PricewaterhouseCoopers is planning to increase its numbers by two-thirds in Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) to take advantage of opportunities created by the region’s government-driven economic transformations.
PwC, one of the world’s largest professional services firm, moved its personnel into two floors of the Al Khatem tower at the capital’s financial free zone last week, becoming the tower’s first tenant. Together with staff already in the square’s Al Sila tower from Strategy&, the Booz & Co division acquired by PwC two years ago, PwC currently has 300 people in Abu Dhabi’s nascent financial centre.
“We want to build that up to 500 very quickly,” said Hani Ashkar, head of Middle East for PwC.
The firm’s international chairman, Robert Moritz, said the move and expansion plan is “very much a vote of confidence” in the prospects for ADGM to establish itself as a financial centre in the region, as it tries to foster a move away from a heavy reliance on oil revenue and public sector employment.
There is considerable competition in the region, with the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) already well established, the Qatar Financial Centre in Doha and King Abdullah Financial District in Riyadh vying for a toehold.
Initially, PwC considers ADGM as a spoke to DIFC’s hub, with the latter the springboard to business in the region and, Mr. Moritz notes, easy access to big emerging markets, especially India.
For its ADGM presence, “we see a lot of local opportunities”, said Mr. Ashkar, starting with the monumental tasks the government faces to add more infrastructure.
“The government is going through a transformation, so with various ministries we’re engaged in helping them think through their issues, their challenges,” he said, with the introduction of value added tax one of the most important.
“It is unprecedented, six GCC countries introducing VAT at same time and the UAE is a leader in that. We’re helping the government think about that. They have to build an administration, put systems in place, train their people to go out and implement this and enforce it and all of our [private sector] clients have to think about the implications, too,” he said.
Among the other changes expected to help underpin ADGM is transformation of the big family-owned business groups that have dominated the UAE’s non-public sector growth for two generations.
“They have portfolios, they’ve grown up over the years and in a world that is changing they need to think about whether those companies are relevant, whether they need to transform them, synergise them, go public,” said Mr Ashkar.
Although Abu Dhabi is competing with local and regional financial centres, it still has an advantage, Mr Ashkar said.
“The tried and true recipe is you find a piece of real estate, put in English common law, allow 100 per cent foreign ownership, make it tax-free and make it easier for people to get visas and to live here. That is already in place here, but I think to really gain the traction you need an ecosystem,” said Mr Askhar.
“You need to have schools, health care, they need to be able to get to places easily, so you need (a) proper airline – we probably have that one covered. Also there is a lifestyle point, so you need to have the leisure activities, the beach activities, fun activities, the night life. Once you have that whole ecosystem in place then you can start thinking about whether it is going to succeed and gain the traction.”
“If you are to go and live in Riyadh it doesn’t tick the lifestyle box for most western expats,” said Mr. Ashkar, who lived in Saudi Arabia for many years. “You could argue that that is going to take a lot of effort to gain traction, whereas in this location many of those boxes are ticked. So it has a good chance, particularly if Abu Dhabi Inc can catalyse it and get some of the big players instituted here, which they are doing.”
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