World’s first fully Islamic Shariah-compliant digital bank launched in UAE

World’s first fully Islamic Shariah-compliant digital bank launched in UAE
RIZQ / BARAKA is launched from the UAE but aims to target customers in the Middle East and North Africa. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 21 April 2021

World’s first fully Islamic Shariah-compliant digital bank launched in UAE

World’s first fully Islamic Shariah-compliant digital bank launched in UAE
  • Long-term, the lender aims to scale up operations worldwide via strategic partnerships with banks and financial institutions

DUBAI: The UAE is set to be home to the world’s first fully Islamic Shariah-compliant digital bank, it was announced on Wednesday.

Set up by Zurich Capital Funds Group and branded as RIZQ / BARAKA, the new lender will provide all banking services according to Islamic law.

It will operate all digital banking services through mobile phones and computers, and its app can be downloaded via Apple Store, Google Play (Android stores), and many communication sites and social media networks.

RIZQ / BARAKA is launched from the UAE but aims to target customers in the Middle East and North Africa.

Long-term, the lender aims to scale up operations worldwide via strategic partnerships with banks and financial institutions in India, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, the UK, Australia, Brazil and Mauritania.

Dr. Fahed Al-Merhebi, chairman of Zurich Capital Funds Group, said the bank is the latest in its digital ambitions, having already launched a Shariah-compliant digital crypto exchange platform called the SUSTAIN EXCHANGE, and a range of sports digital currencies that were listed on the exchange.

Earlier this month, Dubai businessman Mohamed Alabbar announced that he is to lead a new digital bank set to be launched soon in the UAE.

Zand is being billed as “the world’s first combined digital corporate and retail bank,” and is going through final approvals ahead of its launch.

Alabbar, founder of Emaar Properties — the Dubai developer behind The Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa — teamed up with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund to launch the Noon online shopping platform in 2017. He will take on the role of chairman of Zand.

“The UAE combines progressive regulations with commercial, financial, and technology hubs. This provides the perfect environment for a world-leading digital bank that can launch in the UAE and scale beyond,” Alabbar said.

“As the first fully independent digital bank in the country, with a full UAE banking license, Zand will provide innovative, effective financial solutions that help simplify businesses and lives, addressing the needs of both retail and corporate customers.”

Online banking has become increasingly popular in the UAE. In a survey by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) last October, 70 percent of respondents said they are actively searching for a new bank, and 87 percent said they would be willing to open an account with a branchless digital-only lender.


Dubai’s Union Properties swings to profit

Dubai’s Union Properties swings to profit
Updated 12 min 27 sec ago

Dubai’s Union Properties swings to profit

Dubai’s Union Properties swings to profit
  • Dubai-listed Union Properties focused on improving key operational activities across the group

DUBAI: The developer of Motor City in Dubai has reported a 5.6 million dirhams ($1.5 million) net profit in the first quarter of 2021 – recovering from a net loss of 121.9 million dirhams in the same period last year.
Dubai-listed Union Properties focused on improving key operational activities across the group, including a significant reduction in direct and administrative costs of 6.4 percent and 14.2 percent respectively.
The group also settled a large portion of its debt, reducing finance costs by 42.1 percent year-on-year, it said in a stock exchange filing.
“We have sought out to optimize our cash flows by adopting a flexible policy to adapt to the economic changes,” board chairman Khalifa Hassan Al-Hammadi said.
He noted the UAE government’s effective management of the COVID-19 pandemic, which helped the real estate sector gradually recover from its impact.
Other UAE developers have also been seeing positive indicators during the first three months of the year, as buyers regain confidence in the country’s post-pandemic real estate market. However a glut of new homes remains to be absorbed after years of rampant construction.


