x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Barclays puts UAE retail arm up for sale

Barclays Bank has put its UAE retail banking franchise up for sale, in a move that will impact around 280 full-time staff.

Barclays' consumer lending business will be wound down over a 15-month period. Jaime Puebla / The National
Barclays' consumer lending business will be wound down over a 15-month period. Jaime Puebla / The National

Barclays Bank has put its UAE retail banking franchise up for sale, in a move that will impact around 280 full-time staff.

The British bank, which was recapitalised in the depths of the financial crisis by investors from Abu Dhabi and Qatar to avoid nationalisation, has become the third United Kingdom lender to scale back operations in the UAE as it attempts to raise capital.

The bank's consumer lending business will be wound down over a 15-month period, though its wealth management, corporate and investment banking businesses will be unaffected, Barclays said.

"Following a strategic review, Barclays has decided to refocus its efforts in the UAE on its key strengths in corporate and investment banking and wealth and investment management," the bank said.

"Barclays reaffirms its commitment to the UAE and the Mena region."

The bank will retain its two branch licences but with reduced staff, with some 280 employees expected to be impacted by the move alongside vendors and suppliers. Barclays employs around 1,000 full-time staff in the UAE across all its lines of business.

The new chief executive Anthony Jenkins is attempting to cut staff numbers by 3,700 worldwide.

It is the second retreat in the UAE by Barclays after the bank last year withdrew from the panel that sets Emirates Interbank Offered Rates, as part of a global policy after the Libor rate-rigging scandal forced the resignation of Barclays' chairman and chief executive.

Bankers had previously speculated that prospective acquirers would be drawn by Barclays' two branch licences, which the bank says it will retain.

"The Central Bank hasn't been giving out branch licences to foreign banks," said one executive at an international lender last month, speaking on condition of anonymity.

But even absent its two branch licences, Barclays' consumer financing operations would be highly attractive acquisitions.

"It's a bank that has been cleaned up, and they have a good credit card business," the banker said.

Among the financial firms that could bid are First Gulf Bank, which recently expanded its consumer finance business through an acquisition of Dubai First, a card payment company, the banker added.

HSBC, which acquired the Dubai-based branch of Lloyds TSB Middle East last year, could be another potential buyer.

British banks have been forced to abandon their Middle Eastern businesses as a result of dwindling profits from their core European markets and a need to restore capital buffers.

Royal Bank of Scotland sold its retail lending business to Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank in 2010.

 

business@thenational.ae