This year’s awards recognise lenders that have managed to keep pace with the growing sophistication and increasing demands of Islamic banking customers around the world, particularly within the digital realm.

It is fair to say that 2020 was a challenging year for banks all around the world. As with their conventional counterparts, Islamic lenders have had to cope with the new realities that have come with the global coronavirus pandemic. 

The Banker’s Islamic Bank of the Year Awards for 2021 provide an opportunity to reflect on the innovative ways that sharia-compliant banks in countries around the world have adapted to this change, how they have approached new ways of interacting with their customers and their employees, and how they have increasingly embraced digital solutions at a time when face-to-face contact remains severely restricted due to ongoing health and safety concerns.

The collapse in oil prices in March 2020 had a significant impact on the Islamic banking sector in 2020, given the importance of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) region to the sector, where government-led development projects often rely heavily on hydrocarbon revenue. Even so, despite reduced profits, many Islamic banks saw their asset bases rise significantly in 2020. 

In fact, the year saw sharia-compliant lenders outperform their conventional counterparts. In Oman, for example, the Islamic banking sector grew by 9.5% in 2020, compared with a growth of 2.1% for conventional banks, according to data from Fitch Ratings. 

Fellow rating agency S&P Global Ratings expects the global Islamic finance industry to grow by 10-12% in 2021-2022, after slowing its growth to 10.6% in 2020 from 17.9% in 2019.

Even in the midst of the challenges sharia-compliant lenders faced during 2020, the year saw some key developmental milestones. One of the most significant came in May, when the United Arab Emirates launched an initiative to create a unified global legal and legislative framework for the Islamic finance sector. The initiative, which is a partnership between the country’s ministry of finance, Islamic Development Bank and Dubai Islamic Economy Development Centre, attempts to improve international standardisation within the sector in a bid to accelerate its expansion. 

The current year has also seen a number of interesting developments thus far. In April, Zurich Capital Funds Group announced the launch of the first fully sharia-compliant digital bank in the world, which will provide all banking services according to Islamic law. Rizq/Baraka, the new bank, will operate out of the UAE with a virtual presence across the Middle East, north Africa, Asia and Europe.

The global sukuk supply is expected to accelerate in 2021, following a resilient 2020, as issuers seek to refinance maturing debt and fund large budget needs. Sukuk issuances with maturities of more than 18 months from the GCC region, Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey and Pakistan fell by just 1.9% year-on-year in 2020, to reach $41.3bn, according to Fitch Ratings. 

Yet one potential obstacle to watch out for in 2021 will be the impact of the end of loan repayment moratoriums put in place in many countries last year, which could lead to a spike in non-performing loans, putting pressure on the balance sheets of Islamic and conventional banks alike.

The Banker’s Islamic Bank of the Year Awards 2021 highlight the strength of this rapidly growing, $2.5tn-plus industry, one that has expanded far beyond its traditional heartlands, even if the GCC region still accounts for a large proportion of global sharia-compliant assets.

This year’s awards recognise lenders that have managed to keep pace with the growing sophistication and increasing demands of Islamic banking customers around the world, particularly within the digital realm. At the same time, the majority of winners in 2021 have also demonstrated a strong philanthropic side in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, with initiatives put in place to support individuals, families and students, as well as small and medium-sized enterprises struggling with the effects of the pandemic.  

World, Asia-Pacific 

Winner: Maybank Islamic 

For the second year in a row, Maybank Islamic has been crowned the winner of The Banker’s Global Islamic Bank of the Year, as well as scooping the Asia-Pacific Islamic Bank of the Year accolade. This is Maybank Islamic’s fourth Global Islamic Bank of the Year win since the awards began in 2013 – the most wins recorded by a single bank – and its record highlights the lender’s role in advancing Islamic banking services across its home markets and beyond.