Flared natural gas powers Bitcoin mining

Flared natural gas powers Bitcoin mining
Updated 18 min 8 sec ago

Flared natural gas powers Bitcoin mining

Flared natural gas powers Bitcoin mining
  • Backlash has formed against the digital assets’ energy usage
  • Ethereum and dogecoin see meteoric price spikes since pandemic

WASHINGTON: As the value of bitcoin soars and concerns rise about the energy-intensive process needed to obtain it, cryptocurrency entrepreneurs in the United States believe they have found a solution in flared natural gas.
Profitably creating, or mining, bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies requires masses of computers dedicated to solving deliberately complicated equations — an endeavor that globally consumes more electricity than entire nations, but for which these start-ups say the jets of flaming gas placed next to oil wells are perfect power sources.
“I think the market is enormous,” said Sergii Gerasymovych, CEO of EZ Blockchain, which has six different data centers powered off natural gas in the US states of Utah and New Mexico, as well as in Canada.
Across the country, companies like EZ Blockchain are setting up shipping containers where racks containing hundreds of computers mine cryptocurrency, fueled by natural gas from oil wells that otherwise would be burned in the open.
Interest in their work has grown over the past year. Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies like ethereum and dogecoin have seen meteoric price spikes since the Covid-19 pandemic turned the global economy on its head and mainstream companies began to embrace the technology.
But a backlash has formed against the digital assets’ energy usage, fueled by concerns it relies on carbon-emitting power sources that contribute to climate change.
This week, Tesla boss Elon Musk criticized bitcoin’s power consumption, particularly of energy produced from coal, and said he would no longer accept the cryptocurrency as payment for his electric cars.
While entrepreneurs in the fledgling industry say using natural gas that is otherwise wasted represents a solution to these concerns, its ability to actually cut emissions remains to be seen, said Tony Scott, managing director of analysis at oil and gas research firm BTU Analytics.
“In the grand scheme of things and relative to other load, yes, it’s small,” Scott said. “They are creating economic value (but) they’re not necessarily significantly changing the emissions profiles.”
Huge numbers of processors worldwide are dedicated to the task of mining bitcoin. The activity uses 149.6 terawatt-hours per year, according to the Cambridge Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index (CBECI). That is slightly less than all the electricity consumed by Egypt.
As the most popular cryptocurrency, bitcoin is undoubtedly valuable, trading at around $50,000 in mid-May from less than $10,000 a year ago, giving miners incentive to find the cheapest source of power to increase their margins.
Enter flared natural gas.
Oil producers flare natural gas if they can’t find a way to process it, which, with prices low and pipelines complicated to build, can be the case worldwide.
“Miners tend to be based around areas where there tends to be surplus power. What is new... is this whole concept of taking gas flaring,” said Jason Deane, bitcoin analyst at Quantum Economics.
Flaring combusts many of the greenhouse gases in natural gas, but the International Energy Agency said the approximately 150 billion cubic meters of natural gas flared worldwide in 2019 put out about the same amount of carbon dioxide as Italy.
Using flared gas to power the application-specific integrated circuits that mine bitcoin does not end emissions entirely, but is more efficient than flaring it and puts energy that is otherwise wasted to use.
“We come in, they’re making zero for their gas, we say, hey, we’ll come in (and) take the gas off your hands, give you a little something,” said Matt Lohstroh, co-founder of Giga Energy Solutions.
“We’ll be able to reduce your emissions you’re putting out, combust it, create economic value on our end.
Natural gas’s edge is in the cost of power. CBECI estimates the average global power cost for bitcoin mining is about $0.05 per kilowatt hour. Lohstroh said natural gas power can bring the kilowatt hour cost to below $0.018.
Interest has grown in diverting flared gas to cryptocurrency mining, and not just because the digital assets are growing in value.
“There’s more scrutiny on issuing new flare permits and I think these producers are realizing that,” said Britt Swann, who is leading holding company Ecoark’s expansion into cryptocurrency mining.
“They are willing to play ball and figure out a way to use that gas without necessarily wanting any value for it.”
Where companies differ is over what to do with bitcoin and other digital assets once they get it.
Ecoark intends to convert it into dollars, but Lohstroh plans to hold the bitcoin he mines, which he believes will one day underpin a new global financial system.
“No need to sell the most valuable asset in the world that’s underpriced,” he said.


