group. Malaysia’s Bursa Suq ‘Al-Sila and relatively new entrant Tradition also made a creditable showing, while Ableace Raakin also received a respectable number of votes. The field this year was marked by a growing pack of competitors snapping at the heels of the industry leader, and the category looks set to fragment next year as the market becomes increasingly competitive. Stephen Oppenshaw, the managing director of Eiger, told Islamic Finance news that: “Obviously we are disappointed to be pipped to the post for the top annual award in our sector. However, coming a close second to the long-standing market leader is nevertheless a creditable achievement and one which will spur us on in our continuing efforts to deliver the innovative products and the high level of service that market demands and expects.We are extremely grateful to our clients for the support they have shown and we will endeavour to maintain that faith in us.”

Path wins again Although technology can often be passed over, sitting as it does in the back office, in fact it is one of the pillars upon which industry performance is based: and a good system can make or break a bank. One goliath in this space is undeniably Path Solutions. However as the Islamic finance industry has developed so too has its need for technology solutions, and the sector has grown in leaps and bounds over the past few years with multiple new entrants to the space making this one of the most hotly contested categories this year.

Mohammed Kateeb, CEO of Path Solutions, highlights the importance of focusing on the essentials as the key to success: “We have realized that our unique business model is one that is based around Shariah compliance. We solely focus on the Islamic banking segment. All conventional systems providers continue to play catch-up with us, trying to imitate our success in the segment, but you can’t dress up a conventional banking system to be Islamic.”

He goes on to explain the key strengths of the firm, including: “Pioneering new technologies for the Islamic banking sector such as our internet, mobile and FATCA solutions; being innovative, and not afraid to push the limits of technology while maintaining high levels of quality control, including conforming to all industry standards and regulatory requirements; and above all understanding our market and our clients’ expectations.”

Although Path Solutions took home the top award, runners up Oracle FSS edged out International Turnkey Systems (ITS) to take second place, while the category saw an exceptional number of nominees with enough support to make the award a photo finish. Additional players who competed valiantly include Trasset, Temenos, 3i Infotech, Sunguard, Advent Software, SAB, Silverlake Axis and Infosys Technologies. With such a close finish and such a wide field, we can look forward to an exciting race in 2014 as the sector strives to outdo itself.

Thanks to all Once again, Islamic Finance news has been indundated with industry feedback and overwhelmed by the strength of support for this poll. It is our readers who provide the responses, and we are proud to be the conduit through which the industry can voice its views and recognize the achievements of its leading providers. These awards represent the best that Islamic finance has to offer, and confer a signal honor upon their recipients due to the depth, sophistication and seniority of their voting pool. We would like to thank everyone who voted, and extend our sincerest congratulations to all winners and nominees.  — LM

(Source: Islamic Finance News)

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