The Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) has achieved its best annual performance in history in 2021. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Dubai: Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) region’s leading global financial centre has reported its best annual performance to date.

DIFC further reinforced its global profile with a year of strong growth against the backdrop of the worldwide pandemic.

“DIFC’s best ever annual performance reflects Dubai’s position at the forefront of global recovery in the financial sector and the broader economy,” said Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Finance and President of the Dubai International Financial Centre.

“DIFC’s exceptional results are also a testament to the trust that local, regional and global businesses have placed in the Centre as a financial industry hub that promotes growth and business enterprise.”

Ahead of targets

The Centre achieved its 2024 Strategy growth targets three years ahead of schedule during the first half of 2021. DIFC recorded 996 company registrations last year, the highest ever recorded in a single year for the Centre, a 36 per cent increase from 2020. The growth in company numbers is more than triple the average number across the last decade. The total number of active registered firms operating in DIFC increased by 25 per cent to 3,644 entities from 2,919 in 2020. A total of 1,124 financial and innovation related entities are now active and operating within DIFC, increasing by 23 per cent, versus 915 in 2020.

“Dubai’s economy rebounded more quickly than many global economies following the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. DIFC has helped drive this new phase of growth and we are proud to be a significant contributor to Dubai’s GDP. Our focus in 2022 will be on driving the future economy by attracting more financial sector investment into the UAE,” said Essa Kazim, Governor of DIFC.

In 2021, DIFC also recorded its highest ever annual revenue and operating profit. Revenue increased by 16 per cent to Dh897 million year-on-year versus AED774 million in 2020, and up by 7 per cent from AED838 million in 2019 (pre-pandemic levels). The increase in revenue and cost control measures resulted in an increase in operating profit. Operating profit for 2021 reached Dh573 million, an increase of 26 per cent versus AED457 million in 2020 and up by 13 per cent compared to AED510 million in 2019. For the first time, total assets crossed Dh14.80 billion ($4 billion), which reflects the strong financial position of DIFC.

DIFC continued to benefit from strong appetite for its A-class, centrally located premises. In the past year, an additional 350,000 sq. ft. of commercial space was leased across DIFC versus 201,900 sq. ft. in 2020, up by 73 per cent.

Surge in financial assets

Total banking assets booked in DIFC increased to $198.5 billion from $189.4 billion in 2020, up by 5 per cent. This represents about 20 per cent of consolidated UAE financial sector banking assets. An additional $108.1 billion of lending was also arranged by DIFC firms, up from $64 billion in 2020, an increase of 69 per cent.

DIFC based Wealth and Asset Management portfolio managers invested $151.4 billion in 2021 compared to $145.6 billion in 2020, up by 4 per cent. Gross Written Premiums for the insurance sector reached USD 1.8 billion, rising from $1.7 billion in 2020, an increase of 8 per cent.

The Centre’s ability to continue building a thriving financial community amidst a rapidly changing international environment demonstrates the far-reaching vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, which has enabled the emirate to create a strong economy fuelled by innovation.”

Amongst its 3,644 entities, DIFC is home to 17 of the world’s top 20 banks, 25 of the world’s top 30 global systemically important banks, five of the top 10 insurance companies, five of the top 10 asset managers and many leading global law and consulting firms.

Significant growth has been achieved across business sectors, including banking, capital markets, wealth and asset management and professional services. Exponential numbers of new clients came from the FinTech and Innovation sectors. In 2021, these increased to 503 from 303 in 2020.

“DIFC had an exceptional 2021 and delivered its 2024 Strategy growth targets three years ahead of schedule. The performance was impressive for any financial centre against the current global macroeconomic environment,” said Arif Amiri, Chief Executive Officer of DIFC Authority.