UAE’s FDI inflows jump 44% in 2020

UAE’s FDI inflows jump 44% in 2020
Updated 40 min 41 sec ago

UAE’s FDI inflows jump 44% in 2020

UAE’s FDI inflows jump 44% in 2020
  • The oil and gas sector stood out as a number of deals were struck with foreign partners
  • The cumulative value of FDI reached $174 billion

DUBAI: Foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows to the UAE grew 44.2 percent in 2020 to reach $19.9 billion despite the pandemic.
The oil and gas sector stood out as a number of deals were struck with foreign partners, the Ministry of Economy revealed.
The cumulative value of FDI reached $174 billion, representing a growth of 12.9 percent in the same period.
Outflows amounted to $9.2 billion, the ministry said, covering various economic sectors such as aviation, transportation, renewable energy, and agriculture.
“The investment landscape of the UAE has been steadily developing over the past years with the rapid introduction of progressive measures that have earned the nation a coveted position internationally,” Abdullah bin Touq Al-Marri, the country’s economic minister, said.
He said the UAE is eyeing more measures to improve its investment landscape, particularly in priority sectors.


Massive Saudi presence at ATM travel show in Dubai

Massive Saudi presence at ATM travel show in Dubai
Updated 59 min 7 sec ago

Massive Saudi presence at ATM travel show in Dubai

Massive Saudi presence at ATM travel show in Dubai
  • 81 Saudi ehbitors at this year's travel meet
  • Kingdom prepares to resume international flights

DUBAI: The Saudi travel industry will have top billing in Dubai this week as the Kingdom showcases its biggest tourism attractions.
With 81 Saudi exhibitors the Arabian Travel Market, the Kingdom has the biggest regional presence at this year's event outside of the UAE itself.
It is the first major in-person international travel event since outbreak of pandemic with 62 countries represented on the exhibition floor. It comes as the regional travel sector slowly emerges from a year of crippling restrictions with international flights also set to resume in Saudi Arabia from May 17.
“This year more than any other, we, along with our partners and sponsors, have worked together closely, to enable an inspirational in-person event, that will set the tone for the Middle East travel and tourism industry for the rest of this year,” said Exhibition Director Danielle Curtis.
Under the theme of ‘A new dawn for travel & tourism’, the 28th edition of the four-day show will include a dedicated buyer forum for Saudi Arabia.


Dubai developer Damac reports widening loss as sales almost halve

Dubai developer Damac reports widening loss as sales almost halve
Updated 16 May 2021

Dubai developer Damac reports widening loss as sales almost halve

Dubai developer Damac reports widening loss as sales almost halve
  • Sales shrink despite recent rally in Dubai luxury homes

DUBAI: Damac, the Dubai developer behind some of the emirate’s glitziest property projects, reported a widening first-quarter loss as sales almost halved.
The developer reported a first quarter loss of 189.6 million dirhams ($51.6 million), compared to a loss of 106.1 million dirhams in the year-earlier period. Revenues dropped by about half to about 642.2 million dirhams, it said in a stock exchange filing.
Dubai property developers have reported a recovery in demand for high end properties in recent weeks as transaction activity in the secondary market picked up. But at the same time, off-plan sales remain under pressure.
S&P said in March it expected Dubai’s GDP growth to recover while real estate remained squeezed.
“We expect real estate companies’ profitability to remain under pressure and leverage to be high,” said S&P Global Ratings credit analyst Sapna Jagtiani. “Absent a substantial recovery in revenue, companies are likely to focus on cost optimization, proactively managing their liquidity, and preserving their cash flows. Rated Dubai-based real estate companies still have good liquidity and access to funding, however, despite currently trying times.”