DIFC records highest number of annual registrations since inception in 2020

Maktoum bin Mohammed: "HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid's far-reaching vision for progress has not only made Dubai deeply resilient to challenges but also enabled it to maintain its sustainable development trajectory in a tough global environment."

DIFC records highest number of annual registrations since inception in 2020

“DIFC’s best ever annual performance in its history reflects Dubai’s unyielding focus on diversification, innovation and value addition”

“DIFC’s remarkable growth further raises Dubai’s status as a major focal point for global finance and a growth multiplier for the industry

  • Total number of active companies in MEASA's leading financial centre increases 20 per cent to 2,919 in 2020 with growth across all business sectors in DIFC
  • DIFC playing a significant role in delivering Dubai's vision to drive the future of finance with its FinTech and Innovation firms more than doubling to 303
  • 735 new companies registered in 2020, an increase of 50per centfrom previous year, affirming Dubai’s resilience amidst the global pandemic
  • Workforce in DIFC community rises 4per cent to 26,773, adding to Dubai's reputation as the region's leading hub for financial industry talent
  • DIFC FinTech Hive start-ups raise over AED1 billion (US$298.8 million)to accelerate growth
  • Key laws enacted and updated, reinforcing the Centre's reputation for world-class regulatory and legislative framework 
  • Market size of DIFC-based activities grows to AED876 trillion (US$784 billion), an increase of 12 per cent from the previous year 

Government of Dubai Media Office – 09 March 2021: Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), the leading international financial hub in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) region today reported the best performance in its 16-year history. 

Delivered under the leadership of His Highness Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai and President of DIFC, these achievements contribute to all pillars of Dubai's 2021 strategy, including raising the emirate’s status as a pivotal global economic hub and a smart and a sustainable city.

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. This represents substantial progress on DIFC’s 2024 vision and strategy to drive the future of finance. The wide range of new clients further contributes to the breadth and depth of DIFC, underscoring the solid foundations that the Centre has been built on. Business sectors across DIFC achieved exponential growth, including banking, capital markets, wealth and asset management, FinTech and professional services.

His Highness Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum said: “DIFC’s exceptional accomplishments in 2020 demonstrate the strength of the economic foundations created by Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. His Highness’s far-reaching vision for progress has not only made Dubai deeply resilient to challenges but also enabled it to maintain its sustainable development trajectory in a tough global environment. DIFC’s best ever annual performance in its history, achieved in the country’s 50th anniversary year, also reflect the UAE’s and Dubai’s ability to partner with its business communities to facilitate continued growth despite the most challenging conditions we have seen in the international economy.”

“Furthermore, the expansion across the Centre’s business sectors validates Dubai’s unyielding focus on diversification, innovation and value addition and its deep commitment to providing a supportive environment for businesses across the spectrum – from the world’s largest financial institutions to local entrepreneurs. The remarkable growth in 2020 enhances the diversity and sophistication of DIFC’s financial ecosystem, further raising Dubai’s status as a major focal point for global finance and a growth multiplier for the industry,” Sheikh Maktoum added.

His Highness thanked the DIFC team for their extraordinary efforts that made these outstanding results possible.

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. 

His Excellency Essa Kazim, Governor of DIFC, commented: “Since DIFC launched in 2004, we have demonstrated our ability to sustainably diversify Dubai's economy and contribute across all parts of its 2021 plan. During 2020, we have delivered exceptional growth across all business sectors, which reflects the confidence the global finance industry holds in DIFC. During 2021 we will continue to demonstrate resilience following the COVID-19 pandemic, are well-positioned to make further progress on our key 2024 priorities and will contribute further to Dubai's long term economic growth.” 

Arif Amiri, Chief Executive Officer of DIFC Authority, said: “DIFC has demonstrated that being focused on client needs and developing new propositions, laws and regulations delivers outstanding results. We have collaborated with our clients, community, partners and stakeholders to navigate challenging market conditions and help them take advantage of new growth opportunities in 2021. DIFC’s commitment to driving the future of finance has delivered tremendous growth in the FinTech and Innovation sector. This is an area where we will continue to lead the way in the region given the industry is accelerating its implementation of technologies, recognising strategies and operating models need to change in a post pandemic world.” 

Future of Finance hub

In 2020, DIFC introduced initiatives to support 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 which is more than 50 per cent of those operating in the GCC. This has increased substantially following the introduction of tailored licensing solutions.

In the last year, DIFC became a major part of the Dubai Future District 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 launched in 2020 was the DIFC Innovation Hub, the region's only comprehensive technology ecosystem, providing education, training and both incubator and accelerator programmes. Firms in the DIFC Innovation Hub enjoy mentoring, networking and access to VC funding, including the DIFC FinTech Fund.  

