The eFC Interview: David Woods, co-chief executive officer, Rasmala Investment Bank

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Rasmala is a regional investment bank, which last year teamed up with Royal Bank of Scotland to launch a joint equity research venture on Middle Eastern companies.

Understandly, therefore, the bank has been building in this division throughout 2010, but this is not the limit of its recruitment activity.

We spoke to David Woods, the bank's co-chief executive officer (pictured), about Rasmala's recruitment practices and issues affecting the investment banking industry in the region.


You've made a few hires in equity research this year, is that an area of focus?

It was a particular area of focus for 2010, but we're more or less at the strength we want to be now. There's a couple of key sectors where we will look to add probably two or three more analysts in the next few months, but that's largely it.

This year there seems to have been an effort to beef up research capabilities generally in the Middle East. Would you agree? And what are the drivers?

There's been an increased effort by Middle Eastern houses to bring their research teams up to international standards and demonstrate an ability to produce research that has value to Western fund managers. So, they have been strengthening teams directly as result of that effort.

A number of banks here have dealt with buy-side firms in the past and this year there's been a big effort, particularly from Abu Dhabi, to raise awareness and interest in Middle Eastern assets among Japanese and Asian investors.

Do you intend to build out any other business areas this year?

Not particularly, I would say we're pretty much at the size we want to be

Will you be recruiting at the junior end?

We don't have a formal graduate scheme - we looked at doing it in the past, but we don't have the critical mass to have a programme that works year after year. When you recruit just two or three graduates a year, as we do, it's simply not practical to do it on a formal basis.

Are you optimistic about 2011?

A lot of what happens regionally will depend on what happens in international markets. However, if oil rises above $100 dollar a barrel you're naturally going to see an increase in M&A deals because that wealth has to be applied somewhere, and it will tend to go to large single deals rather than simply being invested in the markets, which was the pattern before.

Also, having seen equity market volumes in 2010 down significantly on the previous year, we believe that those volumes will return, though maybe not to where they were two or three years ago. In the fixed income market you've got a potentially interesting year in terms of volumes of transactions, if only because of the amount of debt that needs to be refinanced or paid off in some way.

There seems to be evidence that a number of the banks are already increasing their headcount. The international banks were very active in the second half of 2009, and then quiet again in the first half of 2010. It appears to have picked up again now, and there are also signs that local firms are hiring.

Do you see any divisions or job roles being in particular demand this year?

The ongoing moves to enhance regulatory regimes in the region means we're going to see continued hiring in areas like risk and compliance. If the equity capital markets business shows any signs of coming back, we will see hiring there and fixed income sales and trading will grow next year.

While it's possible to highlight a few of the key growth areas, the evidence that we're coming across is that recruitment is set to grow across the board.

Are there any particular skill-sets that are unique to the Middle Eastern market?

The strongest selling point at any level of investment banking recruitment here in the Middle East region is bilingual Arabic and English, combined with US and/or London experience. Those individuals can command quite a premium.

Has it become harder to attract international talent?

It definitely has become harder to attract international talent. I think some people, particularly from the UK, were scared off by some of the 'Sun-reader' stories about how things were done here and got nervous about giving up their life in Europe and moving their family out here in case it went wrong, and they had to leave within a month of their visa running out. Also, a lot of trading jobs were shifted back to the major global financial centres, which obviously meant the region became less attractive to these individuals.

Plus, I think local firms in the Middle East assumed it would be easy to attract Wall Street and City professionals two years ago when so many were losing their jobs. In reality, the decision to uproot and move to the Middle East on a potentially uncertain ticket is a much bigger one than many firms credited it to be.

What's the most common reason someone would fail during an interview at Rasmala?

We are a relatively small regional investment bank and it is difficult to make the transition from a large multi-national institution into a regional firm of 200 people.

We therefore look for evidence of how well the person being interviewed will make that transition. If you're used to having seventy people reporting to you, and analysts doing the work while you manage the process then you may struggle in a smaller firm, where you have to produce a lot of the work yourself.

So, what's the best trait a candidate can show?

Flexibility and open-mindedness. The Middle East is a different market, and the standards people are used to in Europe or the US - dealing with commercial and institutional investors and government level borrowers - don't always reflect the way people think and act here. You have to be understanding of those differences, and work with them.