Amid tough competition, the judges selected Maybank Islamic for this year’s Global and Asia-Pacific awards in recognition of the bank’s overseas expansion, its continued commitment to a sustainability agenda, and its social impact initiatives across its footprint during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Islamic banking arm of Malaysia’s largest bank by assets, Maybank Islamic operates out of Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, the latter two via Islamic window operations. February 2020 saw the bank officially open its first branch in Dubai, located in the Dubai International Financial Centre financial free zone, which marked the bank’s first branch outside of Malaysia. The new Dubai office, which will focus on sukuk origination, syndicated financing and Islamic trade finance, marks a significant milestone for the bank, providing a bridge between two of the world’s largest Islamic finance markets, and will help it tap into the increasing demand for financing in the rapidly-growing global halal economy. 

On the back of a revised sustainability statement issued in 2020, the year saw Maybank Islamic play a significant role in facilitating sustainability-driven projects across Asia. In July 2020, it was involved in the issuance of a $2.5bn sovereign sukuk for Indonesia, of which $750m is set to be deployed for green projects. The bank was also involved in a multi-currency sharia-compliant sustainability-linked financing facility, worth $800m, for Axiata Group Berhad, a first-of-its-kind in Malaysia. 

In the face of the global pandemic, Maybank Islamic has introduced several social impact initiatives, with the primary aim of supporting customers and communities throughout the pandemic. The bank launched a Social Impact Deposit campaign under its Islamic fixed deposit account, where the bank contributes to a social impact assistance account, used to provide financial relief to those whose incomes have been affected by the pandemic, for every deposit made. 

The bank also channelled funds through its flagship zakat-funded outreach programmes. In Singapore, zakat collections were extended through a collaboration with local community partners, while in Indonesia a savings account embedding Covid-19 takaful protection for retail customers was introduced at the start of the pandemic.

As with most of its regional peers, Maybank Islamic had a mixed financial performance in 2020. While Tier 1 capital increased by 16%, after slipping marginally in 2019, and total sharia assets grew by 9.2%, net profits took a hit, dropping 41% year-on-year. The bank’s return on equity also dipped, from 25.9% in 2019 to 14.2%, while its cost-to-income ratio improved slightly from 36.3% to 33.4%. Non-performing loans accounted for just 0.34% of total loans in 2020, down from 0.75% the previous year.

Maybank Islamic’s total income in 2020 contracted 9.9% in Indonesia, while it increased by 7.0% in Malaysia and 9.4% in Singapore. The bank also experienced a 13.2% contraction in gross financing in Singapore, due to low demand related to corporate and business banking. However, this was cushioned by a 7.7% increase in gross financing in Malaysia, contributed to by retail and small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) campaigns. 

Alongside its commitment to sustainability and social impact initiatives, the judges were also impressed by the expansion of Maybank Islamic’s product offering, particularly in the digital realm. In December 2020, Maybank Islamic launched its Multi-Asset Investment Account-i, a closed-ended investment account that aims to maximise investment returns by investing equally in a diversified portfolio of the bank’s stable financing assets and Islamic marketable securities. 

In September, the bank launched SME Digital Financing-i, a sharia-compliant digital financing solution that approves SME loan applications within 10 minutes. Meanwhile, with the launch of its new MAE app, Maybank Islamic now has Malaysia’s first sharia-compliant e-wallet, with the app selected by SSM-Food Bank for its pilot zakat disbursement to students in public universities, which has helped to support around 4000 students.

Middle East, Kuwait 

Winner: Kuwait Finance House 

Kuwait was one of the toughest country categories for the judges to pick, with Kuwait Finance House (KFH) pipping last year’s winner, Boubyan Bank, to the award for Kuwaiti Islamic Bank of the Year, as well as the overall Middle East winner. This was in part due to the bank’s leading role in adopting digital technologies in areas like cross-border remittances and cardless withdraws. 

In 2019 KFH became the first Kuwaiti Islamic bank to offer zero-fee instant cross-border remittance services using Ripple’s blockchain technology, extending the service to KFH-Turkey in January 2021. The bank enabled full digital onboarding for new-to-bank customers in 2020, with clients also able to take advantage of 24/7 card issuance to print bank cards instantly using self-service kiosks.

KFH launched its first fully automated self-banking branch in 2018. It now has 10 of these “KFH Go” e-branches across Kuwait, which provide more than 80% of the services supplied by traditional branches. It also allows third-party wallets to be used to make contactless payments, as well as cardless cash withdrawals using QR codes, mobile numbers or simply an identity (ID) card.

