Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), the leading international financial hub in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) region reported the best performance in its 16-year history.
Reaffirming Dubai’s growing reputation across the global finance industry, the number of new firms operating in DIFC grew 20 per cent, taking the total to 2,919. A total of 915 financial companies are now active in DIFC, up 24 per cent from 735 in 2019. The number of businesses in the FinTech and Innovation ecosystem more than doubled with 189 joining in 2020, taking the total to 303. Business sectors across DIFC achieved exponential growth, including banking, capital markets, wealth and asset management, FinTech and professional services.
Notable financial services firms opening headquarters and regional offices in DIFC in 2020 included TATA Asset Management, Samba Financial Group, Caixabank and AfricaRe. FinTechs included global and regional names such as Ebury, Ripple, Adyen, KoFax Me and Tabby.
In 2020, total banking assets booked in DIFC increased 6 per cent to US$189 billion. An additional US$64 billion of lending was also arranged by DIFC firms. DIFC based Wealth and Asset Management portfolio managers invested US$203.5 billion, up by 106 per cent, from US$99 billion in 2019, with the industry now worth US$528.5 billion. Gross Written Premiums for the insurance sector reached US$1.7 billion. DIFC's operating profit was US$125 million, broadly consistent with the prior year despite global economic headwinds.
Future of Finance hub
DIFC introduced initiatives during 2020, which have supported exponential growth and will contribute towards the Centre's vision to drive the future of finance. The number of FinTech and Innovation firms in DIFC almost doubled in 2020 and has tripled in the last two years. The Centre is now home to 303 businesses in this sector which is more than 50 per cent of those operating in the GCC.
In 2020, DIFC became a major part of the Dubai Future District, which was announced by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. A major initiative in 2020 was the DIFC Innovation Hub, the region's only comprehensive technology ecosystem, providing education, training and both incubator and accelerator programmes. Six businesses received funding from the DIFC FinTech Fund including Rain, Beehive, FlexxPay, Go Rise, NOW Money and Sarwa.
Start-ups aspiring to be just as successful as those who received funding joined the fourth cohort of DIFC FinTech Hive's accelerator programme. FinTech firms based in DIFC FinTech Hive have now raised more than AED 1.1 billion (USD 298.8 million) to accelerate regional growth.
DIFC introduced and updated laws and regulations to reflect global best practices and distinguish itself as the leading financial centre in the MEASA region. 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 and the new Data Protection Law in January and June 2020, respectively.
The new Leasing Law provides further protection to property owners and tenants, aligning the Centre's legal and regulatory framework with global best practices and standards. The new Data Protection Law brought the previous DIFC Data Protection regime in line with the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) principles, a first for the region, reflecting the DIFC's commitment to data security, information protection and cyber resilience.
A temporary directive was also put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic to support employees and employers based in the Centre. This was accompanied by a range of stimulus measures that allowed clients to emerge stronger from the situation.
Throughout 2020, the Centre continued to attract and retain the best financial talent. The workforce increased by over 4 per cent year on year. A total of 1,135 new jobs were created by clients, taking the total to 26,773, representing 145 different nationalities.
DIFC continues to be the most sought-after business address in Dubai with over 94 per cent of its commercial office space leased. In 2020, over 200,000 sq. ft of additional commercial space was leased. New flexible and innovative work environments were introduced, reflecting the future of work in a post-pandemic world. This includes the DIFC Innovation Hub.
Leading lifestyle destination
The Centre continues to be a magnet for some of the world’s finest restaurants, leading fashion boutiques, home-grown brands and galleries. DIFC, encompassing Gate District and Gate Village, raised its profile as a vibrant business and leisure community, with its retail and dining venues growing to 351. This includes 90 new retailers that joined in 2020.
In 2020, DIFC welcomed more than 20 fine dining restaurants and gourmet concepts, including Clap Restaurant, L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Cé La Vi, Hutong and The Arts Club, the first international outpost of the renowned private members establishment established in London. DIFC also launched a new urban dining destination, the ‘South Market’ in Gate Avenue.
In November 2020, DIFC Art Nights returned for the 10th year, offering lifestyle, arts and culture enthusiasts the opportunity to discover eclectic art pieces from established and emerging artists.