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Barclays planning 20% headcount increase in MENA

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From an employment perspective, two things were clear when Barclays unveiled its wide-ranging strategy review in May – headcount would shrink and the expensive directors and managing directors were most likely to feel the sharp end of the cuts.

The message coming out of the bank’s wealth and investment management division in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is very different. Barclays is hiring, and it largely wants to attract senior people.

Barclays, which employs around 100 people in its wealth and investment management division in the MENA region, has plans to increase headcount by 15-20% and will be focusing on director and managing director recruits, according to Cedric Lizin, head of wealth management, Middle East and North Africa and head of business for Japan.

“We’re focusing on quality over quantity – we have budget to increase headcount by 15-20%, but I think we might be constrained by the number of quality candidates available in the market,” he says. “The supply of senior bankers with established relationships with ultra-high-net-worth individuals in the region is limited, but we have scope to grow.”

The bank is looking to grow its UHNW operation in the Middle East across its offices in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar, but Lizin says that the plan is also to “aggressively” grow the non-resident Indian (NRI) business across the region as well as in Singapore, London and Geneva.  Wealth management for NRIs is considered a growing business in the MENA region.

“We’re looking for senior bankers with quality access to UHNWs, not those with clients in the lower wealth categories or those without direct access,” says Lizin. “We also want people who are in line with Barclays’ values – we assess the performance of colleagues 50% based on what they deliver and 50% on how they behave.”

Barclays arguably faces some challenges fishing from a small pool with a reputation that has taken a battering in recent years. Its new values of respect, integrity, service, excellence and stewardship are now something every employee is expected to demonstrate. This follows a series of scandals at the bank, including the Libor rate fixing episode which forced former CEO Bob Diamond to step down. His successor, Antony Jenkins, has told staff to sign up to the new ethics code, or leave. The fact that Barclays is also in the process of folding its standalone wealth management arm into its retail business may also make some private bankers reticent to make the jump across.

Nonetheless, any potential recruit faces a rigorous interview process. Senior candidates will interview with Lizin and a team leader within the bank, then its head of product, followed by the COO, the banks’ chairman and then finally the sign off comes from Didier von Daeniken, head of wealth management, Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa.

Taking your career chances

Lizin, perhaps modestly, says that his career has happened largely by chance than conscious design, but it nonetheless shows the importance of gaining a wide-range of lateral experience in order to move up the ranks. He went into banking, as an engineering graduate, simply because banks wanted highly numerate people to work on new regulations, he says, and started out as a risk analyst at Credit Communal (now Dexia) in Belgium.

Soon after, however, he moved across to McKinsey & Co, and working as an engagement manager across various business areas over six years, including a stint in Singapore where he met his wife, but returned to Belgium to work for now-defunct bank, Fortis, as head of strategy – his first private banking job.

Lizin remained in various strategy positions at Fortis, where he was eventually deputy chief performance manager, and later moved to Credit Suisse in Singapore. His career is closely aligned to that of von Daeniken and it was with him that he moved across to Barclays in 2007 as chief operating officer for Asia.

A wealth management business position remained elusive, however, and it eventually came when Lizin led Barclays’ joint venture with Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation and SMBC Nikko Securities in Japan.

“The business started growing very fast and after a couple of years it became difficult to combine with the COO role,” he says. “I was offered a choice to do either, and I took this opportunity to focus on leading the Japan business – it was my ticket into a business management job.”

Because of Lizin’s close ties to the Japanese business, he still leads it alongside his MENA duties. This is not without its drawbacks, though – he’s travels a lot for his job. Lizin spends two days every two weeks in Japan, flies around the Gulf region for interaction with clients and meets with the MENA teams in London or Geneva every six weeks.

 

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