Having been with the bank for nine years, Bajwa moved to Dubai from New York in 2008. He was promoted to his current role three months ago and describes himself as “new to the role but an old hand within the organisation”.
Before taking up his new job, Bajwa headed up the sales team within the business.
As one of the most established regional names, he explained that the business initially chose to focus on the local market.
“We are from the region, we invest here, so really our client base should be here,” he said, describing the bank’s early strategy. “We expanded out to Abu Dhabi in the first instance and then to the rest of the Emirates.
“When we thought we had a good footprint across the UAE, we expanded to Bahrain, Oman, Saudi, then Kuwait.”
Between 2011 and 2017, assets under management have risen to $4.4bn (£3.5bn, €3.9bn) from $1.2bn; while the product range has grown to 15 funds from eight.
It’s only over the last year or so that Emirates NBD AM has started to expand beyond the Gulf region.
“Before we went out to the international market, we wanted to launch our Ucits range of funds. When you’re talking to a client in Switzerland or Singapore, one of the key things they look for is the Ucits structure. We launched our umbrella in 2014,” Bajwa said.
Prior to that, all of Emirates NBD AM’s funds had been Jersey based.
“Initially that was great, especially in a region where most other firms had locally domiciled funds. We showed up with a Jersey-domiciled fund that immediately put us a notch above everyone else.”
The decision to go to Asia and Europe meant the firm needed a Ucits structure, Bajwa explained. As a result, the decision was taken to “transport the fund range to a higher jurisdiction and make it Ucits compliant by going to Luxembourg”.
“We incubated the fund range for the first couple of years to develop the track record. Now that it has a three-year track record within the Ucits umbrella, it is really where we make our push out into the international market.”
Unlike in other regions, banks continue to dominate the asset management space in the Middle East, Bajwa said.
“In development markets, such as the UK, you will find a lot of independent asset managers. Banks do have asset management arms but the largest asset managers will be standalone and not affiliated with a bank.
“That trend has not taken hold yet in the Middle East region. You have a few independent asset managers but they tend to be few and far between and are much smaller in size.”
In the region, by way of providing investment products, “banks still dominate the lion’s share of the market”, he said.
“We haven’t got to the next stage of capital markets evolution where independent asset managers start to evolve.”