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Seven areas where you should want to work in the Middle East financial sector now

The financial services job market in the Middle East is looking decidedly more upbeat than the last five years so far in 2014, but all sectors are not created equal. While some, notably investment banking, continue to flounder, others areas of the financial services industry are struggling to attract sufficient talent.

Whether from a career development, job market demand or pay perspective, here are seven areas within the GCC financial sector where you should want to base yourself right now.

1. Wealth management in a regional bank

Morgan Stanley has sold its Dubai-based wealth management business to Credit Suisse, Swiss private banks have shifted their Middle East business back to their homeland. This doesn’t exactly scream a buoyant market in the seemingly unflappable Gulf wealth management sector. However, if you want to find a job in this area, look to the local institutions. Emirates NBD, National Bank of Abu Dhabi (NBAD) and Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank are all aggressively building their teams, according to recruiters.

NBAD may have laid off a number of its employees last year, but these redundancies were focused on the corporate, rather than private bank. It’s been also expanding in wealth management including building its team in Geneva.

“There’s an aggressive push in wealth management again, not just for relationship managers but for investment advisory experts as well,” says Peter Greaves, managing director of IES HR Consultants. “It’s a sign of a maturing market when banks are recruiting for non-client facing roles.”

NBAD has just hired Deutsche Bank’s head of investment managers, Tony Zeiger, in Geneva as head of the investment group in the country.

2. Junior investment banking positions

There remains little recruitment in the investment banking sector in the Gulf, but there’s a curious mix of employees in the region – senior rainmakers originating business and junior analysts doing the legwork. But what motivation is there for junior bankers to take these roles if the next rung on the career ladder isn’t immediately available? Well, quite simply, money.

The UAE is a ‘sweet spot’ for junior investment banker pay, according to compensation benchmarking firm Emolument. Base salaries for analysts are $91k on average, with a $27k bonus, compared to $73k base and $14k bonus in London, it suggests. From associate level onwards, however, London pay steams ahead of that in the Middle East.

3. Underwriters

In a sign that the Middle East insurance market is beginning to mature, firms are not simply hiring business development or commercial staff for their operations. “Underwriting work has traditionally been handled by a third-party in the region, but more recently we’ve seen a surge in roles related to this area in both international and regional firms,” says Barbara van Meir, managing director of headhunters Vogel & Noor. “There’s insufficient expertise locally and London is a happy hunting ground.”

4. Equities sales and trading

Working in a brokerage in the Middle East has been a kiss of death for your career over the past two years, with numbers of firms either pulling out of equities or closing entirely in the wake of weak trading volumes and tiny margins. Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse both shifted their UAE equities trading business to the larger Saudi Arabia market last year, for example.

More recently, however, a new sense of optimism has returned. Goldman Sachs and RenCap are both building their teams in the region and Mena Corp, the one brokerage that was hiring when other firms were firing, says that it’s facing competition for new recruits for the first time in two years.

5. Sector-specialists, direct investments in sovereign wealth funds

Want to work for a sovereign wealth fund in the Gulf? Well, gone are the days of SWFs being wowed by investment banking brand names – if you want to get a job now, it’s more about having niche expertise, says James Wakefield, managing director of Cobalt Middle East.

“You need to have sector specialism and you need tangible deal experience,” he says. “SWFs have become a lot more selective about who they take on.”

6. Strategic retail banking roles

If you follow the moves of senior consumer bankers in the Middle East, you’ll note that it’s a very competitive environment where any failure to gain market share – or worse still lose it – will result in a shake-out. In February, George Beatty, head of consumer banking at NBAD, departed without a replacement primed. Others, says recruiters, are forced out in a less public manner.

“We’re seeing a lot of strategic roles within the large regional lenders currently,” says van Meir. “Product development, head of strategy or roles leading the whole consumer business are increasingly frequent as banks battle for customers.”

7. Risk and compliance (still)

Regional firms in the Middle East are still trying to persuade international financiers with expertise in risk and compliance that helping them shake up their risk regimes is a good career move. Compliance professionals can earn up to $320k at the senior end, after pay rises across the board, according to the 2014 Robert Half UAE salary survey, while senior risk professionals can get a hefty $523k. Credit risk, which pays up to $325k, is a particularly hot area.

“Banks in the region are looking to hire to people to ensure capital adequacy and overhaul their credit risk frameworks,” says Wakefield.

Related articles:

Ten job-hunting tips in foreign climes when you only have a tourist visa

Eight people you should know if you’re looking for a financial services job in the Gulf

Eight skills that will get you hired in the Middle East financial sector today

AUTHORPaul Clarke

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