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20 May 2012

UK Islamic bank eyes Gulf rich

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London: Sharia-compliant Bank of London and the Middle East (BLME) is targeting the thousands of rich Gulf residents who have ties to the UK to boost its corporate and private banking business.

Britain's largest standalone Sharia bank was set up in London in 2006 and does not have a presence in the Middle East, although expansion into this region was always part of the long-term plan.

It is now awaiting regulatory approval to start operations in the Gulf, initially with a representative office this year, and a branch or subsidiary in the longer term, chief executive Humphrey Percy said.

'The premise on which we set up BLME, which was to send skills and products and services and human capital in both directions, between London and the Middle East ... is just as valid now as in 2006,' said Percy.

The bank, which fully complies with Islamic principles, including a ban on interest, was founded with the backing of Kuwaiti investors.

The UK is the largest Islamic finance centre in Europe, with $19 billion out of global assets of $1.7 trillion and is home to five fully Sharia-compliant banks, data from the UK Islamic Finance Secretariat estimates.

Whilst a fraction of the size of the conventional banking sphere, BLME, which offers corporate banking and wealth management, will look to tap into the pools of investment money in the Gulf that have been relatively untouched by the global financial crisis.

It has assets under management of around £100 million ($159.2m) across three funds.
Earlier this year, the bank launched a property advisory service for private clients mostly domiciled in the Middle East, looking for advice on acquisitions as well as help with financing.
'At the moment the asset class of choice in the Middle East is property, in particular central London property,' said Percy.

(Courtesy: Trade Arabia)

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