Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) is established as the leading global financial centre in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) region, and its benefits are attracting businesses from further afield. Indeed, 10% of its resident financial services companies are Asian, coming from countries including Brunei Darussalam, China, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and South Korea.

The activity undertaken by these providers is substantial, with 56% of the balance sheet booked in DIFC done so by Asian institutions.

The ideal ecosystem for Chinese businesses

Among the financial organisations that have selected DIFC are four leading Chinese banks: Agricultural Bank of China, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, Bank of China (Dubai) and China Construction Bank Corporation. Memorandums of understanding (MoU) have also been completed with China Banking Association, China Everbright Group, Jiaozi Fintech DreamWorks (Chengdu Financial DreamWorks), Xiao-I Robot and Tian Tai Law Firm.

In addition, SINOSURE became the first Chinese insurer to open a regional office at DIFC. SINOSURE is a state-funded and policy-oriented insurance company that promotes China’s foreign economic, trade development and cooperation on a non-profit basis. In 2020, it supported 147,000 Chinese customers, with a total insured amount of $704bn. Through its DIFC office, SINOSURE will further support China’s Belt & Road Initiative.

“Dubai is the ideal ecosystem for Chinese businesses looking to expand in the region,” said Song Shuguang, chairman of SINOSURE. “We are confident that our presence at DIFC will unlock a vast array of opportunities and drive value for ourselves and our stakeholders.”

Singapore fintech synergies

DIFC’s reputation as a catalyst for innovation was further strengthened by its selection as an exclusive partner for last year’s Singapore FinTech Festival, the largest such event in the world. The partnership included DIFC hosting a half-day global satellite event. DIFC has also taken part in Hong Kong FinTech Week. Arif Amiri, chief executive officer of DIFC Authority, said: “Our participation and partnerships with key fintech hubs globally and regionally further confirm our commitment to accelerating the development of the Centre’s fintech ecosystem, driving innovation across MEASA’s financial services sector and shaping the future of finance.”

DIFC Innovation Hub is home to the largest and most comprehensive innovation ecosystem in the region and paves the way for early-stage start-ups, growth stage start-ups, unicorns and Big Tech companies to accelerate success. In 2021, the Innovation Hub hosted a series of events and initiatives as part of its inaugural Innovation Month. TAIGER, a Singapore start-up that has chosen DIFC as its regional base, took part in the activities, organising a seminar on ‘Unlocking Better Banking with AI’. Another Singapore start-up, Stashaway, hosted an event exploring ‘The Culture of Success’.

Such events reflect how DIFC enables businesses to network and share insights, creating opportunities for other start-ups as well as potential corporate partners.

DIFC access to Islamic economy for Shariah-compliant banks

The decision by Malaysia’s largest Islamic bank to open its first overseas branch in DIFC further cemented the centre’s pivotal role on the world stage. Maybank Islamic is the Shariah-compliant division of Malaysia’s largest lender, Malayan Banking Berhad (Maybank), and moved to DIFC in 2020.

DIFC’s robust legal and regulatory environment, alongside its highly developed and dynamic financial ecosystem, continues to be a catalyst for growth in Islamic banking, offering a platform to reach a Muslim population of more than 600 million people based in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region.

Indian banks choose DIFC

A large number of Indian banks and financial institutions have chosen DIFC, 60% of them opting for a full banking license. Among these is Tata Asset Management Limited (TAML), part of the Tata group, which has revenues of $113bn (2018–19). Having received its license from the Dubai Financial Services Authority (DFSA), TAML formally joined the DIFC community in 2020. Establishing a new regional base at DIFC for Middle East and broader MEA will help TAML strengthen its regional stakeholder engagement and facilitate business growth. MoUs also exist with Gujarat International Finance Tec-City and the Government of Maharashtra.

Driving understanding and growth across the region

In addition to India, China, Singapore and Malaysia, DIFC has resident businesses and very strong ties with many other countries and financial organisations, including an MoU with Bank of Japan, World Alliance and Busan International Finance Center in South Korea.

Financial businesses are choosing DIFC due to its renowned governmental support and ease of doing business, synergies with both corporates and start-ups, and excellent connectivity and access to markets. All sectors are represented, including banking and capital markets, wealth management, insurance and reinsurance.

Dubai is undoubtedly the gateway to the Middle East, Africa, South Asia and beyond, and DIFC appears to be the gate that opens through to it.