ZURICH (AFP) – Switzerland’s biggest bank UBS announced on Tuesday that it was stepping up its expansion in the Middle East with a new licence to operate in Saudi Arabia.
The bank has also applied to operate in Qatar and would expand its investment banking division and equity research in the region.
A UBS spokeswoman told AFP that the bank had received approval from Saudi authorities for its wealth management, asset management and investment banking businesses.
“We would be operational in the course of this year,” she said, adding that the bank sees a “strong potential for the region.”
The world’s largest wealth manager would open an office in the Saudi capital Riyadh where about 20 staff would be employed, she added.
John Fraser, chairman and chief executive of UBS Global Asset Management, added in a statement that the approval “marks yet another important milestone for the firm in this very exciting and significant market.”
UBS is also applying for a licence to operate in the Qatar Financial Centre, she said, without specifying when the bank was expecting an approval.
If approval is obtained, it will give UBS “access to the many opportunities within Qatar, which has both the highest GDP per capita in the world and one of the highest rates of economic growth,” said the bank.
In a report by the Financial Times, Peter Burnett, chief executive for UBS Investment Bank in the Middle East and North Africa was quoted saying: “We are making an investment in the progress of the region.”
“They have petrodollars flowing in and are in the process of enormous wealth creation,” he said.
The British economic newspaper said the region would benefit in the next four years from about 4.3 billion dollars (2.73 billion euros) in revenues if fuel prices remained high.
In 2006, UBS obtained a licence to open an office in the Dubai Financial Centre.
It has been active since the 1960s in the region, with a presence in Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Dubai, Cairo and Beirut.
Saudi Arabia accounts for about half the wealth management business in the region.
The Middle East development moves came even as UBS is struggling to recover from the subprime crisis, which had forced it to write down over 37 billion dollars in assets since the onset of the crisis last year.
In late morning trade, UBS stocks had slumped 4.0 percent to 19.18 Swiss francs after having touched an all-time new low earlier of 19 Swiss francs.
The overall market was trading down 1.96 percent.