Dutch bank ABN Amro is looking to grow its share of the Middle East banking market by targeting high net-worth clients, and has moved its regional private banking operations into the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC). 

“We are looking to cater to high net-worth clients with investible assets of about $1m, with a specialised private wealth management platform for accounts in excess of $20m,” Hassan El-Nahas, head of private banking for Middle East at ABN Amro, told MEED on 19 April, on the sidelines of a conference announcing the move.

The bank is targeting growth in the UAE and Qatar, and to a lesser extent, Bahrain and Oman.

El-Nahas says the private banking market has suffered as a result of the downturn.

“The Middle East private banking market has definitely taken a step back,” says El-Nahas. “Last year, clients were sitting back and licking their wounds from 2008. So they’ve been investing very conservatively, be it in bonds, deposits or any asset class.”

ABN Amro private banking currently operates in 12 countries across Europe, Asia and the Middle East, managing $162bn of assets worldwide.

“Under 5 per cent of our global assets are either from UAE clients or Arab clients elsewhere,” says El-Nahas. 

ABN Amro is an independent bank that is 100 per cent owned by the Dutch government, after its business units were legally separated on 1 April from RFS Holdings, which is a consortium of the UK’s RBS, the Dutch government, and Spain’s Banco Santander.

The government has talked about the possibility of several routes as a means of recouping its investments, including pursuing an initial public offering (IPO) for ABN AMRO between 2011-13 as a possible means of recouping its investments, however, no definite plans have been made for an exit plan.

“An IPO is being discussed at the moment but there is no definite exit date,” Didier Duret, chief investment officer at ABN Amro, told MEED. “I think there is a 20 per cent chance it could happen in 2011 and a 75 per cent likelihood of it happening in 2013.”