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Mon 14 Sep 2009 12:09 PM

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Barclays planning to tap into Saudi wealth

British bank planning to set up private banking operation in the kingdom, says chief executive.

British bank Barclays Plc plans to set up a private banking operation in Saudi Arabia to tap the market for wealthy individuals in the Arab world's biggest economy, an executive told Reuters.

Saudi Arabia is "massive in terms of percentage of GDP of the Middle East, massive in terms of number of wealthy individuals, you absolutely have to be a player there if your aspirations are to be top of the league," said Soha Nashaat, chief executive for Barclays private banking arm in the Middle East and North Africa.

The wealth management market took a hit during the global credit crisis. At the end of 2008, the world's number of high net worth individuals, those with investable assets of at least $1m, fell nearly 15 percent compared with the previous year, according to the annual Capgemini and Merrill Lynch World Wealth Report.

In the Middle East, the number dropped by 5.9 percent but is forecast to grow 5.7 percent between 2008 and 2013.

With signals of economic recovery emerging, Middle Eastern investors are ready to take risks again and are seeking opportunities in hard-hit sectors such as real estate, Nashaat said. "People are now more concerned on missing out on the market rebound than they are about the downside risk," Nashaat said. "The risk tolerance and risk receptivity of clients has increased dramatically over the past six months," she added.

Barclays is one of the world's 10 biggest players in the private banking sector with around 134.1 billion pounds ($222bn) in assets under management. In 2006, the bank embarked on a worldwide expansion, earmarking the Middle East as one of the regions with most growth potential.

Some of the world's biggest investment banks want to expand in Saudi Arabia as the kingdom accounts for roughly half of the Gulf region's gross domestic product.

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