The bank has invested in technology upgrades and investments since the start of 2020, including e-signatures integrated with PACI My-ID for electronic finance applications and robotic process automation (RPA) to streamline internal bank processes.

KFH’s cost-to-income ratio remained steady in 2020, while total sharia assets grew by 10.9%. However, the bank’s profits took a hit, falling by 40.9% between 2019 and 2020. Non-performing loans ticked up slightly to 2.20%, from 1.88%, while its return on equity came in at 7.63%, a drop from 13% in 2019.

The Kuwait lender’s proposed acquisition of Bahrain’s Ahli United Bank, which was set to take place in 2020, was postponed due to the pandemic, but when it does go ahead it will create the sixth largest bank in the Gulf region, with more than $100bn in assets. 

At the same time, the bank continues to leverage its strong presence in areas like private banking to reach and attract new clients across the region and beyond.


Winner: ADIB Egypt 

Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank (ADIB) Egypt has once again been named the country’s top Islamic bank, for the third year in a row. 

In the face of the pandemic, the bank launched a range of contactless products, including debit cards, while also introducing its first contactless wearable payment device, Beat, which offers a contactless payment solution for day-to-day expenses. 

ADIB Egypt has also put in place dynamic e-statements, a first-of-its-kind on the local market that allow customers to search transactions by date or description and features interactive graphs that highlight monthly transactions and balance information. These replaced static PDF statements.

ADIB Egypt has benefited from the resilience of the Egyptian economy. Egypt was one of the few countries in the world that experienced positive economic growth in 2020, growing by an estimated 1.5% year-on-year. The bank has also taken advantage of the strong growth opportunities for sharia-compliant financial institutions in Egypt, which has a Muslim-majority population of more than 100 million, a large unbanked population and a lack of maturity when it comes to the Islamic banking sector as a whole. 

To drive financial inclusion, especially in the unbanked community, the bank enhanced its ADIB Remit application, currently offering host-to-host integrations with corporates and offshore financial institution, by integrating its application programming interface with its e-wallet to promote seamless, instant worker remittance transfers across the Middle East and north Africa region.

ADIB Egypt saw a 29.9% increase in Tier 1 capital in 2020, alongside a 32.6% rise in overall sharia assets, though the pandemic took a toll on the bank’s net profits, which dropped from an increase of 53.2% in 2019 to a rise of just 6.5% in 2020. Return on equity dropped slightly to 24.6%, from 30.8% the year before, while the bank’s cost-to-income ratio stayed almost flat at 38.1%. Non-performing loans dropped from 4.8% to 3.3%, aided by the moratorium on loan repayments.

In September 2020, ADIB Egypt launched new US dollar liability sukuks for corporations, helping to further expand the range of sharia-compliant Islamic products on the Egyptian market. 

On the technology front, the bank has initiated several projects to upgrade its core banking application (Phoenix), business process management system (K2), and content management system (Documentum).  


Winner: Bank Pasargad 

It is not the easiest time to be operating a bank in Iran, given the US sanctions in place and the effects they are having on the business environment. 

That being said, the winner of the 2021 Iran country award had an impressively strong year. Bank Pasargad saw its Tier 1 capital increase by 30.5% in 2020, with total sharia asset up 32.1% and net profits rising by 29%. This followed similar rises in Tier 1 capital and total assets in 2019, when net profits grew an eye-watering 721.9%. Overall, the bank’s return on equity in 2020 came in at 26.5%, in line with 2019 figures, though non-performing loans have ticked up slightly over the past three years and now stand at 8.7%. 

More than the numbers, Bank Pasargad introduced a number of new products in 2020, many of which could have a strong impact going forward. These included a new, low interest credit card for both corporate and retail clients, which is based on the client’s credit score, level of annual transactions with the bank, the balance in their current account and other short-term investment accounts. 

