Ex-bankers go solo to tap into Gulf financial market
AFTER a 16-year career at Morgan Stanley Lebanese-born banker May Nasrallah detected a gap in the Middle East market for advising small companies, quit her job to set up her own financial advisory firm in Dubai.
Three years on, she has lured a number of her former Morgan Stanley colleagues to join her company, deNovo Corporate Advisors.
Nasrallah, who grew up mostly in Kuwait, is one of at least a dozen senior bankers in the Middle East who since the global financial crisis have opted to give up careers at large financial institutions to become entrepreneurs in the Gulf’s expanding financial industry.
Global banks flocked to the Gulf during the boom years of 2003 to 2007, to make a quick buck, but as the global financial crisis and economic downturn hit, things changed.
According to Thomson Reuters data, 20 global banks earned a combined $234.8 million in fees from their Middle East business in the first half of this year down from over $450 million earned in the first half of 2007. While they have retrenched in the region, seasoned bankers are finding plenty of business opportunities.
“In my business, it is very simple. You are selling comfort and not just a product,” said Pushpak Damodar, who worked at Deutsche Bank’s before setting up Global Frontiers Advisors in Dubai in 2009.
“These markets are going to leapfrog in the years to come. If you don’t get in now, then you will have a significant disadvantage later,” Damodar said.
For the region to succeed, however, it needs to develop a culture that accepts failure in business, said another exbanker- entrepreneur. At present, business is so risk-averse that once a venture fails, it is rare to see those individuals coming back to the market with fresh ideas, he said.