Swiss private bank Falcon sets up operations in the DIFC

Eduardo Leemann, Falcon’s chief executive, said the bank opted for Dubai rather than the Abu Dhabi Global Market, the capital’s new financial free zone, because 'the DIFC is where the action is in the market'.

Eduardo Leemann, Falcon Private Bank’s chief executive, left, and Erich Pfister, the global head of Falcon’s private banking, discuss their decision to set up an address at the DIFC. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
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Falcon Private Bank, the 50-year-old Swiss business owned by Abu Dhabi’s Aabar Investments, has opened an operation in the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC).

Eduardo Leemann, Falcon’s chief executive, said the bank opted for Dubai rather than the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM), the capital’s new financial free zone, specialised private banking, wealth and asset management, because “the DIFC is where the action is in the market”. Mr Leeman added: “It is more advanced as a financial centre.”

He said that a move to ADGM, or opening office there, was an option in the future.

“It’s not inconceivable we’ll think again, but the clear message for now is that we feel it’s best to do our business in DIFC.”

Falcon was bought by Aabar, itself owned by Abu Dhabi’s International Petroleum Investment Company (Ipic), in 2009 at the height of the global financial crisis.

It has had representative offices in Dubai and Abu Dhabi since then, but the DIFC move is the first to a financial free zone in the UAE.

Mr Leemann said that Falcon would have about 30 employees in the country, initially managing US$2.5 billion of assets, which he hoped would rise to $5bn in the next three years.

“This UAE is one of the most interesting and wealthiest spots in the region, but there is no local bank that really does private banking, so we decided to step in and become a player,” he added.

“We decided to do it via a Swiss platform because the Swiss have a reputation and a big name in making money. Being Emirati-owned and Swiss-regulated is a good combination.”

There are no plans to book profit in DIFC. Falcon will continue to book returns on its total $18bn assets via Switzerland and Singapore.

Mr Leeman said he had discussed the bank’s move to DIFC with Ipic, but there had been no pressure to open in ADGM. “Ipic has never, and never will, get involved in operational decisions. We didn’t see it as our role to be a first mover in ADGM.”

He said that the role of a modern private bank was to protect assets, and to help people to diversify and grow their wealth, and that the current relatively low oil price was no deterrent to doing business in the region.

He added that the bank would buy assets where appropriate but was unlikely to buy other banks.

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