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The skyline of Doha, Qatar. The country is the world's richest nation per capita, according to the IMF.
The skyline of Doha, Qatar. The country is the world's richest nation per capita, according to the IMF.

Qataris unmoved by wealth managers

In Qatar, the world's richest country, many would expect boom times for the investment management industry. But wealth managers said they are finding slim pickings.

DOHA // Their Brooks Brothers suits immaculately pressed, their boots polished and gleaming, the investment managers gathered at the Grand Hyatt in Doha lacked just one crucial element - the million-dollar smile.

Representatives of the wealth management industry have flooded the Gulf in recent years in an effort to find new clients. But so far, Qatari investors are taking little notice.

Qatar, where the economy is growing at 41.8 per cent and which has been named the world's richest nation per capita by the IMF, is hardly short of cash.

But whether it is the memory of Bernie Madoff's US$65 billion (Dh238.7bn) Ponzi scheme in the US or the current implosion of stock markets in the developed world, the industry is struggling to convince Qataris that professional money managers are the best people to handle their fortunes.

"There's cash. Definitely, there's cash," said Ziad Nasr, an associate director at SEI Investments.

But retail investors in Qatar, as in neighbouring Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, are more reluctant to place savings with investment managers, he said.

By contrast, high numbers of western expatriates in the UAE, who tend to invest more in funds, were more natural customers for the regional industry.

Local property still occupies the lion's share of many Qatari investors' portfolios, said Gaurav Shivpuri, a regional director of capital markets at Jones Lang LaSalle, a property consultancy.

"Investors here prefer investments that are simple to understand," he said. "Real estate has been in their bloodlines for centuries before the complicated investments like hedge funds, bonds and derivatives came into play."

Sovereign debt crises in the US and Europe, which may take years to resolve, have soured investor appetite for developed markets, said Marc Foss, a regional executive director at Silk Invest.

"There's so much growth happening in the Middle East, in Saudi, Qatar and to a lesser extent in the UAE," he said. "But there's still a concentration in domestic investments."

Assets under management across the Middle East rose 10 per cent last year to $1 trillion, slightly faster than the global average but far below emerging Asia and Latin America, according to Boston Consulting Group.

Many fund managers are coming to the realisation that tapping into surging wealth in Qatar and the rest of the Gulf region would not happen overnight, and could require investment in offices, branding and marketing for years or even decades, Mr Nasr added. "They understand it's a long-term process."

 

ghunter@thenational.ae

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