Forget investment banking, the real money to be made in the Middle East is in decidedly more mundane finance jobs

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Five years ago, investment banks were shipping their top talent out to the Middle East under the misguided assumption that the sector was set to boom as revenues were depleted in Western markets after the 2008 financial crisis. Most have since been either let go or seconded back to London and New York.

Fees in the region have picked up in the last 12 months, but it’s an indication of the new, lowly status of investment bankers that the supposedly high paying sector is now secondary to something much more boring – transaction banking.

The likes of Citi, Deutsche Bank and Standard Chartered have been building their transaction services divisions in the region, facing off against regional institutions to offer services like cash management and trade finance. Clearly, there’s been something of a battle for talent in this area as salaries have increased by 6.2% in the last 12 months, to reach $457.7k at the senior end, according to the new Middle East salary survey by recruiters Robert Half. A managing director working in the front office of an investment bank in the region, meanwhile, can expect $400k at the senior end, it suggests.

The Middle East’s role as an oil exporter and trade intermediary has seen demand for transaction services grow, while weak equity markets and muted appetite for mergers and acquisitions has forced many investment banks to scale back in the region.

Perhaps predictably, though, the real money in the Middle East is to be made in a sector that is booming globally – risk management. A chief risk officer can now expect $523k at the top end, says the survey, as Middle Eastern institutions look to secure the services of specialist risk managers in demand globally. This is more than a chief financial officer in the region, which earn a maximum of $500k.