Bulge bracket experience in places like London or New York is ten-a-penny, and with most big investment banks making brutal job cuts in the past three years, few recruiters on Wall Street and the in City are likely to be overly impressed with a big brand name on your CV.
There’s one place in the world where it still seems to light up any recruiters’ eyes, however, and indeed is fast becoming a pre-requisite – Qatar. The Peninsula is making another play to topple Dubai’s crown as the major Middle East financial centre and key to this within the state-owned institutions is persuading investment bankers with a bulge bracket pedigree to its shores.
QInvest, an investment bank whose majority shareholder is the state-run sovereign wealth fund the Qatar Investment Authority, is one such institution. Led by Tamim Hamad Al-Kawari, the recently-installed local CEO who has a background heading up Goldman Sachs’ Qatar operation, the bank is “obsessed” with brand-name financial services experience in its new hires, according to headhunters in the region.
In May, it hired Duncan Walker, the former chief financial offer for Middle East and Africa at Credit Suisse, as its new chief operating officer. This follows the recruitment of Michael Katounas, a former director at Credit Suisse in Dubai, as its new head of investment banking.
Credit Suisse has close ties with Qatar, having received funding from the state at the height of the financial crisis and relocated a number of investment bankers there from Dubai last year. It’s also been losing a number of investment bankers in the region over the last 12 months including Rami Touma, head of investment banking for Qatar and Mumtaz Kazmi, a director in its M&A team. Neither have yet reappeared elsewhere.
Nonetheless, despite seemingly being easy pickings, QInvest’s investment banking team is not restricted to ex-Credit Suisse staff. Mohammed Al Kahtini, its head of investment banking for Saudi Arabia, previously worked for Deutsche Bank; Alex Armstrong, its head of financial institutions covered and structured finance once worked for J.P. Morgan; Nasser Al Mahmoud, a director appointed to its investment banking team in March, has worked at Barclays Capital in London; Asar Mashkoor, head of investment banking, once worked for Merrill Lynch; and Franco Danesi, head of investment management, has a background at Goldman Sachs.
This is not to say that a big bank on your CV will automatically gain you a place at an investment bank in the Middle East – all of those above also have many years of regional experience – but it remains a hygiene factor that most regional firms seem to demand.
Michael Aissaoui, head of M&A at the National Bank of Abu Dhabi, joined last year from SocGen, while Simon Penney has just taken the role of head of wholesale banking at First Gulf Bank.
QInvest has stated its intentions to grow its investment bank – something it initially intended to do this year through a joint venture with regional player EFG Hermes. This never came into fruition, suggesting there are still opportunities for bulge bracket bankers looking to leverage their experience.