Turkey's Ziraat Bank plans to open its first branch this year in Saudi Arabia, which it sees as the most lucrative addition to its current 17 foreign markets, the local manager said on Wednesday.Ziraat, Turkey's largest bank, pegs the success of its Saudi operation on a 130,000-strong Turkish community and large numbers of Turkish pilgrims visiting the kingdom and Saudi tourists in Turkey.
"I think Saudi Arabia will be the first (potentially) among foreign markets because we have a huge amount of citizens and we have good trade relationships," Ismail Eroglu, who manages the bank's Saudi operation, told Reuters in an interview.
"We also have a huge amount of people who come here for haj and umra, which may be between 200,000 and 300,000 every year," he said.
Eroglu was speaking during a meeting between Saudi and Turkish businessmen on the sidelines of an official visit by Turkey's President Abdullah Gul to the kingdom.
Bilateral ties have improved since Gul's AK Party and King Abdullah came to power in 2002 and 2005 respectively. Bilateral trade has more than doubled between 2006 and 2008.
The state-controlled Ziraat obtained a full banking licence last year from the Saudi central bank.
The bank plans to start with a branch in Jeddah, home to half of the local Turkish community, he said, adding up to seven other branches may follow. It will provide retail banking services before adding corporate banking.
"We will expand the branch network in other Gulf countries. It's not certain where," Eroglu said. (Reuters)