A customer showed up at little Devon Bank on Chicago's North Side, asking for a loan to open a neighborhood shop. But there was a hitch, the would-be borrower explained: "We can't pay any interest. Can you help?"
At the time, seven years ago, the answer was: "Nope," recalls David Loundy, Devon's vice president and legal counsel.
That was then. Since fielding that first request, Devon Bank has transformed itself into a specialist in the kind of no-interest Islamic financing the customer was seeking. Islamic financing now accounts for more than 75% of the bank's mortgage portfolio, and Devon has made mortgages compliant with Islam's sharia law in 36 U.S. states, Loundy says.
Devon Bank, responding to local customers in a neighborhood filled with Pakistani and Middle Eastern immigrants, stumbled onto something big: Islamic finance is booming worldwide, fueled by the windfall from sky-high oil prices and a return to a more strict interpretation of the holy Quran across the Islamic world. Once Devon Bank introduced sharia-compliant mortgages and other loans, "People started coming out of the woodwork," Loundy says.
In a report last month, credit-rating agency Moody's Investors Service said that the global Islamic finance market has grown about 15% in each of the past three years and is now worth about $700 billion worldwide. The heavyweights of global finance have taken notice: Citigroup, HSBC, Deutsche Bank and others have affiliates devoted to Islamic finance. (MORE)