Via Reuters Finance

FILE PHOTO: The Citigroup Inc (Citi) logo is seen at the SIBOS banking and financial conference in Toronto, Ontario, Canada October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Helgren/File Photo

DUBAI (Reuters) – Citigroup (C.N) is planning to hire more bankers in Saudi Arabia for its direct custody business after adding more than 20 for onshore capital markets in the last two years, its Europe, Middle East and Africa head said.

The bank, which following a 13-year hiatus returned to Saudi Arabia in 2018 after being granted a capital markets licence, said last year it would also expand its direct custody and clearing services to the oil-rich kingdom.

David Livingstone told a conference on Thursday that while there was no set time-table for the lender to obtain a full banking licence in Saudi Arabia, the outlook for financial sector activity is positive.

“That is something we want to participate very strongly in,” he said. “Recently we secured our direct custody and services licence and we will be growing that business.”

The division provides services from trading execution to clearing to institutional investor clients.

Citigroup was among the banks that advised Saudi Aramco (2222.SE) on the oil giant’s record $29.4 billion initial public offering last year and in April advised the Saudi government on a $7 billion three-tranche bond sale.

Asked whether Citigroup is more cautious about lending to Middle East producers given lower oil prices, he said “on balance, no”.

Brent crude LCOc1 is trading at around $42 a barrel, recovering from recent lows due to output cuts by oil producers, but is still down from over $60 a barrel at the start of the year, as the coronavirus pandemic crimped demand.

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Livingstone said the low cost base of many Middle Eastern producers gave them greater ability to withstand “lower for longer” oil prices than those in some other parts of the world.

Reporting by Saeed Azhar and Davide Barbuscia; Editing by Jan Harvey