DUBAI (Reuters) - Citigroup (C.N) plans to boost the United Arab Emirates’ role as an offshore booking center and is working towards a full banking license in Saudi Arabia, helping to propel its regional growth, a senior executive told Reuters.
Growth in the Middle East and Africa region is expected to be above the market average of around four percent in 2018 and 2019, driven by both countries, Atiq Rehman, Citi’s Chief Executive of Middle East and Africa, said in an interview.
“We are focused on what we can do within the UAE and very focused on what we can do from the UAE,” he said. “We want to grow our business here and make it into a regional offshore booking center for a lot of our loans.”
More of the bank’s multinational corporate clients were using the United Arab Emirates as a center for their business in Middle East and Africa, he said.
He said since the bank began booking loans from the UAE a year or two ago, the growth had been exponential.
“Instead of London and New York we are booking them here as there’s a lot of benefit from doing so because of costs, time zone management and there’s a good set of regulations here,” he said.
“My vision is to turn the UAE into a proper booking center for all sorts of transactions, not just for loans but derivatives, trade and all.”
Brexit will lead to some opportunities to grow Citi’s offshore booking business in the UAE but there were also the openings from the number of transactions in the region, he said.
Growth for Citi in the Middle East and Africa would also be led by Saudi Arabia, where the bank was working towards applying for a full banking license, he said.
More than a dozen foreign banks have license to operate branches in Saudi Arabia, battling for business resulting from the kingdom’s efforts to ease its reliance on oil revenue.
Citi ended a five-decade presence in Saudi Arabia in 2004 but in 2015 won permission to invest directly in the local stock market and in January this year gained approval to begin investment banking operations.
Since then, it has picked up more advisory deals and other business there, he said, adding Citi would like to add custody and brokerage services in the future, but not retail banking.
Citi operates in 25 markets in the Middle East and Africa. The region contributes around 7 percent of the bank’s global net income, he said.
Editing by David Evans