* Plans to hire 50 pct more staff in Middle East
* Has around 40 staff in Dubai currently
* Infrastructure, aircraft finance and energy sectors a focus
By David French
DUBAI, May 13 (Reuters) - Natixis plans to increase staffing levels in the Middle East by 50 percent in 2014, a top executive of the French investment bank said, as the lender looks to gain more revenue from outside its home market.
The bank, whose parent is French retail lender BPCE, has targeted further diversification from its home market, which has suffered from sluggish growth and the euro zone crisis, as well as reduced costs in its 2014-2017 strategic plan.
This foresees an increase in the split of business it generates outside France from around half now to two-thirds by the end of 2017.
Having concentrated in 2013 on building its business in Latin America and Japan, the bank will invest in the Middle East this year, said Olivier Perquel, head of financing and global markets.
“We are pushing very hard all of our core businesses, with the idea that we want to have product people locally,” Perquel told Reuters in an interview at the bank’s Dubai office.
Perquel said the growth in the region would build steadily on its current business, which contributes around 5 percent of the bank’s total revenue. Natixis has around 40 staff in Dubai, as well as a small representative office in Egypt.
“We want to have one or two product specialists in each of the areas that we want to push here,” he said, adding that infrastructure, aircraft finance and energy and commodity sectors were a focus.
The amount of business available in the infrastructure space - Qatar alone is forecast to announce projects worth over $200 billion between 2013 and 2018 - and the growth plans of airlines such as Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways has drawn the attention of other European banks.
Areas which Natixis was looking to beef up were capital markets, trade and Islamic finance and coverage bankers to manage relationships directly, Simon Eedle, head of the Middle East for Natixis, said.
Having bankers on the ground in the Middle East has always been important in a region where culture places significance on personal relationships and face-to-face meetings.
International banks have found this balance difficult at times. Having piled resources into the Gulf in the second half of the last decade to exploit business stemming from hydrocarbon wealth, many later withdrew staff as problems at home combined with weaker returns than had been expected as the region suffered problems including property bubbles bursting.
Perquel noted that Natixis’ strategy for the region needed to have continuity at its heart.
”An element which is clearly written in marble in this strategic plan is we want to build for consistency and don’t want to get back into the bad habits of stop-and-go that we and some of our competitors may have had in the past.
“We want to build gradually so that, when the going gets tough, we can still be there for our clients,” he said, adding the bank’s operations would be run from its Dubai hub for the foreseeable future. (Editing by Louise Heavens)