What are the main pillars of the DIFC's strategy to be among the top-10 financial centers globally?
The ultimate aim of the DIFC 2024 growth strategy is to move from being just a financial center to a financial hub. To become a financial hub you need to have scale and we want to triple the size of the district by increasing the number of institutions within the DIFC. In 2015 we had over 400 institutions within the DIFC, and our aim is about 1,000 by 2024. At the end of 2015 there were just under 20,000 people living and working out of the DIFC. Our goal is to have around 50,000 individuals by 2024. We have to provide the infrastructure and the capacity to absorb the target population and will introduce about 5.5 million sqft of gross leasable area within the next 10 years. This means new developments will come into play. In 2015 we had 309 new establishments operating out of the DIFC, and we saw many entities upgrade their licenses in the DIFC. That increase was about six-fold over 2014, which means an increase in balance sheet size and in assets under management. The financial center operates as a fully fledged financial center, not just as a simple real estate play. We also need to focus on new markets for growth. Many world-renowned brand names already operate out of the DIFC. Most of these come from the western hemisphere, and they continue to grow their businesses with us. However, we also recognize there is a great deal of interest from the wider region as well as from the East.
What is the DIFC doing to promote the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative?
The DIFC is in a good position to facilitate the OBOR initiative. Our infrastructure is in place and the rules and regulations being practiced out of the DIFC are common law jurisdiction. We also have the best regulator and an ease of doing business with a one-stop shop approach. All these allow the DIFC to cater to the growth and strategic ambitions of China in the region and beyond. Today many Chinese financial institutions use the DIFC as a hub for the region. It is the gateway for their operations in the GCC and Africa, as well as in Europe for some institutions.
How would you evaluate the DIFC's financial position?
We are in one of the best financial positions we have ever been. The issuance of our $700 million sukuk in 2014 is a great testament to the reliability and strength of the financial position of the DIFC. It also highlights our continued commitment to having Dubai as the Islamic finance hub for the globe. The issuance of sukuks is in line with that.
What impact can financial technology have on Islamic finance, and what is the DIFC doing to promote its use?
Financial technology will have a significant impact across the sector, whether in conventional or Islamic banking. When it comes to Islamic banking in particular, technology will allow simplicity with the flow of funds and in the ease of doing contracts and business. It eliminates many barriers and allows room for innovation and the ability to facilitate flows in a more systematic manner. When it comes to the DIFC and the Islamic finance proposition, the infrastructure is already in place. Our regulations are best in class when it comes to the standards required, and they support the establishment of financial institutions under sharia law. Therefore, the jurisdiction is set up for us to be able to service that need.
What are your prospects for 2016?
Our ambition is to have as strong a year as we had in 2015. Looking at the first few months of 2016 we are in a very good position. We should be able to replicate, if not improve, our fantastic performance in 2015.