The bank also introduced Wepod, a social banking mobile application, and Kipod, its e-wallet, in 2020, as part of efforts to improve access to digital banking solutions for its customers. Both products provide fast, easy and secure payment services. By the end of 2020, the number of Kipod users stood at just under two million, with Wepod seeing an average of 1350 new users a month.

Bank Pasargad also introduced its open banking platform, Podium, in 2020, which has generated significant new revenue for the bank through commissions, while enabling users to reinforce commercial communications, promote business innovations and improve digital experiences. Through Podium, digital businesses can easily access a wide range of application programming interfaces, including bank-specific payments infrastructures, capital market trading, insurance, map location services, artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, bills inquiry and payments, cloud storage, and so on.

Bank Pasargad has also continued to support small and medium-sized enterprises, students and low-income tenants over the past year, many of which have struggled in the face of the global pandemic. The bank has granted 2704 murabaha facilities, equivalent to $21.7m, to low-income tenants unable to pay their rent, and more than three times that amount to business owners affected by the pandemic. 


Winner: Jordan Islamic Bank  

Jordan’s largest Islamic bank by total assets, and the third largest bank in the country overall (with roughly a 10% share of deposits), Jordan Islamic Bank (JIB) has been a mainstay of The Banker’s Islamic Bank of the Year awards ever since the awards began in 2013.

The bank offers a wide portfolio of Islamic banking products and has been working hard to increase this since the start of 2020, including improving its e-channel offerings. In 2020 JIB released its fourth and fifth edition mobile banking platforms, which include additional services like international transfers and e-wallets, as well as digital branches and self-service kiosks. Mobile banking services are offered in both English and Arabic. The bank now also accepts deposits in Jordanian dollars and foreign currencies for a range of its accounts.

When it comes to the small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) sector, JIB has concluded several agreements with the Central Bank of Jordan and Jordan Loan Guarantee Company to help finance SMEs, while also arranging workshops for SME clients to detail the special banking services it can provide.

JIB continues to offer sharia-compliant charge cards with near-field communication technology. These cards cannot be used for goods and services related to activities including gambling and alcohol. At the same time, the bank recently launched a package of products and services, called Zafafi, aimed at couples (and their families) who are about to get married, to help reduce the financial burden of holding a wedding. These include instalment plans for financing costs like hall reservations, wedding planners and honeymoons.

The lender experienced a decline in net profits in 2020, dropping from $76.7m to $73.5m. However, total sharia assets grew by 9.2% year-on-year, with Tier 1 capital up 6.9%. Return on equity dropped slightly from 13.3% to 11.6%, while the bank’s cost-to-income ratio increased slightly to 45%. Non-performing loans remain low and improved from 3.97% in 2019 to 3.13% in 2020. 

JIB expanded its branch network and ATM coverage in 2020 and now has 108 branches and offices along with 272 ATM units. It also developed banking services and products that will enable people with disabilities to manage their money easily and independently, such as providing dedicated ATMs and staff to serve customers with visual or hearing impairments.


Winner: CIMB Islamic 

A global heavyweight in the world of sharia-compliant finance, CIMB Islamic is back in the spotlight, picking up the accolade for Malaysia. It impressed the judges with its deepening of products across most market segments, with a particular focus on sustainability, as well as its Covid assistance schemes and tie-ups with the Malaysian government to boost the halal economy.

The past year was not easy for the Malaysian banking sector, with all of the main Islamic banks in the country seeing a drop in net profits. In CIMB Islamic’s case, net profits were down 38.3% year-on-year. However, the bank saw its Tier 1 capital grow by 19.1% in 2020, with total sharia assets up by 12.9%. Its cost-to-income ratio remained flat, at 44.5%, and return on equity dropped from 13.3% to 7.4%. 

CIMB Islamic became the first bank in Malaysia to offer environmental-related savings accounts. Through its EcoSave Savings Account-i, the bank commits 0.2% of the total average portfolio balance of the accounts to environmental-focused projects and activities. As of December 2020, the EcoSave portfolio balance stood at RM1.21bn ($290m), up 81.6% year-on-year, with 613,000 account holders. The bank has also recently launched CIMB GreenBizReady, a one-stop sustainability solution for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) looking to progress on their sustainability journey, complete with comprehensive financial solutions and incentives.