Six businesses received funding from the DIFC FinTech Fund including Rain, Beehive, FlexxPay, Go Rise, NOW Money and Sarwa, which enabled them to demonstrate unique solutions and generate revenue. 

Start-ups aspiring to be just as successful as those who received funding joined the fourth cohort of DIFC FinTech Hive's accelerator programme. A record 720+ applications were whittled down to 17, covering Islamic FinTech, and broader FinTech. As many as 111 start-ups have been part of the programme since 2017. To meet demand, the DIFC FinTech Hive tripled in scale during 2020 to capitalise on exponential sector growth. FinTech firms based in DIFC FinTech Hive have now raised more than AED 1.1 billion (USD 298.8 million)to accelerate regional growth. 

Industry development

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 provided further protection to property owners and tenants, aligning the Centre's legal and regulatory framework with best practice and international 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.  

In addition, DIFC issued an amendment to the Common Reporting Standard Law in August 2020, elevating reporting standards across firms based in the Centre.

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. 

To support regulated firms based in DIFC, the DFSA adapted its approach as the COVID-19 pandemic evolved. They provided a comprehensive set of regulatory relief measures and held several outreach sessions with key stakeholders. The DFSA provided support relating to operational risk, business continuity and cyber and financial crime risks, given that these may have been exacerbated during the pandemic.

The DFSA introduced the region’s first fully comprehensive Money Services regime and a bespoke regime for Venture Capital firms, both of which will facilitate the further development of the Centre.

DIFC clients benefited from the independent courts in the Centre, as did a number of firms who operate in other locations given their credibility and proven track record. In 2020, the volume of cases in the DIFC Court's main Court of First Instance (CFI) grew significantly. Cases brought before the CFI covered a range of sectors, including banking and finance, construction, and real estate, involving disputes related to breach of contract, insolvency, arbitration agreements, employment and public international law. There was also a noticeable increase in the number of opt-in cases, with 50 per cent of claims in the CFI originating from parties electing to use the DIFC Courts to resolve their disputes. 

In 2020, the DIFC Courts also established its Arbitration Division, mandated to accommodate the rapidly increasing number of arbitration-related cases. Streamlining the arbitration-related cases under the new division has also led to increased efficiency of the process and speedy review of applications for interim measures and injunctive relief mechanisms. In a testament to the efficiency of the new division, the number of arbitration-related cases increased by almost 50 per cent in 2020. This rise was also accompanied by a surge of over 200 per cent in the number of Technology & Construction Division (TCD) cases filed.

DIFC also introduced the DIFC Master Health Insurance Scheme, which facilitates the purchase of cost-effective health insurance for registered companies operating from the DIFC.  

New partnerships were agreed on to accelerate innovation, cohesively build Dubai's reputation as a leading business destination and reaffirm the Emirate as the preferred choice for foreign direct investment in the region. Notable agreements included Jiaozi Dreamworks (Dubai-Chengdu FinTech Memorandum of Understanding) and Endeavor. Following the commencement of economic engagement between Israel and the UAE, DIFC was among the first to establish relationships with the Israeli market, with agreements with Bank Hapoalim and FinTech-Aviv.  

The importance of human capital

Throughout 2020, the Centre continued to attract and retain the best financial talent. The workforce increased by over 4 per cent year on year, an impressive achievement amidst the global pandemic. A total of 1,135 new jobs were created by clients, taking the total to 26,773, representing 145 different nationalities.

Following the DIFC Employee Workplace Savings Plan (DEWS) roll-out in February 2020, which replaced the end of service gratuity scheme, 19,182 DIFC employees from 1,187 employers have been enrolled in the scheme enabling individuals to plan their financial future. A partnership between the DIFC Academy and Kharon was signed to increase understanding and expertise in Financial Crime Compliance.

DIFC also signed new partnerships with professional development entities, including the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment (CISI), and the International Compliance Association (ICA). DIFC now has agreements with 30 leading educational institutions and government entities.  

An infrastructure that supports the future of work 

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 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. 

Gate Avenue at DIFC was awarded the prestigious LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold accreditation from the US Green Building Council and Green Building Certification Inc. This reflects DIFC's continued commitment to enhancing sustainability and developing a world-class physical infrastructure.

Dubai's leading lifestyle destination

DIFC 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. The Centre is also attracting global and local visitors by virtue of its dynamic art and cultural scene, three five-star hotels and eight art galleries. 

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.

DIFC's Grand Mosque opened in October 2020, completing the buildings' sequence on Gate Avenue's promenade. Designed by leading architectural firm RMJM, the mosque accommodates up to 500 worshippers. The design incorporates tradition by reinterpreting the essence of a traditional mosque design with a contemporary style.

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.


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© Press Release 2021

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