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Wealth manager seeks Gulf growth despite setbacks in UK

SJP's chief investment officer Justin Onuekwusi, second from right, at the event in Dubai. Other speakers included, from left, Ben Powell of the BlackRock Investment Institute, Angelina Lai of SJP Asia and Middle East, and Robert Willock of the Economist Intelligence Unit SJP
SJP's chief investment officer Justin Onuekwusi, second from right, at the event in Dubai. Also pictured, from left, Ben Powell of the BlackRock Investment Institute, Angelina Lai of SJP Asia and Middle East, and Robert Willock of the Economist Intelligence Unit
  • Interview with SJP’s Justin Onuekwusi
  • Targeting local customers in Gulf
  • $500m set aside for client complaints

St James’s Place, the UK’s largest wealth manager, plans to target local customers to expand its one-year-old Gulf operation as it seeks to brush off reputational setbacks in its home market.

In February SJP disclosed that it had set aside more than $500 million for potential client refunds after an increase in complaints about its advice and the fees charged. Its share price tumbled after the announcement, recording its biggest intraday loss on the London stock exchange since 2016.

However Justin Onuekwusi, the business’s chief investment officer, says other UK fund managers are facing similar complaints but SJP has acknowledged and addressed them ahead of its rivals.

“We’ve said ‘Anybody who feels that they haven’t had the right advice, come to us’ – and ultimately we will compensate them,” Onuekwusi told AGBI on Tuesday. “And I think that that’s quite powerful.”

Speaking on the sidelines of an event hosted by the business in Dubai, Onuekwusi said investments from the UK to the Gulf were growing, but the company is also focused on expanding beyond its traditional clientele of British expatriates. 

“It’s starting with the expats, because that’s what we know, and then broadening it out to the local market over time,” he said.

SJP manages $222 billion on behalf of nearly one million clients, primarily in the UK but also from its offices in Hong Kong, Singapore and, as of last June, Dubai.

Onuekwusi is also looking at Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 strategy.

“Saudi Arabia is a very interesting area and, obviously as we grow in the local market, there’s going to be crossover,” said Onuekwusi, who started in his role last October. 

“We are getting a lot of leads into that market already. So, it’s understanding how to navigate that.”

According to another speaker at the SJP event, the Middle East’s markets are in flux as regional conflicts, economic competition between global powers, persistent inflation, the energy transition and artificial intelligence tear away at globalisation. 

Robert Willock, the Middle East and North Africa director for the Economist Intelligence Unit, told the audience that Gulf countries were “stuck in the middle” between East and West – but that this was an enviable position.

“There’s a significant opportunity for Middle Eastern powers like the UAE and Saudi Arabia, as well as places like India, to tread that difficult path,” he said. “Resisting those siren calls to pick sides, to take advantage of that fast growth coming from the East and the traditional security guarantees that come from the West.”

The Economist Intelligence Unit predicts robust growth in the UAE up to 2028 thanks to the country’s “meaningful diversification programme” and welcoming business environment. 

Saudi Arabia has work to do to catch up to its neighbour, Willock said, arguing that it remains too reliant on oil and its giga-projects and other development efforts will take time to make themselves felt. However, the Saudis “are moving up, they are very ambitious”, he added.

Qatar, which also continues to rely primarily on the energy industry, is expected to reap huge rewards from the completion in 2026 of the North Field East natural gas field. Economic growth is expected to top 14 percent that year.

The UAE and other Gulf countries are also expected to benefit from what Willock called India’s “spectacular decade”. The South Asian nation’s GDP is forecast to be 46 percent larger in 2028 than it was in 2022.

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