Emirati is first UAE chief of HSBC
HSBC has chosen an Emirati as its first chief executive for the entire UAE after Lester Wynne-Jones, the former chief of the bank's Abu Dhabi and Al Ain operations, moved to a new role. Abdulfattah Sharaf, who has led the bank's retail operations since 2008, will take up the newly created role immediately.
The shuffle comes after a tough year for the bank's Middle East operations. As part of a broader cost-cutting initiative, HSBC in October laid off 122 people in the UAE, after shedding about 70 staff in August. The reductions amounted to a 5 per cent cut to the bank's UAE workforce of 3,800. At the time, Joel Farnworth, the chief of HSBC human resources in the Middle East, said the move was "a response to reduced market activity and fit in the climate we are currently in". He said the bank would continue to "review" the situation.
Mr Wynne-Jones was known for his monthly "Tea with Lester" gatherings, a popular event for a small circle of bankers. HSBC said Mr Wynne-Jones would work on a strategic project in Abu Dhabi. It also said the investment banker Declan Hegarty, who had been HSBC's co-head of coverage for the Middle East, was its new chief executive for Abu Dhabi. "These appointments mark a significant focus on the region by HSBC, underscoring the importance of the Middle East and North Africa to the group," the bank said.
HSBC's Middle East operations have suffered from the financial crisis, which dried up liquidity, lowered overall business activity and forced the bank to set aside more provisions. Last year, the bank's UAE senior managers agreed not to receive a bonus for 2008 in exchange for a pay raise. In the first six months, HSBC Middle East reported a 35 per cent fall in pre-tax profits to US$643 million (Dh2.36 billion) compared with the first half of 2008. Its impaired loans increased to $391m. The bank will release full-year results on March 2.
HSBC was also one of the bank's particularly hard hit by the ATM fraud last year, which made scores of customers unable to use their cards outside of the country. On a worldwide scale, the bank, like many of its peers, has laid off thousands of employees since the start of the global crisis. HSBC said in September it would once again shift more of its focus to Asia, notably China. HSBC Middle East contributes about 15 per cent to the bank's global profits, while the bank serves more than 125 million customers worldwide with more than 10,000 offices in 83 countries.
Meanwhile, Citigroup's Citibank has appointed Daniel Gay as senior private banker based in Abu Dhabi to spearhead the bank's drive to focus more on the ultra rich. The bank, one of the leading players in private banking in the Middle East, already has a team of 10 based in the Emirates dedicated to private banking. Citibank set up a private banking office in Abu Dhabi in 1992. Mr Gay had been the chief of UBS's private banking operations in Abu Dhabi.
Ultra high-net worth individuals must have investible assets of more than $100m to qualify at Citibank, a spokesman said. With 9.2 per cent of the world's proven oil reserves, Abu Dhabi is home to an above-average number of such people. "We continue to grow our footprint in the region, with a focus on Abu Dhabi and the United Arab Emirates as a hub for regional wealth management activities," said Elissar Farah Antonios, the chief officer for Citi Private Bank in Abu Dhabi.
Although the financial industry believes that the total number of people with investible assets of more than $30m worldwide fell by nearly 25 per cent last year, there are still enough monied people around. In the past year, many new players have piled into the private banking market. Citibank is one of the big players in the Middle East's private banking scene, along with UBS and Credit Suisse. It is estimated the big three share about two thirds of the market, followed by HSBC with about 10 per cent and others such as BNP Paribas.