- Posted December 9, 2013 by
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
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National Bank of Abu Dhabi (NBAD) CEO Alex Thursby on Abu Dhabi as the new safe haven
With all the ongoing volatility in the region, has the UAE banking sector seen a flight to safety in terms of foreign clients and deposits? Will this have a long-term impact on the structure of banking in the region?
THURSBY: I see the UAE’s number one role in the region, in the immediate region, but possibly even further afield, is to be a safe haven, and I think Abu Dhabi sits at the very, very centre of that. From my experience, there's a lot that I see in Abu Dhabi that reminds me of Singapore in the 90s and late 80s, where it was regarded as a safe haven, and continues to be such. I think what is significant is that the UAE is politically stable and it's a market that is led by private enterprise.
There's a great underpinning with oil and gas as major exports, and I think it is seen very, very positively by many communities, not only within the immediacy of the region but outside. So this is an opportunity for the UAE banking sector, that it can, over a period of time, play a role where it's a safe haven from within the region. As the laws develop, and as the market becomes more mature, I see no reason why in effect, Abu Dhabi particularly could become the safe haven for the region and Africa in addition. I think that's the future that all of us in the banking industry haven't quite grasped yet, and that's part of our transformation as we develop that future.
Earlier this year, the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM), was established by government decree. How will such an institution impact Abu Dhabi’s position in global financial markets? Can the ADGM thrive in a regional already home to the likes of DIFC & QFC?
THURSBY: Sometimes people say by being late in the game, you've lost the game. I have sometimes a very different view, being late in the game allows you to learn, and do things slightly differently or improve things. Now let me be clear, I think there is very much a role for the Dubai International Finance Centre, and it's already proven itself. And I'm sure the Qatari Financial Centre will be successful as well.
But what I'm very excited about the Abu Dhabi Financial Centre, is behind this theme of safe haven. Abu Dhabi can build a financial centre based upon a safe place to put your money and that is very much in the wealth space, and is very much in the private banking space.
The second theme that I think is very important for Abu Dhabi is as part of this West-East corridor. I think there is a real opportunity for the new Abu Dhabi Global Market to capture flows between Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, and be really concentrated on that area, not to try and attract all the big, global players from North America and the United Kingdom, etc., but to attract these new players who in many regards are bigger, better capitalized, and stronger in liquidity; so some of the big Asian banks and some of the emerging banks from Africa that are beginning to evolve.
In addition, I think there's a third area. If you create a space for good foreign exchange around the West-East Corridor, if you give the space for banks from the West-East Corridor using this marketplace, and if you create a space for wealth management and private banking, then I think you're then going to see the start of a home for fund managers. And fund managers that are not necessarily running US or European funds, but are running funds from the region, from Africa, and maybe even from Asia. When we get into Asia, we start getting into the competition of Hong Kong and Singapore. People say, oh well there's got to be one winner.
I look at Shanghai, I look at Hong King, and I look at Singapore, and I look at Mumbai, all four are prospering. We're living in a high growth part of the world, where there are many opportunities, and no one financial centre can dominate that space. And I think if you look at the development of Europe, Frankfurt is now a real competitor to London. New York continues to be around but also LA is starting to develop a financial sector. So one, there's not a winner and a loser. I think there are a lot of opportunities for all to play but maybe in different places, and I'm very clear where I think Abu Dhabi can play.