Khaled Sifri, the head of Emirates Investment Bank, a Dubai-based private bank, talks to The National about the prospects of private banking in the region.
What were the most salient events of 2017 for private banking?
Globally, people of wealth have had a good year because asset prices have gone up quite a bit, markets look like they ended the year with quite a bit of an increase from the beginning of the year, be it stocks, fixed income or other assets. For the region, economies are doing a little bit better because of the improved and more stable price of oil and that provides a good underlying positive signal for people of wealth in terms of the prospects of their investments in the region, offset to a certain extent by the geopolitics and, for international investors who look towards the UAE as a wealth management hub, some of them may have been a little bit spooked by the geopolitical situation. People who are nationals of our region, no one is too troubled by it.
What are the prospects for the UAE as a private wealth management hub?
For wealthy people internationally, you would expect them to have their wealth distributed in a variety of places and we have been strong advocates for the UAE to be considered as one of those places - people would look to put their money, and to be serviced, in the asset management space and so on and I think we continue to take the view that the UAE is well positioned to provide a good service in that regard. Geographically we are in the right place, between Singapore on one end and Switzerland on the other.
Will the move by the EU to put UAE on a tax-haven blacklist put wealthy people off from using the country as a hub?
I don't think it will have an impact but different people react in different ways. Maybe someone will perceive this as important but I think with time people will recognise that this is not important. There is no evidence that the EU is intending to apply any sanctions on anyone and it is not a highly credible list of jurisdictions as many key offenders are missing.
Many private banks boosted their presence in Saudi Arabia in the expectation that the country's reforms will create more wealth. What's your opinion?
The country has a new leadership that is intent on modernising the state, that is intent on taking the economy forward, that intends to open the country to investments. That direction will invariably offer opportunities for investors to look at Saudi Arabia as a place for more of their investments.