Financing for diamond trade in Dubai is picking up quickly as the emirate has quickly grown to become one of the hubs of the global diamond trade industry, according to a senior banker.
Davy Blommaert, unit head for precious metals and diamonds at National Bank of Fujairah, or NBF, said Dubai’s ongoing commitment to infrastructural investment and an open business environment has not only paved the way for a fledging financial services industry, but also enhanced its position as the polished diamond hub for the GCC.
“As diamond traders and manufacturers shifted their focus from Europe to Africa and Asia, Dubai has benefited from its central position along the New Silk Route,” Blommaert told Khaleej Times on the sidelines of an event recently.
Dubai has emerged as among the top three diamond centres in the world after Antwerp and India as its trade value is estimated at $35 billion today. Local banks are increasingly focusing on easing the financing woes of commodity traders and NBF sees good business potential in diamond trade parallel with other precious metal and jewellery financing.
“The lack of financing has long been cited as a reason slowing Dubai’s ascent as a global diamond player; this looks set to change with the recent entry of local banks like NBF into this space. We see strong potential for growth in this sector, and are committed to supporting its rise in the local market,” said Blommaert.
Over the past decade, he said Dubai has grown quickly to become one of the hubs of the global diamond trade industry, and it is increasingly being seen as a rival to Antwerp.
“With access to direct sources of rough diamond mines and home to two of the largest diamond financing banks in the world, Antwerp was traditionally the centre of the industry.”
Due to the nature of the trade and the fact that diamonds are a high-value and easily-moveable commodity, Blommaert said working with this segment requires a specialised approach in order to ensure full compliance with anti-money laundering and anti-terrorist financing legislation.
“Additionally, as the diamond trade is a global business with only limited tangible collateral available to banks, trust and transparency are even more important here than in any other form of commodity financing,” he said.
“As such, institutions in this space require a relationship-based approach, meaning that banks would only want to enter into long-lasting partnerships with well-established, highly-reputable and credible clients. This certainly plays to our focus on building industry expertise across all the areas in which we do business, hence ensuring we understand our clients’ needs better and provide the right solutions at the right time.”
To a question on what Dubai has to do to become the centre of diamond trade, Blommaert was very much clear in his advice by posing trust in existing government policies.
“At the moment, Dubai simply has to continue on its current path. The emirate has developed an excellent business environment, and this includes infrastructure-supporting companies in the diamond business. The last missing piece was access to local financing, which we now see is picking up quickly,” he said.
“The next step will be to attract more secondary market diamond traders to Dubai in order to further increase critical mass, and we anticipate this process to speed up as finance becomes more available to these smaller traders locally.”
Blommaert said Dubai has made tremendous progress as one of the global centres of the diamond industry. With trade of rough and polished diamonds having increased from less than $5 million in 2001 to nearly $35 billion in 2013, the emirate is already a critical part of this market.
“With local banks like NBF now building their focus on this segment, we believe that Dubai will continue to be seen as a pivotal player, and we foresee a growing role for Dubai in the global diamond trade over the next three years,” he said.
“As a UAE-based bank with a strong background in the bullion and jewellery sectors, our focus will remain on financing manufacturers and traders of rough and polished diamonds based in the country. Leveraging the market and technical know-how of experts from the ADB [Antwerp Diamond Bank], we will focus on developing relationships with the top diamantaires and be the bank of choice for their financial requirements,” he added.
To a question, Blommaert said NBF historically has a strong presence in the gold and jewellery market, and the bank is widely recognised locally for its services to these segments.
“Whilst there are certainly similarities between these sectors, they are ultimately different businesses, each with their own particularities and unique requirements. Hence the need for the bank to provide a more customised approach to companies in the diamond trade,” he said.
“In light of the growth of the diamond trade business in Dubai and the financing opportunities that come along with it, establishing a bespoke diamond financing unit was simply a natural extension of NBF’s business, as well a part of its commitment to the local economy.”
NBF stands out
Blommaert said NBF has always been a dedicated corporate bank and a leading partner for businesses in the UAE, specialising in services from trade finance to treasury and prevalent in sectors ranging from services and manufacturing to the energy and marine industries.
“We are also privileged to have onboard experts from Antwerp Diamond Bank, whose unrivalled understanding and track record in the business will put us in a strong position to understand and respond to clients in diamond industry,” he said.
“Combined with our strong track record for operational excellence and compliance, we believe the bank stands out from the rest of the market, and can play a definitive role in the development of the diamond trade in the UAE.”
To a question about the launch of a diamond financing unit, he said the biggest challenge will revolve around monitoring “our credit risk and ensuring this is maintained at adequate levels, particularly as we do not have an international network in the other diamond centres around the world that can act as a hedge”.
“Nonetheless, the bank’s compliance and risk management platforms are well-regarded, and we aim to further mitigate such risks by working closely with correspondent banks in these centres. We will also closely monitor the developments in the industry and receive regular updates from market references,” he added.
With diamond companies shifting most of their rough sourcing activity to Dubai, the bank also sees an opportunity to build relationships — and do business — with leading industry players, he said.
“We already have one of the biggest gold bullion portfolios in the GCC in terms of service coverage, and have seen steady growth in this segment in the past few years. Likewise, we have also provided structured derivatives in various commodities at the behest of our clients, and are more than happy to provide more service options when the demand calls for it.”
“We are just starting to develop our portfolio of strong diamond clients, and believe that it will grow to become an important component to the bank’s overall business in the near future,” Blommaert concluded.
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