* Slumping deal volumes forcing rethink of MEast strategy
* Staffing level to shrink by more than half -sources
* MEast head Sawko relocating to Paris; Chris Hawley named replacement
By Dinesh Nair
DUBAI, May 11 (Reuters) - Financial advisory firm NM Rothschild & Sons is cutting its Middle Eastern staff by more than half in a significant change of strategy in the face of dwindling deal volumes, four sources told Reuters.
The cutbacks signal the extent to which some global banks are struggling to win business in the region, after launching ambitious plans during the boom years.
“For a pure play financial advisory like Rothschild, double- digit staffing in the region is clearly not making sense given activity has slowed so much,” one of the sources said.
Rothschild’s staffing in the region has come down to eight, from 17 bankers in the past 12 months, the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The firm will move its Mideast investment banking head Herve Sawko to Paris, replacing him with Chris Hawley who is head of mergers and acquisitions at the bank, as part of the move, two banking sources said.
One of the best-known names in banking, whose roots date back to the 18th century, Rothschild set up its first Middle Eastern office in Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) in 2006.
In March, Rothschild regional energy banker Khodor Mattar resigned to join Singapore wealth fund Temasek.
A spokesman for Rothschild Middle East said the firm is “fully committed” to developing its business in the region.
Middle East investment banking fees were $90.9 million in the first quarter, down 8 percent from a year-ago and at their lowest level since the second quarter of 2005, according to Thomson Reuters data.
That fee pool has to be shared between as many as 20 global banks who have hired or brought in some of their senior most bankers to lure business from the region.
“The costs just do not justify setting up big operations here anymore. Pressure on fees is intense and firms have undercut so much that most often banks do not cover the cost of pitching,” a senior banker at a global bank in Dubai said.