The head of the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange said he was thrilled by the UAE's upgrade to emerging markets status but that it should not deter the stock market and the financial community from having bigger ambitions.
"We will not stop. Our ambitions are bigger. We will continue our development and look at best practices and standards globally," said Rashed Al Baloushi, the chief executive of the Abu Dhabi bourse. "In a short while we are going to put a timeline with a strategy and objectives to tackle them one by one to attain 'developed markets' status by all the benchmarks - MSCI, Russell's, and Standard & Poor's."
On Wednesday, MSCI upgraded the UAE to emerging markets status, nearly five years after the country first became a qualifying candidate in 2008. During this period, questions related to foreign investment limits, infrastructure and liquidity have been cited as concerns by international institutional investors.
The UAE has actively engaged with MSCI to alleviate some of its concerns. One of its biggest examples is the introduction and the advancement of the delivery-versus-payment mechanism, in which securities are delivered and payment is received on the same day.
Mr Al Baloushi, along with his staff, and a handful from the UAE financial community remained awake until the early hours to hear the verdict.
"The mood was really tense," he said. "I was chatting with some of our employees. By the time the statement landed at 1am, it took us a few seconds to digest the statement to understand if we were upgraded or not," Mr Al Baloushi said.
The statement said: "MSCI will reclassify the MSCI UAE Index to Emerging Markets as part of the May 2014 Semi-Annual Index Review."
The bourse chief was caught by surprise, he said, as he read through MSCI's statement, which said: "International institutional investors recognised the improvements made by the Emirati regulator (Security and Commodities Authority), the Dubai Financial Market and the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange with respect to the DVP model."
"By the time it hit us, we were shocked," Mr Al Baloushi said. "Immediately the text messages started pouring in with congratulatory comments from our employees, the custodians, the brokers and fund managers. They have been thanking us, but at the end of the day it was a combined effort. Everyone participated towards the upgrade in one way or another."
Separately, Dubai's bourse chief said he has been actively engaging with foreign institutional investors in a bid to win their confidence ahead of the upgrade.
Essa Kazim, the chief executive of the Dubai Financial Market, said he had participated in "productive discussions with institutional investors via a series of meetings held in the global financial centres".
The point of these discussions "was not only to explain measures taken but to also listen to their remarks and feedback on further initiatives to follow," Mr Kazim added.
Hamed Ali, the acting chief executive of Nasdaq Dubai, said the decision could spur the creation of new markets as well as attract greater equity and debt listings to the UAE.