In November 2019 the bank launched CIMB HalalBizReady, which aims to help SMEs grow their business in the global halal market through a comprehensive list of solutions including halal know-how, consultancies, financing and e-commerce. The bank also introduced MicroBizReady in late 2020, a programme offering mentoring and educational support to micro-enterprises and SMEs with tools to help them grow.

CIMB Islamic is also in the process of upgrading its online current account opening platform to enable e-know your customer features, and in April 2020 it introduced Tawarruq contract execution at facility level for all Islamic trade facilities, in an effort to reduce documentation and improve processing turnaround times by up to 50%, as well as enabling flexibility on moratorium treatment for trade financing clients. This flexibility is demonstrated by executing the sharia contract at facility level, where the bank eliminates the execution sharia-related documents at transactional level, improving the customer experience and reducing potential sharia non-compliance risk.


Winner: Muzn Islamic Banking 

A first win for Muzn Islamic Banking (MIB), National Bank of Oman’s Islamic banking window, which posted impressive growth during 2020 and also launched several new and innovative sharia-compliant products and services. 

MIB operates in an expanding
market, with Islamic banking now accounting for 12% of the Omani banking sector, with the sector growing by 9.5% in 2020, compared with a growth of 2.2% for conventional banking.

The lender showed a strong financial performance in 2020, with return on equity increasing to 8.6% in 2020, from 7.7% in 2019 and 3.3% in 2018. At the same time, the cost-to-income ratio of the bank improved, from 77% in 2018 to 40.1% last year, with net profits up 23.2% year-on-year and total sharia assets rising 17.2%. 

In 2020, the bank, which was the first Islamic banking window in Oman, introduced its Tijarah accounts to supporting the growth of its corporate clients. These offer businesses sharia-compliant ways to invest and manage short-term excess liquidity in a profitable manner, with benefits including low-cost deposits, minimum balance charges, no fixed maturity term and no withdrawal limits.

MIB also introduced a Kids Wakala account last year, designed to help parents ensure their children’s financial future is protected against unforeseen circumstances. Accounts offer both attractive savings options with a healthy return on investment, as well as financial protection against the death or permanent disability of parents or guardians, with children receiving a sum equal to the average deposit amount in their account in the month before their loss. Accounts are open to customers and non-customers alike, enabling the bank to build a relationship with children early on in their financial lives.

The bank operates six branches across Oman. However, given the events of the last year, access to digital services has become more important than ever, which is why MIB ensures that its digital platforms are continually upgraded and enhanced. Its mobile app includes new features, including wallet transfer, which enables users to send and receive money locally and instantly using a mobile number, as well as scan-and-pay functionality using QR codes.

MIB has also continued to push for increased awareness about the advantages and nature of Islamic banking, publishing articles about Islamic banking and holding seminars and discussion sessions with members of its sharia supervisory board. 


Winner: Meezan Bank 

Meezan Bank, which has been in a tight competition with Standard Chartered Pakistan for Pakistan’s Islamic Bank of the Year accolade in recent years, came out on top in 2021. It impressed the judges with its strong financial performance, new product offerings and strong local partnerships.

Meezan Bank has been one of the drivers of the State Bank of Pakistan’s Roshan Digital Account initiative, which allows Pakistanis living abroad to open a current or savings account and invest in, among other things, sharia-compliant shares and sukuks listed on the Pakistan Stock Exchange. To date the bank has opened more than 21,000 of these accounts across 90 countries.

The lender has also supported the central bank in launching Islamic Naya Pakistan Certificates (INPC), a sharia-compliant investment option that promotes inward remittances to Pakistan. At the same time, Meezan was involved in the development of a partnership with fintech company Finja, through which consumers and retailers can access unsecured sharia-compliant financing digitally. 

Meezan Bank has continued to play a leading role in the Pakistani sukuk market, which saw $4.84bn work of sukuk issued in 2020. The bank launched Souq, the first limit-based Islamic financing facility for consumer durable goods, based on the sharia-compliant concept of musawamah (a sale agreement in which price of the commodity/good to be traded is bargained between seller and the purchaser without any reference to the price paid or cost incurred by the former), as well as account opening facilities for freelancers, who are able to receive remittances from abroad. 

