x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 16 December 2017

DIFC rises above the challenges with growth

Total member companies rose 14% as emerging market members came on board last year.

For the first time in its 12-year history, firms from outside the traditional financial centres in Europe and the US accounted for most of the firms registered in the DIFC. Sarah Dea / The National
For the first time in its 12-year history, firms from outside the traditional financial centres in Europe and the US accounted for most of the firms registered in the DIFC. Sarah Dea / The National

Dubai International Financial Centre continued to grow in 2016, despite “challenging” global conditions, with a 14 per cent rise in the total number of firms.

Financial firms accounted for 447 of those 1,643 businesses, 10 per cent ahead of 2015.

For the first time in its 12-year history, firms from outside the traditional financial centres in Europe and the US accounted for most of the firms registered in the DIFC.

Reflecting the centre’s strategy of aiming for new business in emerging and fast growth markets, some 56 per cent of firms now come from the Middle East, Asia, Africa and South America.

“The year 2016 was marked by significant global shifts, which brought challenges but also opportunities,” said Essa Kazim, the DIFC governor. “Our strong financial results show that the DIFC is resilient.”

He also revealed that profits for the centre were 7 per cent ahead, at Dh421 million net and Dh460m before tax, depreciation and amortization.

The total workforce in DIFC now totals 21,611, putting it on the path to achieve its goal of tripling in size by 2024 with a labour force of 50,000. It is also nearer its balance sheet target, with $144 billion of assets under management in 2016 against a goal of $400bn, and more than halfway to its target of 5.5 million square feet of occupied space, which stood at 3.5 million sq ft in 2016.

Mr Kazim said DIFC might exceed some of those targets by 2024, the end date of its current 10-year strategy.

“We continue to demonstrate how our offering goes beyond being the region’s leading fin­ancial centre by investing in leading concepts and developments to become a world-class business and lifestyle destination,” he added.

Work is under way on the two latest projects to increase office, retail and leisure space in DIFC – the Dh600m Gate Avenue development, with the first phase set to open later this year, and the Dh200m Gate Village 11 development.

DIFC’s executive team led a series of delegations to global fin­ancial centres in China, India, and Africa, as well as traditional financial markets. Two major events of 2016 were the move of HSBC Middle East to DIFC juris­diction under the regulatory supervision of the Dubai Financial Services Authority, and the opening of Bank of Singapore in the wealth and asset management sector.

Other new entrants included Bank of Palestine, Ahli United Bank and Zenith Bank of Nigeria. Agricultural Bank of China was chosen as a clearing centre for Chinese currency for the region, and a number of insurers also opened.

DIFC office space is 98 per cent let, Mr Kazim said. There is capacity in third-party owned buildings, which are 60 per cent let.

Arif Amiri, chief executive of DIFC Authority, said: “Looking ahead, we will continue to embrace and harness change and innovate for growth, which will be fuelled by our initiatives in financial technology, new infrastructure development and sustained focus on the south-south corridor [of trade between Asia, Africa and Latin America].”

business@thenational.ae

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