The Middle East may have lost some of its lustre to financial professionals looking for their next international move, but the job market has remained relatively healthy. Some recruiters, particularly contingency firms recruiting for junior and mid-level roles, have heralded their best start to the year since the boom of 2007.
However, to suggest the situation is universally rosy would be an over-statement. There are certain jobs that remain in demand, while others – particularly M&A and equity capital markets bankers – have fallen by the wayside. Here, according to prominent recruiters in the region, are the most in demand positions in the Middle East financial sector right now.
You won’t see many big teams of portfolio managers within international fund management firms in the Middle East, but there’s increasing competition for clients on the ground, which means good sales staff are at a premium.
In the past few weeks, BlackRock has named Andrew MacKenzie as head of iShares for the Middle East and Africa, focused on driving sales, Neuberger Berman hired Fahmi Abdulhamid as vice president of MENA distribution from Franklin Templeton and Natixis Global Asset Management unveiled Anis Ghamgui as senior director of institutional sales for the MENA region.
“It’s an increasingly competitive market for fund managers, and good distribution staff are increasingly in demand,” said James Collin, senior consultant at Morgan McKinley in Dubai.
When the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority unveiled its annual report recently, the key point – from a recruitment point of view – was that it was intending to bolster its internal investment team as it takes a more hands on approach to investment and relies less on external fund managers.
In May, it unveiled another glamour signing in John McCarthy, a former Deutsche Bank managing director, as head of its infrastructure investment division. Like most sovereign wealth funds in the region, such as the Qatar Investment Authority, ADIA remains open to hiring expats with bulge bracket experience on their CV, according to recruiters working with the funds.
While prospects for fixed income traders in international banks, particularly UBS and Morgan Stanley, may be looking shakier these days, regional firms in the Middle East are looking to bolster their teams, said Collin. The move by Nasdaq Dubai to launch a regional bond trading platform is only likely to enhance traders prospects.
“There’s much more of a pull to the Middle East for fixed income traders in places like New York and London, where regulations are hampering activity, and local banks are happy to hire the talent,” he said.
Treasury functions are viewed as an increasingly important source of profitability for banks in the Middle East, and the right sales staff are integral to this. First Gulf Bank, for instance, is on the hunt for a head of treasury sales in Abu Dhabi, but lower down the career ladder opportunities are increasingly plentiful.
“There’s particularly high interest in treasury sales professionals currently,” said Jason Grundy, head of Middle East at Robert Walters. “Arabic and English skills are required, which means firms tend to favour local candidates, but at the more senior end, Western expats are considered.”
In the Middle East, there was never a demand for the sort of sector specialist investment banker found in London and New York, but more recently generalists have found themselves in favour. This means not just being an expert in M&A or debt capital markets, or simply having the regional relationships that open doors. Instead, knowledge of corporate banking and the plethora of investment banking products are must-have skill-sets, argues Barbara van Meir, managing director of regional headhunters Vogel & Noor.
“Bankers are valuing a broader range of experience, working in leaner teams and offering multiple products to the same clients,” she said.
If you want an indication of the scale of infrastructure investment opportunities in the Middle East, look no further than Qatar’s plans for its hosting of the 2022 football World Cup. It’s poised to spend $130bn on ensuring it’s ship-shape for the influx of tourist and WAGs in time for the event. Both Dubai and Abu Dhabi are also investing in this area.
“There’s a big focus on infrastructure positions both within the large sovereign funds and regional private equity players,” said James Wakefield, director of headhunters Cobalt Abu Dhabi.