Several investment funds are close to being launched in the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) as an overhaul of the regulatory regime spurs interest in the free zone's asset management industry.
The Dubai Financial Services Authority (DFSA) in July amended rules controlling funds established in the DIFC to make the free zone's regime more flexible and business-friendly. Since then, four or five funds were known to be in the pipeline, with the first possibly launching within weeks, Kevin Birkett, the head of wealth management and capital markets at the DIFC Authority, said yesterday while attending a DIFC seminar about the regulatory changes.
"These have been waiting on the sidelines and are a sign of the first wave of interest in the new funds regime," Mr Birkett said. "Since Ramadan, the whole industry has picked up and we've had a lot of inquiries from firms about launching funds. European and US markets are hurting badly and a lot of firms are looking at other places internationally." The DFSA decided to change the rules as it stepped up its effort to establish the DIFC as a regional centre for fund management. The first regulatory framework, established in 2006, led to only limited success in achieving this goal, with five funds set up, fewer than officials had hoped for.
Under the new regime, DFSA-licensed fund managers are able to establish and manage funds not only within the DIFC but also in international jurisdictions outside the free zone. For the first time, fund managers from reputable outside jurisdictions will also now be permitted under certain circumstances to launch and manage funds in the DIFC. Fund-manager licensing and annual fees have been reduced by 25 per cent to US$10,000 (Dh36,700) under the changes.
Nonetheless, lawyers say that for the DIFC to become a leading international competitor in fund management, restrictions on foreign ownership need to be relaxed.