Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), the leading international financial hub in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) region, continued to drive the future of finance during the first half of 2020. The Centre made progress on its 2024 strategic priorities and achieved a record number of registrations in the first six months of 2020. These achievements paralleled efforts to help clients emerge stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic, contributing to local, regional and global economies.
Finance and related innovation industries continued to show their confidence in Dubai as MEASA’s leading financial and FinTech centre of choice. A total of 310 new companies were registered in the first six months of the year, representing an impressive 25% increase from the same period in 2019. This took the total number of active registered companies in the DIFC to 2,584, a significant achievement in light of the global pandemic. The Centre achieved continual growth throughout H1 2020, with an average monthly registration of 52 companies and two record breaking months with 66 company registrations in March 2020 and 88 in June 2020 respectively. DIFC is now home to 820 financial related firms, a 22 percent increase year-on-year and 11% increase on FY2019.
Representing DIFC’s focus on innovation and technology, FinTech organisations continued to be a significant area of growth. 87 FinTech firms joined the Centre’s already impressive technology and innovation ecosystem, boosting the number of licensed FinTech firms by 74% from H1 2019.
Notable new financial services firms include TATA Asset Management, Samba Financial Group, Gazprombank, Funding Souq, Brookfield Private Capital (upgrade) and Decimal Factor Middle East, whilst new FinTechs include Ripple and KoFax Me Ltd.
DIFC also launched a comprehensive stimulus package during the COVID-19 period aligned with Dubai Government’s economic stimulus programme.
His Highness Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai and President of the DIFC, said: “The Dubai International Financial Centre’s ability to maintain a high momentum of growth despite the global repercussions of the pandemic reflects the Centre’s strong fundamentals and its high levels of preparedness to navigate unforeseen crises, supported by Dubai’s broader economic stability, adaptability and spirit of resilience. DIFC’s sustained expansion also proves its ability to offer partners constructive solutions to deal with uncertain circumstances as well as its robust governance, regulatory framework and infrastructure. Furthermore, the strong results demonstrate the trust that stakeholders and partners have in Dubai and DIFC even amidst unfavourable global economic conditions.”
Essa Kazim, Governor of DIFC commented: “The sustained growth delivered during the first half of 2020 is testament to the resilience of the Centre. The performance demonstrates the confidence the industry has in DIFC. As we enter a new period of digital transformation and operate within a ‘new normal’, we will continue to play a key role in contributing to the economy. DIFC will continue to demonstrate our forward-thinking approach to ensure we shape the future of finance, whilst attracting the world’s leading firms, inspirational startups and the best talent.”
Arif Amiri, Chief Executive Officer of DIFC Authority said: “During the first six months of 2020, the Centre continued to report progress on its 2024 targets. DIFC remained focused on accelerating its reputation as a leading global financial centre and one of the world’s foremost FinTech and innovation hubs. During H1 2020, DIFC delivered a series of record-breaking months for registrations. This was achieved whilst we supported our clients during the global challenges of COVID-19. We would like to thank them for the trust they have in Dubai and DIFC.”
The first half of 2020 saw DIFC FinTech Hive triple in size with the opening of a larger space in Gate Avenue supporting start-ups, scale-ups and entrepreneurs. The expanded space further boosts DIFC’s dynamic ecosystem, providing businesses with access to funding as well as mentorship, knowledge-sharing and collaboration with leading global financial institutions.
The growth in the FinTech sector has enhanced the Centre’s reputation as one of the world’s most advanced financial centres and reinforces Dubai’s position as a top international Financial Innovation Lab, as listed by Global Finance.
The Centre achieved a record number of applications to the fourth cohort of the award-winning FinTech Hive accelerator programme. The 2020 cohort received more than 600 applications, an increase of 46% year-on-year. These applications were from start-ups operating in the RegTech, Islamic FinTech, InsurTech and broader FinTech sectors.
In addition, 10 start-ups were selected to join Startupbootcamp FinTech Dubai’s second cohort in 2020, whilst 16 applicants were accepted to join the Innovation Testing License scheme.
Three re-occurring programmes now take place within the Centre, supporting startups at various stages of their journey. These include the original DIFC FinTech Accelerator programme, FinTech Hive Scale Up and Startupbootcamp scheme.
