SAUDI ARABIA, NOVEMBER 1, 2017 – Bob Diamond’s Atlas Merchant Capital is weighing investments opportunities in Saudi Arabia, including working with the kingdom’s wealth fund, as the country seeks to transform its economy.
“Saudi Arabia as a domestic financial services industry has become investible again,” Diamond said in an interview with Bloomberg TV on Wednesday. “One most striking thing to me is the opportunity to be an investor in Saudi Arabia. Our team is looking at opportunities there.”
Diamond was among global business leaders who last week attended an investment summit in Riyadh organized by the country’s sovereign wealth fund, which plans to control more than $2 trillion by 2030. The event, dubbed ‘Davos in the Desert,’ aimed to raise the profile of Saudi Arabia as an international investor and highlight domestic opportunities to foreign investors. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced plans for a $500 billion city on the Red Sea and said the kingdom was returning to “moderate” Islam.
“The opportunity to help the sovereign wealth fund to invest in a more diversified way and a more specialized way outside of Saudi Arabia is also an even better opportunity than it had been,” Diamond said.
The Public Investment Fund is the center of the kingdom’s diversification efforts and has committed $20 billion to an infrastructure investment fund with Blackstone Group and $45 billion to a technology fund run by SoftBank Group Corp. The PIF holds stakes in several Saudi banks, including Samba Financial Group, Riyad Bank, and National Commercial Bank, the largest in the kingdom.
The former Barclays Plc CEO is also looking at opportunities in Europe, particularly in countries such as Greece, where his firm already invested in a lender, and Italy, where he’s looking for deals.
“We think both Greece and Italy are at the point where it is time to invest in their banks again,” Diamond said. “We are developing the technology to be a true challenger bank in Greece, taking on deposits and making loans to small business. There are opportunities very similar to this in Italy and we are working with a number of people on the ground.”
Diamond is also building a pan-African banking business after leaving the British lender in 2012. Through London-listed Atlas Mara Ltd., he has acquired stakes in banks in seven African countries including Nigeria and Zambia. The investor plans to have a presence in 10 or more African countries in the next three to five years, up from the current seven, he said.