Dubai: a world trading post for the future

Marco Trevisan, head of Intesa Sanpaolo’s Dubai hub, tells Giulia Rhodes that the bank’s clients have plenty to choose from in a region still rich in investment and trade opportunities


With its spectacular skyline and luxury leisure facilities – everything from indoor ski slopes to an underwater zoo – Dubai’s success is tangible.

Alongside the opulent offices and high-end hotels lies the buzzing International Financial Centre, home since 2010 to Intesa Sanpaolo’s Middle East, Africa and Turkey area hub.

“This is the place to be an active player in investment and trade in the area that is becoming the transportation, infrastructure and trade hub of the world,” says Marco Trevisan, its director.

“The Gulf is the global air and sea connection between East and West. This is why we are expanding our foothold in the region with new branches in Qatar and Abu Dhabi.”
Photo: Marco Trevisan, Head of Middle East, Africa, Turkey Hub at Intesa Sanpaolo

Business remains brisk despite the oil-price falls of recent years, he says. “Dubai is a thriving, dynamic environment, internally and externally. Our activities have consistently seen a 60 per cent growth rate over the past three years. The economy – in services, manufacturing and construction – has been growing at double-digit rates over the past decade. We do not see that elsewhere.”

International trade and overseas investment is welcomed, says Trevisan, and Intesa Sanpaolo’s local and international clients are well-placed to reap the rewards. The bank’s specialist industry and territorial expertise and its key services and products (including cash management, trade and export finance and structured finance) provide a complete offering.

“Through actually being here permanently we can offer proximity and people who grasp the specific features of each deal, understand the nuances of the cultures and markets – who know the clients and can ensure prompt delivery. Doing business here is not the same as in Europe.”

Industries across the Gulf region are increasingly varied thanks to government- backed diversification programmes, says Trevisan. With new branches across the region, the bank and its clients can access a wider range of investment and trade opportunities – in local currencies – and thereby also spread risk.

“We can deploy our investments according to what the industries and countries are showing – this region is not a uniform picture – switching if we need to and compensating for ups and downs.”

With little natural oil and gas, Dubai’s economy is further along the diversification route than those of the other Emirates and Gulf countries, presenting promising ventures in many sectors in both the medium and long term.

Expo 2020, which will bring a projected 25 million visitors to Dubai, is a major focus. “We are working to support many Italian clients in construction, development and supply,” says Trevisan. Among key infrastructure prospects he highlights the Hyperloop near-supersonic speed transportation system proposed between Dubai and the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi.

Opportunities in healthcare (“with $70 billion of investment in healthcare infrastructure projected by 2020”) and renewable energy (“$2 trillion projected in clean and renewable energy by 2020”) are also of interest for Italian companies, he adds. “A key natural resource for this area is the sun and in the long term I see it as a key driver for investment.”

A growing trend for local investors – sovereign wealth funds among them – to seek opportunities in Europe, particularly real estate, is served by a dedicated hub desk. As Italy’s largest banking presence in the Gulf and across Europe, Intesa Sanpaolo is the obvious choice.

Trevisan is proud of the Dubai hub’s energy and success to date and ambitious for its future. “We are relatively new to the market here and we have brought our best practice,” he says. “We are seeing that we can be increasingly active in structuring transactions, underwriting big tickets to support local clients.” Kuwait’s Equate Petrochemical Company and Petroleum Development Oman are recent examples, with deals totaling more than $1 billion.

In the long term, he says, investment in new products and a wider range of services – “a full working platform for the region” – is his goal. Meanwhile he and his team continue to relish the challenges of this varied and diversifying part of the world. “In the Gulf you are no more than eight hours away from two-thirds of the world population. That gives some sense of why it is such an exciting place to do business.”

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