Saudi Arabia may not be the first place to look for a dynamic and transparent single-family office given the relatively closed nature of the country’s economy. But there is one private investment office that really stands out there; indeed, it provides a pretty good template for family offices in the Middle East and beyond.
It’s called the AlTouq Group and manages the money of the AlTouq family. It was set up way back in the 1970s by Sheikh Ibrahim AbdulAziz AlTouq, who was for years the general manager for the Juffali Group, one of Saudi Arabia’s biggest businesses. Today, the family office serves two generations of the AlTouq family. Second generation AbdulMohsen AlTouq is the chief executive and his brother Saif Ibrahim, who is deputy chief executive.
Asher Noor is AlTouq’s chief investment officer and is very open to talking about the family office. And Noor reckons that AlTouq’s success is down to the wisdom of the family principals. “Under the guidance of Sheikh Ibrahim, AbdulMohsen and Saif have transformed AlTouq Group into not just another investor with money in the bank and a passive investment portfolio, but into a highly sophisticated family office and allocator of capital in strategies such as private direct investments,” says Noor.
AlTouq has made some good investment decisions in the past, including AirAsiaX (the long-haul part of AirAsia) before it did a successful initial public offering. Other investments include Dar Al Tamleek, a big mortgage company in Saudi Arabia, and Steel Products Company, which the AlTouq was a founder shareholder and AbdulMohsen is chairman.
Noor, who worked for Morgan Stanley and PWC before joining AlTouq eight years ago, says he decided to join the family office because of what it had to offer. “With a banking background, I was initially not sure of the unique value I would bring to the family office, but the patriarch and the next generation members of the family really had the vision for the future of AlTouq Group as a leading and sophisticated family office.”
OK, AlTouq isn’t about to disclose the amount of assets it has under management - few family offices do - but its principals along with Noor are setting, whether intentionally, or not, a family office example in the region. Outsiders often wonder why the family office sector has been slow to develop given the large number of sizeable family businesses.
That said, Noor doesn’t want to stress the example part of AlTouq’s legacy too much. “I don't necessarily see all aspiring family offices going down our route, whereby we have been smart investors across sectors and asset classes. Just like every family is different, so would possibly be their legacy and recipe for success.”
Noor, who is also chief finance officer for the Riyadh-based family office, may be working for one of the most professional family offices in Saudi Arabia, but he still thinks the sector in the region lacks real momentum. He reckons there are a number of factors holding back the development of a more robust family office sector in the Gulf region, but the scarcity of talent is probably the biggest deterrent: “The biggest hindrance to making that a reality (a bigger family office sector) is the lack of credible skill set and understanding of what it takes to be above par.”
Noor adds that in Saudi Arabia, the Gulf region’s biggest economy, there is plenty of demand from families to set up family offices. "In Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam there are a few family offices who I would consider more institutionalised but there are so many more families who at present can only to aspire to this level.”