Barclays launches UAE retail banking

UK bank launches retail banking in the Emirates; plans rapid GCC expansion if ABN Amro merger happens.

Barclays has launched its retail banking operation in the UAE and expressed confidence about its proposed merger with ABN Amro.

The bank already operates its mortgage, wealth management and investment bank services in the UAE, but will now be seen on the high street. Barclays will not offer Islamic banking when it first launches.

Ahmed Khizer Khan, CEO of global retail commercial banking, emerging markets, Barclays, said: “Two weeks after opening our retail bank in India, the launch of retail banking in the UAE is the latest step as Barclays delivers on its stated aim of increasing the proportion of profit generated from outside the UK.”

Around a quarter of Barclays’ profits come from outside the UK at present, but the bank aims to grow that to 50%.

Khan added: “Increasing exposure in attractive emerging markets is central to that strategy and Barclays sees the UAE as high potential. Based on the extraordinary economic development this country is witnessing, I can only describe the UAE as the financial hub of the region, and where Barclays is now embarking on its own journey.”

Khan said that Barclays would be establishing a presence in all of the GCC countries, but did not specify when.

The bank currently operates two offices in the UAE, and plans to open a service centre in June, with two more planned by the end of 2007. It will also launch its own ATM network before the end of the year.

If the ABN Amro merger goes ahead, the Dutch bank’s three branches in the UAE would be added to Barclays’ network.

Frits Seegers, chief executive, Barclays Global retail and commercial banking, said: “Our growth trajectory is going to be very big. When, not if, the merger of ABN Amro takes place we will accelerate our strategy.”

Seegers said that Barclays would continue to operate the ABN Amro brand in the Netherlands, but may come up with an amalgamated brand for the rest of the world. If the merger happens, it will give Barclays direct access to the Saudi Arabian market, through ABN Amro’s stake in Saudi Hollandi Bank.

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