Company Profiles

Fast-Moving GSB Flags Big Ambitions

Tom Burroughes Group Editor London 29 January 2024

Fast-Moving GSB Flags Big Ambitions

We talk to a wealth management firm, based in Dubai, which is expanding into markets including the UK. It says it is challenging what it sees as outmoded business models.

When GSB Capital (GSB) secured CISI Chartered Firm status just over a week ago, it added to a string of developments in Dubai and the UK that are putting this young firm on the map. 

GSB, founded two years ago, has been ramping up business in the DIFC. In September 2022, it also achieved a Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) licence to be directly authorised in the UK. It has about $4-5 billion in advisory assets and close to $1 billion under management.

“We focus on driving the correct behaviours, clients being at the centre of everything, acting as their trusted advisor, nurturing a culture-first approach within the business, this leads to the best outcomes for clients, GSB and our community,” founding partner Ross Whatnall told this publication in an interview. “In Dubai, we’re seeing a huge influx of high net worth and ultra-HNW western expats, looking for a better lifestyle, more tax-friendly, progressive government and a safer environment for their families. For us, it is a brilliant market.”

Whatnall, who has worked in banking in the UK, and in advisory firms in the Gulf, founded the firm in 2021. GSB provides wealth management, financial planning, asset financing, personal/corporate lending, private client structuring, multi-family office and a capital markets proposition encompassing private equity, venture capital, M&A, pre-listing funding, IPO, corporate finance, corporate advisory, and private fundraising.

Whatnall said his time in advisory firms in the Gulf prior to GSB made him realise that the old business models, with their high fees and sales-driven culture, had significant drawbacks. “I realised that every firm in the Middle East had the same archaic model.”

A big theme for Whatnall is alignment and independence. He and his wife, Alison Whatnall, have “never been precious about equity in the business.” He operates a partner programme so that advisors obtain equity in the firm. “We have created an infrastructure so that all the red lines are set in place,” he said. 

GSB charges a maximum up-front fee of 3 per cent up to $1 million (the average wealth of a client is about $2 million in assets under management). The firm charges an explicit ongoing fee based on AuM, capped at 1 per cent. The minimum client size by AuM is $500,000.

GSB has brought in several figures of late. For example, a new partner is Craig Ritchie, a chartered financial planner who looks after clients in the UK, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. He works with his brother Stuart Ritchie as well as Mauro de Santis Bo and Yazmin Boden, who all recently joined the business from AES International. It also brought in Chris Somers from Standard Chartered, Ryan Dixon from Investec Private Bank and Jon Urquhart from Mantra.

Whatnall spent time at HSBC in its retail side and rose up the ranks to work in the Cotswolds area of the UK with HNW clients. He then moved to Dubai in 2013, working for several wealth management firms as an appointed rep. 

Becoming dissatisfied with how things worked, in January 2020 Whatnall thought about what sort of business should be set up. During a period of several months back in the UK, he mulled over setting up his own Dubai-based firm, working with HNW and ultra-HNW clients. That led to GSB.

There is a culture, Whatnall says, in private banking today of excessive fees and fees that are tied up with structured, complex products. Part of how GSB operates deals with this issue.

The business has created GSB Private, delivering a private banking solution to clients. GSB manages money that in turns is invested and held at private banks/firms such as Julius Baer and Schroders. 

There is also GSB Private Finance, which is a suite of lending solutions, and it has created GSB Private Office, headed by Robert Mankelow. This is for clients with AuM of $20 million plus, creating an outsourced sophisticated family office service. GSB Arabia, another business, is also pending CMA licence approval in Saudi Arabia, and it is partnering with a Saudi family office.

“We have been very hands-on with the leadership in Dubai and want to replicate that with GSB Arabia and GSB UK by being on the ground more regularly to help grow those businesses to a similar size to the UAE by the end of 2025," Whatnall said. 

The firm is present in the iconic DIFC Gate building; it has also taken an office in the prestigious Cornhill building in the City of London. GSB Arabia will be located in the heart of Riyadh in the Al Faisaliah Tower rubbing shoulders with the world’s largest investment banks.

The firm is getting regulatory approval for a VC fund in the DIFC; it has a mandate to invest in early-stage companies that have a positive impact through technology, social or environmental.

And to cap all of that, Whatnall wants to take GSB public. 

“We aim to dual-list the GSB Group on the FTSE100 and TASI [in Saudi Arabia] by the end of this decade,” he said. 

There are parts of the market that aren’t being served adequately, Whatnall said. On the mass-affluent side, for example, Whatnall said that for a lot of people with assets under $5 million, the banks are “not really interested.”  GSB is changing this, he said. 

As an independent asset manager, GSB can onboard clients into private banks from $500,000 such as ambitious professionals and younger entrepreneurs. “That is a key unserved market where GSB can really add a huge amount of value with purpose-led, client-first financial planning,” Whatnall added.

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