In 2020, the bank saw its Tier 1 capital grow by 24%, with total sharia assets up 36% and net profits rising by 46%. The bank’s cost-to-income ratio has been steadily improving, and in 2020 it was just under 40%, while its return on equity was a very respectable 34.6%.

In May 2021, it signed an agreement with Export-Import (Exim) Bank of Pakistan. Under the agreement, Meezan Bank will develop sharia-compliant trade finance related products and risk management strategies that will enable small and medium-sized enterprises to access financial support from Exim Bank of Pakistan, further encouraging trade competition in the region.


Winner: Qatar Islamic Bank 

Qatar’s largest Islamic bank continued its impressive growth in 2020, and is a worthy winner of the country’s Islamic Bank of the Year accolade for 2021. Qatar Islamic Bank (QIB) was one of the first in Qatar to launch an innovative digital wallet, mPay, on its mobile app in early 2020. It also introduced an instant credit card solution via the QIB Mobile App, giving customers the opportunity to get a fully-digitally approved credit card within just a few hours.

QIB’s mobile app offerings have continued to expand, with the introduction of major products and services which now number more than 100, some available for the first time in Qatar. In July 2020, the bank launched a new mobile application, the QIB Corporate App, allowing its corporate and small and medium-sized enterprise customers to have full control of their accounts and to manage their corporate banking needs remotely. 

QIB also remains the first and only bank in Qatar to offer domestic workers a fully end-to-end solution to open their own bank accounts directly through the mobile app, part of efforts to support financial inclusion in Qatar. It expanded its services and products to cater to various new audience segments, including the unbanked and underserved customers, through the country’s fully automated Wage Protection System (WPS), where more than 6500 companies pay more than 100,000 customers online every month through the WPS.

In January 2021, the bank launched an integrated host-to-host online payment management solution for its large corporate customers, becoming the first Islamic bank to allow corporate customers to submit payments from their enterprise resource planning systems automatically without the need for any manual intervention.

QIB’s total assets grew by just 6.6% in 2020, while Tier 1 capital rose 9.5%, up from 7% in 2019. At the same time, profits saw just a small increase of 0.3% in 2020, dropping from almost 11% in 2019, albeit against an average decrease of 12.4% across the Qatari banking sector. Return on equity decreased slightly from 18.8% to 17.3% year-on-year, but still remained the highest in the country, while the cost-to-income ratio was also the best in the country, dropping from 22.8% to 20.1%.

Saudi Arabia 

Winner: Alinma Bank 

Saudi Arabia’s Islamic Bank of the Year for 2021 is Alinma Bank, which continues to be a key player in one of the most established Islamic finance markets in the world. The bank acquired more than 400,000 new customers in 2020, for a total of close to 2.8 million. The bank also opened three new digital branches, in addition to creating digital zones in seven existing branches that provide round-the-clock self-service banking. 

Last year, 60% of the bank’s new individual customers were onboarded digitally, with financial transactions executed via e-channels increasing by 44% year-on-year. Usage of e-channels rose by more than 144%, and for the first time the retail banking group’s financing sales exceeded SR10bn ($2.7bn), distributed over all products provided by the bank, including personal, real estate and other financing. 

The small and medium-sized enterprise sector was a strong focus for Alinma Bank in 2020, given the economic pressures that came with the global pandemic. The bank created a new financing programme that provides up to SR1m with a 24-month repayment period. The bank also signed a memorandum of understanding with the General Authority for SMEs (Monshaat), which will see the two organisations co-operate on issues of financial awareness in the SME sector in Saudi Arabia. 

Saving was also a major theme in 2020. Alinma Bank implemented its Instant Savings service, which allows customers to save as they spend, by rounding up transactions.

Alinma Bank saw its net profits drop 22% year-on-year in 2020, due to higher impairment charges and re-evaluation losses. However, in the first quarter of 2021 the bank recorded a year-on-year net profit increase of 73%, as a result of growth in operations. The bank also experienced a 10% increase in Tier 1 capital in 2020, alongside a 19% increase in total assets, with a return on equity of 8%, down from 11% in 2019. 

