DIFC register companies at the end of 2022 are well past the 4,000 tally, while asset size crossed Dh15 billion. Image Credit: Dubai Media office

Dubai: The DIFC has topped the global rankings among free zones in attracting FDI for a fifth year running, with the number of companies registered annually going past the 1,000 mark for first time in 2022.

Last year ended with 1,084 entities being licensed to operate from Dubai International Finance Centre, while the free zone’s combined revenues shot past Dh1 billion, also for the first time. It was at Dh987 million in 2021.

Total assets held under DIFC was at Dh15.3 billion end 2022. “DIFC’s growth significantly contributes to the goal of the Dubai Economic Agenda D33 to transform Dubai into one of the world’s top three cities for business,” said Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance of the UAE, and President of the DIFC.

“The DIFC’s 2022 results also reflect the growing demand for a supportive ecosystem from global businesses looking to scale into emerging economies with high-growth financial services markets. With financial technology becoming a vital growth catalyst across sectors, the UAE’s ambitious initiatives to drive the future of finance will create immense opportunities and new economic growth not only in our region but also across the globe.”

The free zone features 4,377 companies in 2022. The Centre also recorded its best performance in additional net commercial space leased with 809,000 square feet leased in 2022, compared to 349,000 square feet in 2021.

Hedge funds and more

Recent months have seen the entry of global hedge funds, and there’s also been a lot of buzz generated around the stake sales in Dubai government owned enterprises. (Simultaneously, Dubai’s been making progress on creating an eco-system around virtual assets, but with tough regulatory and licensing requirements in place.)

Total banking assets booked at DIFC were stable at $199 billion. An additional $166 billion of lending was also arranged by DIFC-licensed firms, higher by 54 per cent. DIFC-based portfolio managers invested $164 billion compared to $151 billion in 2021, while VC raised increased to $1.2 billion, up 78 per cent. Gross Written Premiums for the insurance sector hit $2.1 billion, rising from $1.8 billion in 2021.

“Our focus in 2023 will be to accelerate the future economy by building upon our already strong position as a preferred gateway for businesses looking to expand into and grow within the massive Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) market,” said Essa Kazim, Governor of DIFC.

“The UAE's globally recognised management of the pandemic, strategic investment and business-friendly structural reforms, long-term residency schemes, and innovation-friendly regulatory framework have helped draw entrepreneurial talent from every corner of the world.”

The entities that entered DIFC in 2022 include ADIB, Continental Group International, the fintech unicorn Darwinbox, Jefferies, Habib Bank AG Zurich, Sculptor Capital Management HK ltd, United Bank of Africa Group and Volante.

“In line with our vision to drive the future of finance, DIFC's comprehensive fintech and innovation proposition has created unparalleled opportunities and success for start-ups, global players and unicorns,” said Arif Amiri, CEO of DIFC Authority. “Our client growth continues to be strong across all sectors.

“However, we continue to be excited by the high numbers of financial firms and fintech and innovation clients who are using DIFC as a platform to grow faster than the market.”