Swiss know-how for Abu Dhabi


Ten years after Dubai and Qatar also Abu Dhabi wants to create an international financial centre. Swiss specialists are involved in the establishment. The Gulf region lures with large private assets.

In the Gulf region locations such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi, both part of the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar and Oman have for years vied for regional supremacy with huge investments in aircraft fleets and airports in aerospace. The leading position in tourism eagerly vied for with the construction of ever newer hotels and shopping centres.

Another competition has flared up in the financial sector. Pioneer here was Dubai where the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) has been built from the ground by a government decree. The facility opened in 2005 and succeeded quickly to overtake the financial centre of Bahrain which until then was favoured in the region by international banks. That same year, the Qatar Financial Centre was established, which is, however, according to industry observers, still lacking the critical size.

Abu Dhabi now wants to establish itself as a further competitor. The Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) started operation at the end of October. To gain financial companies as participants, an international advertising campaign was launched on that day with the promising slogan "What business wants". It was advertised that licensed companies could remain 100% owned by the foreign owner and would enjoy tax exemption. Abu Dhabi is located only about 120 km from Dubai, where already over 1,300 financial companies were able to register on the DIFC, including, according to the operators, 21 of the 25 world's largest banks and 7 of the top 10 insurance groups. Together these companies employ some 18 000 people locally. In contrast, Abu Dhabi will only hold talks with potential members.

The Abu Dhabi government relies, as is common for large-scale projects in the Gulf region, to a large extent on the expertise of international specialists. The British-Swiss dual citizen, Jan Bladen is also included in those persons providing support in establishing the organizational structures. He was Chief Operating Officer of the DIFC from 2005 to 2014. Another Swiss, Thomas Hirschi, has taken over the post of the head of the banks and insurance companies unit with the Supervisory Authority. Hirschi had previously worked for twelve years for the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA).

Hirschi moved with his family from Switzerland to Abu Dhabi. He emphasizes that he had prepared himself for a prolonged activity. The aim was to establish rules for the authorization and supervision of financial activities corresponding to the highest international standards. Everything else would, in his view, mean that Abu Dhabi would be pushed into a marginal position.

A180 000 square meters are available at the ADGM on four office towers. It will be a great challenge to fill this with life. The operators of ADGM which comprises a registration and the Financial Market Authority and a private court, functioning according to the rules of the British Common Law, together currently only have about 100 employees.