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Bank strategy: Two ways to win the Middle East

Some banks are national powerhouses, building out across the region; others are already regional players, with individual markets creating something greater than the sum of their parts

For all its economic and cultural diversity, the Arab world is a more homogenous region than many other supposed regional blocs: far greater commonality of language than Europe, less diversity of currency movement than Asia, more geographic common ground than the Brics. So it’s little surprise to see that more and more of the Middle East’s biggest banks are building regional models. What’s interesting is the range of ways they are going about it.

Two different approaches can be identified. On one hand are the houses that have built a regional presence anchored by a powerful home base that still largely dominates revenues. In this camp are National Bank of Kuwait, Qatar National Bank, the big United Arab Emirate houses, Lebanon’s Bank Audi and perhaps Saudi Arabia’s Al Rajhi.

Then there are the true regionals: those for whom the home country represents a minority of revenues and where the model really is based upon the contribution of a number of different markets to the whole. The two main protagonists here are Jordan-based Arab Bank and Bahrain-domiciled Ahli United. This is, perhaps, a tougher trick to carry off, though both are demonstrating powerful results.

Arguably the most regional bank of them all is Arab Bank.

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