Middle East's Best Bank for Asia 2019
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Middle East's Best Bank for Asia 2019

First Abu Dhabi Bank

These days, most Middle East lenders boast some kind of Asia connection. It may be a simple one, based on links with correspondent banks in important markets. Others boast more sophisticated networks, using offices in the likes of Hong Kong or Singapore to support local firms operating across the continent.

Then there are the elite members of this field. It isn’t a large gathering – yet. But up here in the rarefied air, one financial services provider stands head and shoulders above the rest.

First Abu Dhabi Bank’s pre-eminence in this category is due to many factors. None of its peers can compete on a like-for-like basis with its pan-Asian network. FAB has offices in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, China, South Korea, and India. Each office is carefully tailored to local needs. So, for instance, its Shanghai rep office, operational since 2012, acts as a key bridge between the GCC region and the People’s Republic, channelling capital east and west, and facilitating trade; out of Hong Kong, FAB extends wholesale banking services to large corporate and institutional clients across northeast Asia, including structured and syndicated lending.

The bank’s main regional office is in Singapore where FAB’s Asia chief executive, Clarence Singam-Zhou, directs a team of bankers providing the full spectrum of services, from trade and Islamic finance to global and capital markets. Speaking of which, its investment banking team just had another very busy year. FAB was a sole or joint bookrunner on no fewer than 18 Asia ex-Japan debt capital market deals in 2018, collectively worth $1.11 billion – that’s more deals than the next four Middle East lenders combined.

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

It also ranked fifth in onshore loan bookrunning in India, and 13th in southeast Asia. First Abu Dhabi Bank has also emerged as a vital enabler, helping to bring Asia’s largest companies together with capital-rich investors from the Middle East. In fact, on many such transactions, its presence is all but mandatory. Just look at the deal list from last year. Take Asia’s largest Reg S-only bond issue, completed by ChemChina in March, which raised $6.4 billion across six tranches, including five in US dollars. Or State Bank of India’s debut green bond, a $650 million, five-year senior unsecured issue, priced in September. Or, dating from June, China Huarong Asset Management’s $1.1 billion triple-tranche, dollar-denominated, senior unsecured bond.

FAB was joint bookrunner on all three sales, and a host of others besides, many of which are directly related to Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative.

FAB is a founding member of the Sino-Arab Countries Interbank Association, a multilateral mechanism created by China Development Bank that aims to channel $3 billion into development deals. And its roots stretch far deeper into the regional soil. FAB stands out from the crowd thanks to its corporate relationships. It provides a mix of global markets, cash management and trade finance services to a wide array of Asian companies, including Toshiba and Hitachi Zosen in Japan, Jet Airways in India and Kepco, Samsung Engineering and Hanhwa Corporation in Korea.

Its robust ties with Daewoo E&C are an example of the bank’s burgeoning regional presence. FAB’s relationship with the Seoul-based construction firm began in 2005. Back then, it offered simple guarantees, expanding its repertoire each year to include trade finance, foreign exchange swaps and working capital. In 2018, FAB provided Daewoo E&C with a $45 million two-year term loan and dollar-Qatari riyal spot and swap FX hedging services worth $125 million.

And don’t forget, FAB is also integral to the needs of UAE-based firms operating across Asia, including Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, Emirates National Oil Company and DP World.

FAB was joint bookrunner and joint lead manager on the Dubai-based global port operator’s $3.3 billion triple-currency transaction in September 2018, comprising Islamic and conventional bonds priced in sterling, euros and US dollars.

It will be a hard task for any Middle East bank to wrest this prize from FAB’s grasp in future, although many are bound to try.