x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Citibank bucks the trend in Bahrain by boosting staff

Citibank increases staff levels in Bahrain, going against a trend of withdrawals by international banks as it seeks to profit from an anticipated rise in government spending.

Mazin Manna, CEO of Citibank in Bahrain speaks about the economy in Bahrain. (Razan Alzayani / The National)
Mazin Manna, CEO of Citibank in Bahrain speaks about the economy in Bahrain. (Razan Alzayani / The National)

Citibank has boosted staff numbers in Bahrain in a bid to reap the benefits of increased government spending.

The move goes against a steady flow of international banks that have withdrawn during the past year.

The bank hired 52 staff last year as it geared up for greater growth in Bahrain, said Mazin Manna, the chief executive of Citibank Bahrain.

"We've hired from outside and we've brought people into our corporate investment bank and in transaction services," he said.

The bank also opened a new branch last year and increased the size of its ATM network.

The bank currently employs 550 staff in Bahrain.

Citibank made about 3,000 job cuts worldwide in the first quarter of this year, according to a regulatory filing.

Since unrest in Bahrain during the Arab Spring, banks including Société Générale, Credit Agricole and Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ have reduced staff numbers and withdrawn from the kingdom altogether in some cases.

Many banks and asset managers have relocated to Dubai.

The flight of bankers has left about half of Bahrain's top-quality office space vacant amid slack demand, according to estimates from CBRE, a property consultancy.

Much of the country's office space was built during the credit boom preceding the global financial crisis, which has sapped investment in Bahrain's offshore banking operations.

During the past three years, foreign direct investment inflows to Bahrain have plunged from US$1.79 billion (Dh6.57bn) in 2008 to $155.7 million in 2010, according to the latest data from the World Bank.

Bahrain's economic development board estimates inflows recovered to about $300m last year.

But Citibank is betting on government spending to drive growth. Bahrain received an aid package of $10bn over 10 years from the GCC during the kingdom's unrest last year.

State-run companies are among those expected to power economic activity, including Aluminium Bahrain and Bapco, which is preparing a $6bn refinery expansion plan.

"There are a lot of large government projects that are planned and we expect growth in small-to-medium enterprises [SMEs] that are going to be supporting some of these large projects," Mr Manna said.

"This means that there will be growth in the number of people involved in these projects as well as ancillary sectors supporting them. This would also translate into growth in our retail and SME segments."

ghunter@thenational.ae

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