In 2020, the bank devoted a major portion of its IT budget to establishing its advanced analytics infrastructure. Last year also saw the implementation of robotic process automation, with routine tasks largely automated. At the same time, Alinma Bank has continued to expand its traditional banking infrastructure, and by the end of 2020 had 175 operating branches and 1551 ATMs across the country.

Sri Lanka

Winner: Amana Bank 

Amana Bank regained the top spot for Islamic Bank of the Year for Sri Lanka in 2021, after losing out to NDB Shareek in 2020. Amana Bank has now won the accolade in five of the past six years, impressing judges this time around with its financial stability in spite of the pandemic, its growth in women’s and children’s accounts, and its partnership with Pay&Go, a provider of digital kiosks, which has rapidly expanded the bank’s overall reach.

In nine years of operation, Amana Bank has grown to have almost 370,000 clients, with a total sharia-compliant asset base of more than LKR100bn ($536m). In 2020, the bank championed its Ladies’ Savings and Children’s Savings propositions, carrying out promotional campaigns while offering added conveniences. 

In recognition and gratitude for the service provided by teachers and lecturers, the bank extended the financing amount and repayment period to obtain financing without the burden of having guarantors or pledging security. Further, Amana Bank introduced a special financing scheme for its pension savings customers.

The bank has also continued to focus on overall customer accessibility and experience, with some of the innovations introduced during the pandemic including Bank on Wheels, salary advances for regular salary-crediting customers, convenient digital onboarding and doorstep banking. The bank’s current account saving account ratio is well above the industry average, at 45% in 2020, up from 39% in 2019.

Amana Bank saw net profits increase 1% in 2020, not bad for a year of global uncertainty, with Tier 1 capital up 4% and total sharia assets rising by 16%, after growing by 12% in 2019 and 22% in 2018. The bank’s return on equity, cost-to-income and non-performing loan ratios were all stable in 2020.

One key development has been the bank’s tie-up with Pay&Go, announced in December 2019, which increased its reach from 50 to 900 locations island-wide. The partnership allows Amana customers to directly deposit money in their accounts and enjoy real-time credit at over 850 Pay&Go kiosks, which have already transformed the way Sri Lankan’s make everyday payments. 

The bank has also taken the decision to set up a full-time dedicated platform that will serve as the initial step towards forming a fully functional digital presence to help gradually decrease dependency on brick-and-mortar banking branches.

United Arab Emirates 

Winner:  Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank 

Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank (ADIB), which has been a perennial winner of The Banker’s Islamic Bank of the Year for the UAE over the years, has regained its crown in 2021.

The past year has been busy for ADIB, as it rolled out new products and services tailored to client needs. In September 2020 the bank partnered with the UAE’s Ministry of Finance to offer a range of e-dirham cards that enable UAE residents to access more than 5000 government services. A month later the bank launched ADIB Rise, a new banking proposition catering to the needs of emerging affluent customers in the UAE; and in the same month it rolled out the UAE’s first virtual banking sales platform, allowing customers to interact with ADIB and apply for personal finance, covered cards, takaful and other banking products without needing to leave their homes.

In November, the bank also launched ADIB Chat Banking, accessible through WhatsApp. It is the first UAE customer care chatbot that can understand and respond to the Emirati Arabic dialect, in addition to classical Arabic. It will support customers with general requests, offering instant access to key information about their accounts and finances.

ADIB saw its total sharia assets increase slightly in 2020, while the bank’s return on equity dropped from 18.6% in 2019 to 9.6%, before rising by 14.9% in the first quarter of 2021. In the first quarter, 2021 net profits grew 125% year-on-year, after falling by 35.7% between 2019 and 2020. The bank’s cost-to-income ratio has been stable at roughly 45% over the past few years.

