Singapore private banks targeting NRI clients in the Middle East

Pedro Gonçalves
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Singapore private banks targeting NRI clients in the Middle East

The private banking sector in Singapore as set its eyes on the Middle East, with DBS Bank, Bank of Singapore and Citi aggressively ramping operations in the region with one goal: to target the rich and the non-resident Indian (NRI) segment in the Middle East.

India has the largest diaspora population in the world, with as many as 16 million Indians living outside the country of their birth, says the United Nations report on migration trends. DBS plans to expand in the Middle East by doubling the number of private bankers there over the next five years, from more than 20 now, the bank said. It will home in on a growing wealth segment that looks towards Asia for investment opportunities, the bank said last month.

South-east Asia's biggest bank - also Asia's sixth biggest private bank by assets under management - will make its Dubai office a strategic hub for the Middle East, positioning itself as the partner of choice for clients wishing to access the Asian market.

DBS has expanded its office premises located at the heart of Dubai's financial hub, DIFC. Over the past seven years, total revenue of this branch has grown 20% a year, it said.

DBS' Middle East strategy includes targeting the NRI business, the bank's spokesman told specialised media outlet Business Times.

Tan Su Shan, its group head of wealth management and consumer banking, noted the tremendous wealth of Middle East clients and their growing appetite for Asian investments.

Wealth in the Middle East remains on the rise, with the number of UHNW clients with more than $500m in assets in this region projected to increase by 28% - from 390 last year to approximately 500 in 2022, she said.

"With Middle East clients' appetite for Asia wealth solutions growing, DBS is well-positioned to support its Middle East clients in accessing Asia's growth opportunities through its strong Asian network, innovative investment solutions and world-class digital capabilities," she said.

Bank of Singapore (BOS), the private bank arm of OCBC Bank, has also been growing its Dubai operations to clinch more Middle East and NRI clients.

Vikram Malhotra, BOS global market head for South Asia and the Middle East, said that as of Sept 30, the bank's revenue from the region has grown 20% on a year-on-year basis - with a good mix of Arab and NRI clients. "We continue to hire strategically to expand our operations in our DIFC branch," he said.

BOS opened its Dubai branch in February 2017 and has about 45 wealth managers in the city.

This month, Citi Private Bank said it is eyeing a bigger chunk of Indian wealth business - globally and domestically.

The bank, the second largest private bank in Asia, expects to capture a significantly larger slice of the wealth-management business represented by the global Indian diaspora and the domestic Indian markets.

A significant proportion of the diaspora are UHNW families, concentrated in South-east Asia, Hong Kong, Australasia, the Gulf region, East Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada, said Citi.

"The mantra of globalisation is something the Indian diaspora has been practising for centuries," Jyrki Rauhio, South Asia head for Citi Private Bank told the Business Times.