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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 September 2018

Banking year in review: Lenders bullish about Middle East weath accumulation

Bankers upbeat on Saudi Arabia as country transforms economy and pushes to open up further

The kingdom is overhauling its economy under Vision 2030, a roadmap unveiled in 2016 to help wean the kingdom off oil income Saul Loeb / AFP
The kingdom is overhauling its economy under Vision 2030, a roadmap unveiled in 2016 to help wean the kingdom off oil income Saul Loeb / AFP

Private banks are more bullish about the region, deploying more human resources in the Middle East as oil prices rebound and in anticipation of a turnaround in the fortunes of Saudi Arabia, the region's biggest economy.

Jean-Francois Deroche, Indosuez Wealth Management’s chief executive for Middle East, Asia and Switzerland told The National that he is committed to the region, having boosted the number of bankers here over the past year and a half by 20 per cent and is especially upbeat on the UAE, which has a more diversified economy than most of its regional peers. Other countries are also growing despite several years of low oil prices.

"We are, in general, in growth mode and we are looking [for private banking assets] in Asia, Europe, maybe the Middle East," he said.

Despite the uptick in private wealth, the private banking market in the Middle East is very competitive. The number of banks chasing affluent clients is rising. There are more than 60 private banks operating in the Arabian Gulf, the majority of which are based in Dubai.

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Region's economic diversification gives way to resurgence of wealth managers

Swiss investment bank UBS says Saudi Arabian economy is stabilising

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Swiss private banks especially are sprinting to the region. Recent fines for a number of banks in Switzerland have increased costs they may incur to ensure their compliance with rules and regulations. That has made many of them keen to tap growth in high-yielding emerging markets.

Saudi Arabia has been of particular interest. UBS, the biggest Swiss bank by assets, said that the kingdom’s economy appears to be stabilising ahead of its possible inclusion in the MSCI Emerging Markets stock index by 2019 despite volatile oil prices and regional conflicts.

Economists at UBS are predicting that GDP growth for the country’s economy will stabilise and that its currency will retain its peg to the US dollar at 3.75 Saudi riyals.

Swiss banks are bullish about wealth creation in the region’s largest economy, which has increasingly been opening up to the global economy; allowing foreign investment and planning to sell off stakes in state assets such as Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest oil producer. As they vie to increase their market share of the business, banks are hiring more relationship managers to meet the rise in demand for wealth management services.

At stake for banks is one of the highest concentrations of wealth per capita in the world. Wealth in the Middle East grew at an average of 17.5 per cent a year from 2010 to 2014, doubling to US$2.2 trillion from $1.1tn, according to the consultants Strategy&. Almost half of the GCC’s wealth resides in Saudi Arabia. Together with the UAE the two countries controlled 74 per cent of the region’s wealth in 2013, compared with 71 per cent in 2009.

Despite the challenging macroeconomic conditions, the diversification and privatisation programmes as set out by Saudi Arabia's crown prince Mohammed bin Salman in the kingdom’s Vision 2030 plan “will see the country limit its reliance on oil exports and strengthen its economic growth over the medium term,” said Daniel Savary, head of eastern Mediterranean, Middle East and Africa at Julius Baer.

“This is expected to lead to a surge in wealth and as such, increase the opportunities tremendously in terms of wealth management.

"Julius Baer is keeping a close eye on opportunities in [Saudi Arabia] while continuing to offer its services to its clients and help them grow and preserve their wealth for coming generations.”

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