DUBAI: The Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) investment hub reported its best-ever year for new company registrations in 2018 on the back of strong interest from Asian firms and fintech (financial technology) companies.
Some 437 companies set up in the center last year, a 39 percent increase and the highest number in its 15-year history, with the growth in new registrations split equally between financial and non-financial firms, both 15 percent up on the year.
Essa Kazim, DIFC governor, said the result represented a significant step toward its 10-year strategy of tripling in size — in terms of the number of firms, employees and assets under management — by 2024.
“Over the last 15 years, we have achieved the scale, flexibility and sophistication of the world’s most advanced financial ecosystems, bolstered by the Dubai Financial Services Authority, our internationally recognized regulator, and the Dispute Resolution Authority, our platform for delivering legal excellence in the Middle East,” he said.
He also unveiled strong financial figures for the year, with an 11 percent rise in net profits to $88 million, and a 3 percent increase in the value of investment properties, at $3.03 billion.
Some 23,604 people worked in the DIFC at the end of 2018, a 6 percent rise over the year, in 4.15 million square feet of leased space.
Of the new companies, 64 percent came from the Middle East, Africa and South Asia regions. A large number of them are fintech firms, taking advantage of the DIFC’s new regime for financial technology.
Arif Amiri, DIFC chief executive, said: “We have seen increased momentum across all our key sectors, and particularly in fintech, wealth management and aviation financing, all benefiting from the evolving legal and regulatory environment we offer. The new partnerships we have forged around the world, and the existing relationships we have strengthened, ensure the transfer of knowledge and continuous development of human capital in the region, which remains a priority for us in the year ahead.”
Overall, the geographic representation at DIFC remained broadly consistent year-on-year, with a majority of member firms from outside Europe and the US.
Around 36 percent originate from the Middle East, 33 percent from Europe, 11 percent from Asia, 10 percent from the US and 10 percent from other countries.
Despite the greater presence of non-Western firms, the DIFC last year managed to pull in two major US investment names: Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance and State Street Global Advisers.
Kazim also gave further details of the expansion program under the DIFC 2.0 plan, which aims to again triple the size of DIFC by 2030. The total cost of the project had not yet been evaluated, he said, but some of it could be met from DIFC’s own resources.
Two other projects, the Exchange Building and Gate Avenue, were funded from DIFC’s cash flow, but DIFC 2.0 was another level of funding, Amiri explained.
The collapse of the Abraaj business last year led to speculation that DIFC business would suffer as a result.
But Kazim said: “I do not see any sign of the center being impacted as a result of Abraaj.”
He added that weakness in Dubai equity markets and property would not distract DIFC from its long-term strategy, and were part of the normal business cycle.
The DIFC has been rising consistently in the annual rankings of global financial centers, reaching 15th in the Global Financial Centers Index last year.