CENTER FOR ALL

Istanbul is gearing up to match its geographic centrality with its growing weight in regional and global finance flows.

In line with the government's goals of becoming one of the world's top-10 largest economies by 2023 is the Istanbul International Financial Center (IIFC) megaproject. This ambitious scheme has the aim of turning Turkey's largest city into a regional—and eventually, global—financial hub. The $2.6 billion project is designed by US-based HOK, a design, architecture, engineering, and planning firm, and is scheduled for completion by 2016. Initial excavation construction work is already being carried out by the Akdeniz Group.

The site of the IIFC extends across 170 acres in the Asian-side neighborhood of Ataşehir, and will eventually house the head offices of the country's financial market governing bodies, state-owned and private banks, and related businesses. Over 4 million sqm is planned for office, residential, retail, conference, hotel, and parking space. Around 11,000 people will be able to live in the IIFC, and the entire project is expected to provide direct employment for roughly 50,000 people. According to HOK, the master plan for the IIFC released in 2013 is a framework “for developing a sustainable financial center in a way that blends human need, environmental stewardship, and economic viability into a new global model of urbanism rooted in Turkish culture."

The IIFC project also includes some significant infrastructure developments, such as a new metro line and station, as well as new infrastructure for sustainable power, water, data, and security.

Although the city has a long way to go before it can truly call itself a financial hub, Istanbul boasts many features that separate it from other potential challenging financial centers. Geographically, it is situated almost perfectly between the time zones of Western Europe and East Asia. Regarding the city's geographic advantage for being a financial center, Vahdettin Ertaş, Chairman of the Capital Markets Board (SPK), commented that, “Between Frankfurt and Singapore, there is not really any city to rival Istanbul." The size of the city and scale of its economy is another important factor regarding its ability to sustain itself as a financial center. Additionally, quality of life in the city is seen as another advantage for attracting the necessary qualified expatriates.

However, proponents of the IIFC are still defending the project from critics who worry that it is nothing more than a fancy real-estate project, and that the IIFC doesn't address some of the real, structural issues holding Istanbul back from becoming a true financial center, such as an adequately qualified workforce specialization in various fields in the finance sector, or an appropriate legal framework to support such a financial center.

Regardless of these issues, the potential for Istanbul to become a financial center remains high, and the government and the relevant institutions are working to address these concerns. A new program to revamp the level of English education at the primary, secondary, and university level is currently being planned. A new Capital Markets Law was enacted in 2013 to align regulations with EU standards, and Borsa İstanbul's technology partnership with NASDAQ is more evidence of the efforts being made to foster a more market-friendly environment. Borsa İstanbul Chairman Ibrahim Turhan remains confident that within five years, Istanbul will “definitely be the center of this region, including Southeastern and Central Europe, and the Middle East and North Africa." Although there is much work left to be done, both structurally and construction-wise, many in Turkey share his confidence and ambition.