The bank reports $35bn in assets as of the end of 2020, and has over a million customers across the UAE, with a presence in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UK, Sudan and Iraq. After the UAE and Israel signed an historic agreement to normalise relations in September 2020, ADIB signed a memorandum of understanding with Israel’s Bank Leumi to explore areas for future co-operation in the UAE, Israel and other international markets.

In March 2021 ADIB also launched its new Analytics Centre of Excellence, a fully integrated, real-time data analysis and visualisation centre that will help the bank to drive greater efficiencies and respond to complex market dynamics.


Winner: QIB UK

While it is true that Islamic banking is yet to properly take off in the UK, sharia-compliant banking services are maturing nicely in the country, which is arguably the leading non-Muslim majority nation when it comes to the provision of Islamic financial services. The winner of the 2021 UK country award, QIB UK, is one of those pushing the development of the ecosystem. 

The UK arm of Qatar Islamic Bank, QIB UK saw modest growth in 2020, with total assets up 8% and net profits up by 7%. This came on the back of asset growth of 9% in 2019 and 17% in 2018. However, there have been other notable achievements for QIB UK. 

The bank’s mobile banking platform went live in the first quarter of 2020, enabling customers to make account enquiries, change PINs, and make internal transfers and local payments in pounds. The timing was fortuitous, occurring just as the pandemic was shutting down brick-and-mortar banking operations. Despite the limited functionality, the channel already accounts for 20% of all operational activity for QIB UK. An updated platform is set to go live shortly, which will include the ability to make international multi-currency payments.

Partnering with Raisin UK, the British offshoot of the Europe-wide savings marketplace, QIB UK began offering sharia-compliant term deposits in the UK retail market in late 2018. Now roughly 7000 clients have placed £192m in fixed-term deposits of various durations, from six to 24 months, with the bank. These represent new clients for QIB UK and signify a growing awareness of Islamic banking in the UK. The bank is also seeing increased interest from non-Islamic customers looking to benefit from the bank’s competitive rates. In August 2020, QIB UK launched one- and two-year fixed-rate bonds paying 1.2% and 1.4%, respectively.

QIB UK’s cost-to-income ratio has also steadily improved in recent years, from 61.7% in 2018 to 54.9% in 2020, with the non-performing loan ratio at 1.8% in 2020, albeit double the low rate of 0.9% in 2019.


Winner:  Al Kuraimi Islamic Microfinance Bank 

This is just the second time that Yemen has had an individual country category in the Islamic Bank of the Year Awards. This year’s winner is Al Kuraimi Islamic Microfinance Bank (KIMB), which impressed the judges with its efforts to provide microfinancing to rural communities, in particular to women.

Yemen remains a challenging country to operate in, with its six-year civil war continuing to claim lives and leaving the country in a precarious economic situation. Despite the challenging conditions, KIMB, which was founded in 2010, continues to extend banking services to people across the country, and is considered the fifth largest bank in Yemen, with 150 branches and 1600 employees.

The bank’s focus on empowering women in rural communities is an important one, as is its desire to help integrate women into the banking sector. In the past year, KIMB developed a programme to help women expand their animal husbandry activities by buying a group of livestock for the purpose of fattening and breeding, with the bank acting as the guarantor. The bank also deployed female staff to communicate with male farmers and convince them to integrate women into raising livestock. As well as encouraging and motivating women to develop their skills, the programme has also created a spirit of co-operation and family bonding among family members

The bank’s Kuraimi Jawal mobile phone app, which makes it easier for people to manage their bank accounts, is also playing a role in the uptake of Islamic banking services in the country, by allowing simple payments, including bill payments, and money transfers. This is a particularly important access channel in rural areas.

KIMB saw its total sharia assets grow by 24% in 2020, with net profits up 15%, return on equity at 17.3% and non-performing loans at just 1.1% of the total. However, the bank’s cost-to-income ratio was high, at 71% in 2020, and has been above 70% in each of the past three years.

In April 2020, KIMB announced that it had chosen Swiss core banking provider Temenos to replace its legacy IT systems and create a single, cloud-native digital banking platform. The bank, which in 2020 had 1.2 million customers, is targeting five million by 2023, with digital electronic payment for purchases, and digital payments and transfer between accounts, being a part of that.


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