Even during the early stages of the financial crisis, Dubai has landed on its feet and is now thriving again, with the announcement of new projects and substantial infrastructure implementation for years to come.
In the meantime Abu Dhabi launched its ambitious Vision 2030 plan, which aims to completely transform its economy by increasing its diversification and reducing its reliance on oil exports, along with a 330bn dirhams (approximately $90bn) spending plan to support the local economy over the next five years.
The UAE is a federation of seven emirates – namely Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, Fujairah and Ras Al Khaimah – founded in 1971 by the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the first President of the nation, and then Emir of Abu Dhabi. The success of the country, as a federation, is the result of a delicate alchemy between the two main emirates: Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
From one perspective, Abu Dhabi is the centre of the nation’s political power, and ensures the prosperity of the whole country due to some of the largest oil reserves in the world. From the other side, Dubai has definitely put the UAE on the global map to become arguably the most important financial and economical hub for the whole Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
The best example of this alchemy is to be found in the name of the Dubai-based tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa. The 828 meters tower was named after Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan (President of the United Arab Emirates and Emir of Abu Dhabi) in recognition of the financial support of Abu Dhabi to Dubai when the later faced financial difficulties as a consequence of the global downturn. The benefits of such a stable and thriving environment are accentuated by the geographical position of the UAE. At the heart of the oil-and-gas-rich GCC and at the crossroads of some of the fastest growing economies in the world, the future looks bright for a country that is only 42 years old.
Striving for success
This unique mix was a key factor of success for the development of locally bred international leaders – the most famous one being Emirates Airlines – and regional champions –such as the Dubai-based, but Abu Dhabi-controlled, Arabtec.
As one of the UAE’s most important economic pillars, the financial sector already witnessed the emergence of regional players. But as some of the most established firms had to revamp operations as a consequence of the recent downturn, newcomers appeared and claimed their right for a seat at the table. Among them, the Abu Dhabi based investment company MENACORP.
The company’s CEO, Fathi Ben Grira, believes that the firm he runs will be the next success story of the country in this strategic sector. “We are only at the beginning of the story, and we are confident in our capabilities and proud of what we achieved so far. Today, we are, at the same time, the leading and the fastest growing UAE firm in the financial services industry with respect to our stockbrokerage activity on the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange, Dubai Financial Markets and Nasdaq Dubai.
“We have the largest front office and sales team in the UAE, and probably the most efficient and profitable operations among our competitors. We are now entering into a new phase of our development as our clients will be able to trade on all regional markets, and some selected international bourses from a single consolidated account.
Being based in the UAE is also an advantage to infiltrate neighbouring markets, as Dubai has clearly established itself as the region’s investment hub
“This is only the first step of the development in our international offering, as we were recently licensed by the Dubai Gold and Commodities Exchange [DGCX] allowing us to offer more investment products like forex, commodities and options”, he added.
The achievements of the brokerage business, led by managing director Nabil Al Rantisi, is the basis on which the company will build the expansion of its other activities. “The UAE is the right place to be when you want to develop wealth management,” said Ben Grira. “The country is stable, safe, dynamic and the businesses are mostly run by family owned conglomerates, ensuring comfortable returns and profitability to the ultimate owners.
“As we built a strong and intimate relationship with these High Net Worth Individuals and Ultra High Net Worth Individuals thanks to our brokerage activity, we are in the best position to offer our clients more sophisticated services, which includes wealth management. We know our clients well and understand the specifics of their culture, needs and expectations.” Moreover, Ben Grira explains that most of these UAE based conglomerates are usually chaired by the founder or by one of his children. To have a direct access and a trusted relationship with the head of the family group can facilitate the development of MENACORP’s other business lines – such as financial advisory, IPOs, and restructuring – directly targeting the operational companies of the considered group.
Building on an active company
Being based in the UAE is also an advantage to infiltrate neighbouring markets, as Dubai has clearly established itself as the region’s investment hub. Investors from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait or Bahrain are among the main players on UAE markets. They also heavily invest in the local economy – mainly real estate – as they trust the legal framework, and are confident in the political stability.
By being readily available for investors, MENACORP’s ambition is also to be the preferred entry point on these challenging markets for international financial institutions, which are experiencing difficulties to capture the full potential of GCC-based clients. “Everybody in the financial world is familiar with the concept of Know Your Customer [KYC] for compliance and anti-money laundering purposes. However, what makes our added value on local markets is that we apply the KYC everyday, not only for regulatory issues but also for business development.
We really know our customers. We have a privileged access to some of the wealthiest families and investors of the region, who are often unknown or not easily accessible. We have this access and unique network, and we want to capitalise on it. This way, we can add value to these international financial institutions when they want to capture a share in a market that is not simple to understand, and extremely difficult to penetrate,” concluded Ben Grira.