Citigroup Warms To Middle East's Booking Centre Charms

Tom Burroughes Group Editor 5 October 2018

Citigroup Warms To Middle East's Booking Centre Charms

The US bank wants to step up the UAE's role as a booking centre.

Citigroup reportedly wants to boost the United Arab Emirates' role as an offshore booking centre, and is working to win a full banking licence in Saudi Arabia, Reuters reports.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia are driving growth in the Middle East and Africa region, which is expected to be above the market average, Atiq Rehman, Citi's CEO of Middle East and Africa, was quoted as saying 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 centre for a lot of our loans,” he was quoted saying. 

This publication has contacted the US banking giant and will update in due course.

This development comes at a time when financial jurisdictions - such as the relatively young Abu Dhabi Global Market - are competing against the likes of the Dubai International Financial Centre for business. 

Citi applied for a banking licence last year in Saudi Arabia. “Increased projected opportunities post Brexit will help boost Citigroup's offshore booking business in the UAE. Moreover, the bank will be exposed to other profitable transactions in the region. Further, more prospects may come up from Saudi Arabia which will propel growth in the Middle East and Africa,” Zachs Equity Research said in a note earlier this week. Zachs said that in 2004, as part of Citigroup’s strategy to focus on countries where it could control a majority stake, the bank sold its 20 per cent stake in Samba Financial Group to Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund for $760 million. “Hence, the company lost a key banking licence, straining the bank’s activities in the country,” the research firm said.

“In 2015, the company won a licence to trade in Saudi equities, while, in 2014, it played an important role by being the leading advisor on the country’s first international bond sale. In addition, Citigroup has provided more finance to the borrowers in the country compared with other banks like JP Morgan Chase & Co and Deutsche Bank AG, which operate in this region,” it added.

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