Citi considers Saudi expansion as banks aim to captalize on reforms

RIYADH (Reuters) - Citigroup C.N is considering seeking a full banking license in Saudi Arabia as Western banks aim to capitalize on Saudi economic reforms, with rival HSBC HSBA.L announcing it has won mandates for several privatizations in the kingdom

More than a dozen foreign banks have licenses to operate branches in Saudi Arabia, battling for business resulting from the kingdom’s efforts to itself off reliance on oil revenues.

U.S. bank Citi ended a five-decade presence in Saudi Arabia in 2004 with the sale of its 20 percent stake in Samba Financial but in 2015 won permission to invest directly in the local stock market and in January this year gained approval to begin investment banking operations in the kingdom.

“We’re looking at whether or not we should expand our activities here into a full banking license,” James Forese, the president and chief executive of the bank’s institutional clients group, said at a business conference in Riyadh.

Other banks seeking a Saudi license include Credit Suisse CSGN.S, while Goldman Sachs GS.N plans to expand its services in the kingdom after being cleared to trade equities there.

The banks are vying for a role in Saudi Aramco's IPO-ARMO.SE planned initial public offering, which could float up to 5 percent of the state oil giant and make it the world's biggest oil company by market capitalization.

Citi has already played an active role in Saudi Arabian finance and was one of the banks that helped to arrange the government’s $11 billion U.S. dollar bond issue last month.

The kingdom is now working on a pipeline of privatizations aimed at generating up to 40 billion riyals ($10.7 billion) in non-oil revenues by 2020 and creating up to 12,000 jobs, according to an official document published last month.

HSBC HSBA.L has been mandated for several of the planned privatizations and will announce them very soon, Samir Assaf, HSBC's chief executive of global banking and markets, said at Wednesday's conference.

The bank is “very much contributing to the privatization program”, he said.

HSBC Saudi Arabia is already acting as an adviser on the sale process for the kingdom’s flour milling sector and the Saudi Stock Exchange’s planned flotation. It also has an advisory role on the proposed Aramco listing.

($1 = 3.7502 riyals)

Editing by David Goodman