Ex-bankers go solo in the Gulf

Sat Jul 21, 2012 10:22am EDT
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By Dinesh Nair

DUBAI (Reuters) - After a 16-year career at Morgan Stanley (MS.N: Quote) Lebanese-born banker May Nasrallah detected a gap in the Middle East market for advising small companies, prompting her to leave the bank and set up her own financial advisory firm in Dubai.

Three years on, she has lured a number of her former Morgan Stanley colleagues to join her company, deNovo Corporate Advisors, which is helping small private Middle East companies that are looking for acquisitions, joint ventures or capital-raising opportunities in the region.

"We wanted to do something different to the international investment banks in that our advisory firm was created in the Middle East and our focus and strategy is entirely for the Middle East," said Nasrallah, sitting in her office on the 25th floor of Emirates Towers, a swanky office building in Dubai's financial hub overlooking the city's racecourse.

Nasrallah, who grew up mostly in Kuwait, is one of at least a dozen senior bankers in the Middle East who since the global financial crisis have opted to give up careers at large financial institutions to become entrepreneurs in the Gulf's expanding financial industry.

An economics and politics graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Nasrallah spent stints at Morgan Stanley in New York, London and Hong Kong before being promoted in 2005 to build the bank's Middle East and North Africa franchise. In 2009 she decided to put her international and local experience to use advising smaller companies, a sector she felt was being overlooked by the big multinational banks.

Global banks flocked to the Gulf during the boom years of 2003 to 2007, aiming to make a quick buck from the oil-rich region, but were mostly catering to large Middle Eastern corporations and sovereign wealth funds.

That strategy has proved far less lucrative in the past few years as the global financial crisis and economic downturn have forced those customers to refocus on their local markets.

According to Thomson Reuters data, 20 global banks earned a combined $234.8 million in fees from their Middle East business in the first half of this year. That was down from over $450 million earned in the first half of 2007, although up 5 percent from the same period last year.   Continued...

The Burj Khalifa (C) skyscraper is seen as the sun sets over Dubai October 5, 2010. REUTERS/Mosab Omar