Crédit Agricole Suisse (CA Suisse) is the centerpiece of the private banking division of Crédit Agricole, France’s third-largest bank, whose interests in the Middle East include long-standing relationships with banks in Saudi Arabia and Lebanon. Executive sat down with Youssef Dib, head of private banking at CA Suisse, Pierre Masclet, newly appointed head of markets and investment solutions, and Peter Chamlian, the recently appointed chief executive of the bank’s subsidiary in Lebanon.
You are one of five entities under the umbrella of the Crédit Agricole Private Banking arm. As such, you are present in select locations, with Beirut one of three locations in the Middle East, together with Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Why is Lebanon attractive to you, rather than Doha or Riyadh?
[Dib] Lebanon is obviously not what it was 30 years ago but it is still a key market and a key presence for us, for the local market and also for the diaspora. We are very present vis-à-vis the [Lebanese] diaspora, whether in Europe, in the Middle East, or in Africa and Latin America. We know how the diaspora works and the heartbeat really comes from Beirut. We (re)opened the office [in 2006] and are committed to it despite the ups and downs.
You told me that you are adding new competencies. What is the new real estate financing capacity that you are preparing?
[Masclet] Our goal is to protect and grow the assets of our clients. We want to develop product lines that are diversified and deep. We have discretionary portfolios, management activities, advisory mandates, some structured products, private equity funds, forex of course, and so on. What we want to develop more and more to add new points to this, is our real estate offering. It will first be based on knowledge that is coming from France.
Given that regional real estate investment hotspots exist in Dubai and Beirut, will you offer your financial services for real estate in Arab markets?
[Masclet] It will be a new offering and we have to develop it step-by-step and build up a learning curve. We will begin with the main markets of the group which are France and Switzerland. We have projects to develop in other European countries and later we will see the appetite of the clients.
Within your range of product offerings, is there any favorite asset class that you can share as being the best right now?
[Chamlian] In a nutshell, diversification is key today, whether it is asset classes or currencies.
[Dib] On the offering side, we really insist on open architecture and what we are reinforcing is the top-down approach, which is the asset allocation approach. We are pushing more the new offerings [such as] the real estate side, tax and legal engineering, and private equity where we are adding capacity for global custody for our clients.
Do you see a gold bubble or any other asset bubble that is shaping up in your field of vision?
[Masclet] A lot of people are speaking about bubbles today. The price of gold was pushed higher and higher during the last few years. We don’t have a feeling that there is specifically a bubble.
[Dib] Gold continues to be supported by lack of visibility and strong demand from countries like India and finally by the fact that interest rates are so low, so the opportunity cost of investing in gold is very low.
[Chamlian] It is exaggerated by the non-traditional monetary policy by the United States mainly, with QE 3, the unlimited [quantitative easing].
How much in assets does CA Suisse have under management today?
[Dib] About 45 billion Swiss francs ($48.4 billion) in Switzerland. For the overall business line of international private banking, it is close to 100 billion euros ($130.2 billion) for Crédit Agricole Private Banking, to which you can add about 30 billion euros ($39 billion) at Crédit Lyonnais Private Banking. That does not include the private banking through Crédit Agricole in France, which is in the hundreds of billions [of euros].
In which tier of the private banking world are you located, in terms of total assets under management?
[Dib] If we include Crédit Agricole in France, we are definitely in the top 10, but I would guess even in the top five, although this is not official because the group doesn’t consolidate the figures.