UAE minnow aims to become lending big fish


By Gregor Stuart Hunter

United Arab Bank, one of the UAE’s smallest lenders, has staked its claim in Abu Dhabi and is looking towards lending to a greater share of Emiratis as it expands its branch network in the year ahead.

Dubai business bayThe Sharjah-based bank will open four branches in 2011, taking its total to 17 across the emirates. Three of the openings will be in Abu Dhabi.
“United Arab Bank is in a period of expansion,” said Paul Trowbridge, the bank’s chief executive. “We’ve been a net employer and not one of the banks which has reduced its headcount.”
The bank would renew its focus on Emirati clients, having previously sought to target western expats at the expense of its local client base.

“It’s proudly an Arab bank and a bank of the UAE,” he said, adding that the bank would also target expatriates who are looking at to stay in the country for many years.
“Our physical footprint hasn’t always matched the needs of our customers,” he said, explaining the increased number of branches planned for Abu Dhabi.

The new branches would help the bank expand its business in retail banking, which it recently established, Mr Trowbridge said.
“Our retail banking book is growing handsomely,” he said, though adding that “the corporate and commercial part of the book is consistent with the profile of the economy.”

The bank’s retail business accounted for profits of Dh7.73m in the first quarter of 2011, an increase of some 28 times from the same time the year before, though Mr Trowbridge added that the majority of the bank’s income in this segment did not come from fees and would not be significantly affected by the Central Bank’s recent regulations on retail lending.

He added that United Arab Bank’s alliance with Commercial Bank of Qatar, a 40 per cent stakeholder in the bank, and National Bank of Oman, would help the bank target development projects across the Gulf as Qatar prepares for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
Mr Trowbridge said he expected Qatar to experience a “decade-long period of growth, through its own natural resources and 2022. We’d hope to be part of that as a regional success story.”

This month, bank also signed Fabio Cannavaro, the former captain of the Italian national football team, to serve as a “brand ambassador” for the bank.
United Arab Bank saw net profits sink during the first quarter of 2011, falling 6.97 per cent to Dh60.9m.