Why Abu Dhabi Global Market is in no rush for the limelight

We’re approaching the six-month mark since Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) declared itself “open for business”, and last week’s Global Financial Markets Forum in the capital was a good opportunity to gauge progress at the UAE’s new financial free zone.

The story so far is one of steady, cautious progress, with some notable initiatives, but – as you’d expect from the long-term nature of the ADGM blueprint – no great rush to make instant headlines.

With ADGM an integral part of the capital’s care­fully thought out 2030 strategy towards economic diversification, that is exactly how it should be. Current regional economic volatility makes it even more appropriate.

There was one eye-catching initiative – the plan to make ADGM a regional hub for the fast-growing financial technology industry. Fintech is the coming thing in the world of banking and investment, and it is a shrewd strategic move to give the capital a head start in this multibillion-dollar boom sector. The road map towards fintech domination is being prepared.

There were other items that caught the eye from the presentations by Ahmed Al Sayegh, the ADGM chairman, and Richard Teng, its chief regulator. Two more financial institutions have signed up for ADGM membership, and they tell you quite a lot about its potential appeal as a financial hub.

Aberdeen Asset Management, one of the grand old names of the British investment industry, is setting up shop there.

I grabbed a word with Martin Gilbert, its founder and chief executive, and he explained that the attraction was in being part of a start-up that specialised in Aberdeen’s chosen sector.

“We went to Singapore in 1992 when everybody else was going to Hong Kong, and that’s how I see ADGM now. It’s a significant wealth-generating region and can only get bigger, whatever the current economic climate,” Mr Gilbert told me.

The other ADGM debutant, the Australian investment bank Macquarie Capital with a big reputation in infrastructure finance, was equally convinced of the attrac­tions of ADGM.

“We’ve been in Abu Dhabi since 2005 when we were first mandated to help develop industrial infrastructure in Abu Dhabi,” said Wissam Moukahal, the bank’s Middle East chief executive. “I believe in Abu Dhabi’s ability to deliver on this transformational project.”

Those are impeccable testimonials from two well-regarded players on the global financial scene. Perhaps neither are the “big one” some observers have been expecting to be named as new members of ADGM, meaning a big international “bulge bracket” firm as an anchor tenant on Al Maryah Island.

But those names can wait. The essence of the ADGM strategy is to get the set-up right in the UAE first, to make sure that the various constituent parts of Abu Dhabi Inc are familiar and comfortable with the plan, rather than go for publicity stunts. And also to spread the word internationally.

Just this week, a top-level ADGM team is in New York as part of a roadshow by the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange to talk to big US investors about the new market.

ADGM will do it carefully and methodically. They see this as a marathon, not a sprint.


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