Dubai: Credit Suisse Group AG is seeking to secure a key banking licence in Saudi Arabia as part of plans to expand in the kingdom.

The Zurich-based bank, which has a securities and equities business in the country, is in talks with the central bank for an onshore licence, Iqbal Khan, head of the bank’s international wealth-management business, said in an interview in Dubai. About a dozen international lenders, including Deutsche Bank AG and JPMorgan Chase & Co, currently hold the licence, which allows banks to operate branches and take deposits in local currency.

“Our ambition is to have a full Sama licence and we are working towards that,” said Khan, responsible for Credit Suisse’s wealth management business in Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. “The Middle East is going through a trough in the short term but we’re bullish in the long term,” he said. Samais the abbreviated name of the country’s central bank, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency.

The number of high-net-worth individuals in the Middle East rose 0.1 per cent last year, while their combined wealth rose 0.9 per cent to $2.3 trillion, according to the Capgemini and Merrill Lynch 2016 World Wealth Report. Credit Suisse expects the number of millionaires in the region will rise to 500,000 from about 330,000 in 2015 and hired 45 relationship managers across the Middle East last year, Khan said.

Thiam’s Strategy

Under a strategy designed by Chief Executive Officer Tidjane Thiam after he took the job in July 2015, the bank wants to focus on services for entrepreneurs and personal fortunes as it vies with competitors such as UBS Group AG and JPMorgan Chase to advise the ultra-wealthy. The Swiss bank is betting that it can attract affluent customers by offering individual clients loans as it pivots from investment banking to wealth management.

The number of super wealthy individuals is growing even as countries like Saudi Arabia impose measures to offset the financial strain of lower oil. The government is cutting subsidies for citizens on basics like electricity while trying to increase tax revenue and create jobs. In September, it cancelled bonuses for state employees long taken for granted.

Credit Suisse manages about 70 billion Swiss francs ($72 billion) of private banking assets in the region, with assets growing “double digits” in the first half, Khan said. “We see this as a very interesting wealth management market,” he said, pointing to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait as the most promising markets. “While in the short term there are challenges, there are also opportunities.”

International wealth management raised about 11 billion Swiss francs in net new assets during the first half, an annualised growth rate of about 7 to 8 per cent, and extended more than 3 billion francs of new loans, Khan said.