x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Swiss private banker Julius Baer targets Middle East expansion

Julius Baer, the Swiss private bank, gears up for expansion in the Middle East and enters the final stages of a bid to acquire rival Bank Sarasin.

Julius Baer, the Swiss private bank, is in acquisition mode as it expands in the Middle East and attempts to drive through a takeover of Bank Sarasin, a Basel-based rival.

The bank hopes a reply to its offer to acquire 100 per cent of Bank Sarasin within weeks, said Rémy Bersier, a member of the executive board at Julius Baer.

"We're waiting for an announcement. The ball is in their court," he told reporters in Dubai.

A rival offer from Raiffeisen, the third largest banking group in Switzerland, is also being considered by Bank Sarasin. Mr Bersier stopped short of stating how much would be offered for Bank Sarasin.

Bank Sarasin operates a wealth management firm based in the Dubai International Financial Centre, Bank Sarasin-Alpen Middle East. Julius Baer also signalled it would seek new business in Turkey and expand its Dubai operations with new hiring.

Private banks and wealth managers piled into the UAE in the years preceding the global financial crisis, and a slowdown in Europe and the US has spurred even greater numbers of banks to try to tap booming Gulf wealth more recently.

At the same time, many local banks such as Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank and Falcon Private Bank, owned by Aabar Investments, have attempted to expand their businesses for wealthy clients.

As the sector becomes increasingly crowded, EFG-International, a Zurich-based private bank, announced a withdrawal from the Middle East last month, closing offices in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Julius Baer may pick up assets and clients from EFG-International "if the opportunity arises", said Peter Schaer, the bank's regional chief executive.

"You can hire from EFG or take their assets by knowing their clients," he said.

The bank has also expanded its offices in the DIFC as it anticipates increased hiring.

"This will allow us to grow our headcount, according to the business plan, until 2014-2015," Mr Schaer added.

Private banks have been attracted to the Gulf by the rapid pace of economic growth, driven by diversification plans and surging commodity prices, which has led to massive gains in wealth in the region.

Average wealth per adult in the UAE doubled between 2000 and 2011 and increased more than five times in Qatar during the same period, according to the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report.

However, the UAE's financial crisis and property slump have caused average wealth levels to decrease by 32.9 per cent since the peak in 2007, according to Credit Suisse data.

ghunter@thenational.ae

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