Can UBS afford to start ambitiously expanding in the Middle East?

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Despite a number of high-profile hires in the Middle East in recent months, UBS has still not taken an all guns blazing approach to recruitment.

Staff numbers in the MENA region now stand at 139, according to its third quarter results which is a 9% increase on Q2, but largely in line with headcount at this point in 2009.

Despite poor investment banking results overall, there are still positive sounds coming out of the UBS's Middle East operations.

Since announcing Anthony Illiya as CEO for MENA in June, the bank has propelled itself up the regional M&A league tables in Q3 to sit third, having been out of the top ten entirely at this point last year, according to Thomson Reuters figures.

Illiya's appointment also prompted a shake-up within the regional investment banking senior ranks.

In the last two months it's made more senior hires, including Ali Khan as head of equity sales for MENA and Ali Janoudi for its Saudi wealth management division.

So why isn't UBS hiring significantly? It could simply be a degree of caution about the growth prospects of the region, which is consistent with most other investment banks currently. It does, however, remain well-placed in terms of the deal pipeline, currently sitting fifth in announced involvement league tables compiled by Thomson Reuters.

More likely, though, is that overriding conditions within UBS's investment bank are hampering Middle East growth plans to some extent.

As we point out on our UK site, investment banking compensation costs are swelling (by 14% on 2009), while the bank falls short of reaching its targets. This increase is down to a combination of deferred personnel costs, and the fact it's been raising base salaries.

With these policies in place, it seems too expensive to start vociferously hiring investment bankers in a region where fee revenue potential is comparatively low.

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