x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Fast profit for Swift as Middle East leads way

The impact of the Arab Spring and the blacklisting of Iranian banks failed to dampen demand for the services that Swift provides.

Business in the Middle East for Swift, one of the world's leading providers of electronic payment systems, outperformed the rest of the globe by nearly half last year as greater numbers of banks and companies signed up to the service.

The pickup in activity in the region came despite the impact of 30 Iranian banks being barred from using its service and a dip in demand in some countries hit by the Arab Spring.

"The Middle East region is a vital market for Swift. It has outperformed our other regions and contributes significantly to the growth of our business globally," said Gottfried Leibbrandt, the chief executive of the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, to give Swift its full name. "We are excited with the growth potential this market can bring to Swift and are bringing more resources, services and opportunities to the local financial community."

Since setting up in the region in 2007, the share of Swift's Middle East operations in the global business has swelled from 3 to 4 per cent to 7 or 8 per cent today. Its global turnover stands at about €600 million (Dh2.97 billion).

But the performance of the Belgium-based business's traditional markets in Europe was hit by the banking crisis. As a result, that market grew by only 5 to 6 per cent.

In contrast, growth in the Middle East was 45 per cent higher than the global average. Expansion in the region was spread across Swift's message-based business that includes payments, securities, treasury and trade and the firm's new consulting operations.

Business in the securities markets rose by 14 per cent last year from the previous year, while international payment traffic rose by more than 10 per cent.

"The Middle East is one of the most dynamic and fast changing regions in the world today," said Sido Bestani, the company's head of Middle East and North Africa. "Swift has ambitious plans to accelerate local market growth by investing in people and resources and expanding its services offerings through the region hub."

Last March, in response to western sanctions against Iran, Swift took the unprecedented step of blocking 30 Iranian banks from using its service.

Mr Leibbrandt said the move had a "limited" impact on its performance as Iran represented a small part of its regional turnover.

"We are engaged in a dialogue with the regulators, saying at the end of the day we comply with the law where we operate but if you want us to facilitate our role of a global trade mechanism that will be impeded if we have to disconnect," said Mr Leibbrandt.

Regional operations were also affected by a slowdown in the use of Swift's services in Egypt, Libya and Bahrain, said Mr Bestani.

But strong performances in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Lebanon made up for the dip in those markets.