| DUBAI, March 4
DUBAI, March 4 Societe Generale aims
to leverage its experience in structured and transport finance
to grow its business in the Gulf, its regional head said.
Gulf countries have earmarked hundreds of billions of
dollars for infrastructure projects in coming years, with Qatar
alone expected to announce schemes worth as much as $205 billion
between 2013 and 2018.
For France's third-largest bank by assets, this is an
opportunity to use its lending capacity and advisory services,
said Richad Soundardjee, group chief regional officer for the
"This is a region of projects and SocGen is a global project
finance house. So the match is obvious and it's now for us to
align ourselves with this huge pipeline that is coming
onstream," he said in an interview at the bank's Dubai offices.
Soundardjee, appointed as regional head in November, said
that while the bank had been in Dubai since 1997, it was only in
the last five to 10 years that it had built the first layer of
relationships needed to create a flow of deals.
European banks, and French lenders in particular, were heavy
investors in the Middle East during the boom years last decade
but drew back from the region at the start of this decade as the
euro zone crisis forced them to focus on home markets.
Lending to the region dropped and banks sold businesses to
bolster capital ratios; both SocGen and BNP Paribas
offloaded their Egyptian operations in 2013.
"I think, as a bank, as much as two years ago, it was
probably more difficult to say 'we're going to make a push on
this' because, like all European banks, we were in the middle of
this balance sheet rationalisation," Soundardjee said. He added
that the process was now over so the bank could act.
SocGen said last month that it would return more cash to
shareholders in 2014 than last year after completing its
long-running balance sheet overhaul.
The bank currently has about 80 staff in the Middle East,
covering private banking as well as corporate and investment
banking. It has over 154,000 employees globally, including big
retail banking operations in France and other parts of Europe.
The bank won't for now be hiring any additional staff in the
Middle East as it has the personnel to implement its strategy
and can call upon expertise from elsewhere in the world if
needed, Soundardjee said.
In addition to infrastructure business, SocGen is focusing
on asset finance, in particular aircraft and shipping. The
region hosts three of the world's largest airlines - Emirates
, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways - which are all
aggressively expanding their fleets.
Meanwhile, around 40 percent of the world's sea-borne oil is
shipped through the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow strip of seaway
between Oman and Iran.
SocGen is also interested in expanding its export finance
and Islamic finance businesses, Soundardjee said without giving
(Editing by Andrew Torchia)