EmiratesNBD plans acquisitions and expansion

EmiratesNBD, the Gulf’s largest lender by assets, said yesterday it was ready to acquire any troubled rivals and was seeking to expand in Saudi Arabia and enter markets ranging from India to China and beyond. « That’s a role we are ready to take on. The question is how to go about it. It could be a cash transaction or a no-cash transaction, » Sanjay Uppal, Chief Financial Officer for Emirates NBD, told the Reuters Middle East Investment Summit. « We are ready to consider the right targets for the right prices, » he said. Uppal said EmiratesNBD was not in any specific acquisition talks but saw a need for consolidation among UAE banks. Banks across the world’s top oil exporting region have been squeezed by the global financial crisis, which has hampered their ability to finance multi-billion-dollar infrastructure and industry projects launched during a six-year oil-fuelled boom. Even before the turmoil raised the pressure for financial consolidation around the world, EmiratesNBD was seeking to expand its presence in Gulf markets and planned to have operations from North Africa, to Turkey, to South Asia. Uppal said talks to buy the Royal Bank of Scotland’s stake in Saudi Hollandi Bank had gone cold, but it was still interested and keen to expand in the Gulf’s most populous country. EmiratesNBD already has one branch in the Saudi capital and is keen to expand to some 10 branches but is waiting for licences. « In general, we have not seen a lot of expansion of presence of GCC banks into other GCC countries, » he said, referring to the Gulf Co-operation Council. « We are the only UAE bank with a branch in Saudi. This does give us opportunities… Business has done well to the extent it can but we would like to have more branches in Saudi. » EmiratesNBD has applied for a banking licence in India but had no time frame for the launch of operations there, he said. It expects to open a branch in Singapore in the second quarter of 2009. The lender was also in the process of applying to open a representative office in China, as a first step to acquiring a banking licence. Uppal said the Asian focus was propelled by the growing markets there and by solid ties between India and the UAE, home to a large population of Indian expatriates and businesses. « Our initial focus in these markets originates from the increased level of activity between this region and those countries. Having a presence there will give us an advantage, » Uppal said. « We are not going to focus on competing with players that have a solid presence there. » Reuters