DIFC continued to advance its comprehensive start up proposition by investing in four FinTech companies. The investments were made as part of the USD 100 million DIFC FinTech Fund launched in 2019 to help start-up and growth stage FinTech companies scale up. The four companies, FlexxPay, Go Rise, NOW Money and Sarwa focus on payments and robo-advisory.
In January 2020, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, enacted the new Leasing Law providing further protection to property owners and tenants. The Law introduces a number of ground-breaking improvements, such as a tenancy deposit scheme for residential leases, coupled with the establishment of a Lease Tribunal, as part of the Small Claims Tribunal at the DIFC Courts, for quick and low cost resolution of related disputes, as well as further aligning the Centre’s legal and regulatory framework with best practice and international standards.
In June 2020, in his capacity as the Ruler of Dubai His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, enacted the DIFC Data Protection Law No. 5 of 2020. The new law came into effect on 1 July 2020. It develops the current DIFC Data Protection regime in line with the principles of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which is a first for the region and adds to the DIFC’s reputation as the most advanced data protection, privacy and cyber-security regime in the region.
The Board of Directors of the DIFC Authority also issued new Data Protection Regulations, which alongside the updated Data Protection Law, set out expectations for Controllers and Processors in the Centre regarding several key privacy and security principles. These were also augmented by detailed guidance issued by the DIFC Commissioner of Data Protection to ensure a seamless introduction of the new law and regulations, also reflecting the DIFC’s commitment to addressing the current and future needs of an enabled business ecosystem where data security is key.
In February 2020, DIFC rolled out the new DIFC Employee Workplace Savings Plan (DEWS). This scheme enables employees working in DIFC to plan and secure their financial future with ease. DEWS is a progressive end-of-service benefits plan replacing the end of service gratuity scheme into a funded and professionally managed, defined contribution savings plan. By the end of June 2020, 93% of DIFC based employees were registered under the Plan. The assets under management for the DEWS Plan surpassed US$ 52 million in its first three months of operation.
DIFC has entered into a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with EC3 Brokers Limited to lead a public tendering process to select suitable service providers for a DIFC Master Health Insurance Scheme aimed at providing firms in the DIFC the option to benefit from group rates, as opposed to each being risk-rated and priced individually on a firm-by-firm basis. It is intended to facilitate the purchase of cost-effective health insurance for registered companies operating from the DIFC.
Aligned with Dubai Government’s economic stimulus programme, DIFC introduce a series of fiscal easing initiatives between 1 April and 30 June 2020. The programme was implemented to ensure business continuity, help protect the financial services industry and all businesses operating in the Centre. Five initiatives including waiver of annual licensing fees on new registrations, a discount on renewal fees for existing licenses, deferred payments for all properties owned by DIFC Investments, a reduction on property transfer fees in the DIFC and the facilitation of free movement of labour in and out of the Centre between other free zones.
DIFC also announced rent-free support for retailers based at DIFC-owned assets including Gate Avenue, Gate Village and Gate District, reflecting DIFC’s continued efforts to limit the impact of the global pandemic on its tenants and entire business community.
During April 2020, a new Presidential Directive was announced, providing greater flexibility to DIFC based employers and increased protection to employees. This enabled companies based in DIFC to introduce emergency employment-related measures during the COVID-19 environment, without the consent of employees. The move was aimed at providing flexibility for employers, whilst also protecting employees’ jobs and facilitating the rehiring of those made redundant.
DIFC continued to forge closer relationships with international and global institutions to provide academic and professional development. Professional development entities with whom new partnerships were established include the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment (CISI), the leading professional body for securities, investment, wealth and financial planning professionals and the International Compliance Association (ICA), the leading professional body for the global regulatory and financial crime compliance community. DIFC now has agreements with 27 leading educational institutions and government entities.
DIFC continues to be a leading lifestyle destination, where business, arts, culture and lifestyle connect. As a global financial centre, DIFC is home to a vibrant business and leisure community and boasts world-renowned retail and dining venues, a dynamic art and culture scene, residential apartments, three five-star hotels and seven art galleries. During the first half, DIFC welcomed fine dining restaurants and gourmet concepts including Cé La Vi, Hutong and Shanghai Me. A new urban dining destination called South Market launched in DIFC, houses 15 kitchens serving dishes from around the world.
DIFC also worked with galleries located within the Centre to provide virtual tours, bringing art to people’s homes during the pandemic.