Abu Dhabi's Best Bank for Asia 2018
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Abu Dhabi's Best Bank for Asia 2018

First Abu Dhabi Bank

Clarence Singam, CEO, FAB Asia.jpg
Clarence Singam-Zhou, FAB Asia

When investors and companies mull the benefits of doing business in Asia, or of boosting their operations in a region that still drives the global economy, their default instinct might be to turn to the West’s big lenders. We know their names. An elite handful of financial institutions, boasting decades and sometimes centuries of experience in the biggest markets. They are fully tuned into Asia, and usually well represented across the Middle East.

But they are not the only story in town. In recent years, well-managed and ambitious Middle East banks have been boosting their presence and visibility in Asia. Each is different. Some are keen to plant their flag in every big market, while others are happy opening an office in a key city or two. Smaller lenders in frontier states might be content to offer basic services via correspondent banks.

A few institutions really stand out though. These are lenders with scale and experience across the big Middle Eastern markets, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar.

They will typically have branches in Asia’s international centres, from where they serve Middle Eastern clients keen to expand in the region – as well as Asian companies and investors making the opposite journey.

These select few banks are not just big, but also deliberate in their ambition and thinking. They plan carefully and according to their needs, and can see that the future of growth and wealth lies not just in Asia but also in those big nations of the Middle East that are rich in both energy and human capital. To succeed in one region is good, but to prosper in both, creating synergies that drive revenue and income, is great.

This is what First Abu Dhabi Bank (FAB) has done. The merger of First Gulf Bank and National Bank of Abu Dhabi created a lender of size and scale, combining the former’s market-leading consumer banking franchise and the latter’s strength in wholesale banking and capital markets. But it also created an institution with a powerful pan-Asian presence. Over the last decade, FAB has opened branches in Singapore (which serves as its regional hub), mainland China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, India and South Korea, employing 170 people.

It adapts to the needs of each market. In Seoul, it focuses on corporate and trade finance; in Shanghai, it helps facilitate trade flows between China and the Middle East and North Africa (Mena), which are rising fast, thanks to Beijing’s trade-based Belt & Road Initiative.

FAB’s offices in Singapore and Hong Kong – it is the only Middle East bank to have fully operational branches in both – specialize in global markets and structured and syndicated lending, while Singapore also offers Islamic finance. Then there’s India, the closest big Asian market, and the first port of call for many Middle East companies looking to invest in the region.

“Asia is an important growth region for us,” says Clarence Singam-Zhou, chief executive at FAB Asia. “India and China have the most long-term significance even as Asean [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] evolves towards greater integration over the longer term. China’s Belt & Road Initiative in particular will have significant long-term effects, not just on geopolitics but on the growth of trade and capital flows between Asia and the Middle East.”

FAB is adept at working with key names in both regions to realize their banking and capital needs. It was a joint bookrunner on Indonesia’s $3 billion March 2017 dual-tranche sukuk – bringing senior delegates from Indonesia’s finance ministry to roadshows in Dubai – and joint bookrunner on a $1.3 billion senior unsecured print from Tata Steel, completed in January 2018.

It has also become, within a few short years, a vital source of liquidity and complex banking services for blue-chip firms including Toshiba, PetroChina, Samsung and India’s Jet Airways.

A cogent example here is Sinopec, a client of FAB’s since 2011. It provided the Chinese energy giant with $2.4 billion of trade facilities in 2017, helping to meet its capital needs in Asia and the Middle East.

“Rising trade between Asia and the Middle East presents a significant amount of opportunity for us,” says Singam-Zhou. “We want to be in the middle of the capital and trade flows that are moving along those two pathways.”

Rising deal flow in both regions is reflected in the data. FAB was the leading loan bookrunner and the number-one arranger of investment-grade private placements in the Mena region in 2017, according to Dealogic. But its success, again, transcends borders. It was by far the leading Middle East bookrunner of Asia ex-Japan bonds in 2017, completing 17 deals worth $2.05 billion. It was a top-20 loan bookrunner in Asia last year, and ranked eighth in India.

First Abu Dhabi Bank is strong in its core markets in the Middle East, while packing an increasingly powerful punch in Asia’s large and fast growing markets. It is there when its clients need it most, a willing provider of capital and full-service banking. And that is why it is the worthy winner of two Asiamoney awards this year: as Abu Dhabi’s best bank for Asia; and as the overall winner of the Middle East’s best bank for Asia.