Sarasin to roll out sharia platform across Asia

The Swiss private bank cites its sustainable investment credentials as an advantage when it comes to offering a range of Islamic wealth products.

Following last week's launch of Sarasin's sharia-compliant wealth management offering in the Middle East, the Swiss private bank says it is considering launching it in other regions, including Asia.

The firm sees demand mainly from the Middle East, North Africa and Southeast Asia, says Fares Mourad, head of Islamic finance at Bank Sarasin in Zurich. The roll-out in the Gulf countries was the beginning, with Southeast Asia to follow, he tells AsianInvestor, although Sarasin is able to address Southeast Asia client requests from Switzerland. He declined to give a timeframe for the Asian roll-out.

Sarasin holds a natural advantage in offering Islamic investments, says Mourad, in that it is a specialist in sustainable investments, which share similar values with Islamic assets. The firm also already has a substantial presence in the Middle East, adds Mourad, with Sarasin-Alpen subsidiaries in Dubai, Oman and Qatar.

The new platform comprises the full spectrum of sharia-compliant private banking products and services. The bank launched this suite of products in response to increasing interest from clients seeking to invest in products and solutions based on Islamic principles, says Mourad. It has been working for a year with its independent sharia advisory board to devise such products for both Islamic and non-Islamic investors, he adds.

Sarasin can incorporate estate and succession planning, financing and asset management with such money-market and structured products as wakala (a sharia-compliant fiduciary agreement between two parties), murabaha (also known as mark-up or cost-plus financing) and maraya (an Islamic structured product based on murabaha).

Of these products, "maraya is in the most demand, because it's very flexible and allows us to address various clients needs", says Mourad.

The firm does not, however, have a takaful (Islamic insurance) offering and does not plan to launch one. But Mourad says: "We are more than happy to provide the takaful industry with our asset management expertise, be it thematic, sustainable or quantitative."

The new sharia offering was unveiled in the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar last Friday (November 13), and was attended by Sheikh Mohammed Bin Jassim Al Thani, former minister of commerce and economy for Qatar, and Abdullah Al Najjar, chief executive of the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha.

Also present were members of Sarasin's senior management and the independent sharia advisory board, comprising Sheikh Dr Mohamed Ali Elgari, Dr Muhammad Imran Ashraf Usmani and Dr Monzer Kahf.

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