As the Chinese prepare the year of the Water Tiger, last seen in 1962, we propose that the pace of change in post-Maoist China resembles what we see in the tea leaves for the UAE in 2022 - The Year of the Camel ? One hump not two.
Susan Levitt ("Taoist Astrology" ) says that the forthcoming Tiger is a year for "getting big or going home". No issue for our Camel. "Bigging Up" the next 50 years for the UAE is one based on confidence and past success not astrology.
For H.H Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and H.H Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, their BIG strategy is based on "Designing the Next 50 Years in the UAE".
Sounding Maoist, "the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step", our purpose is to focus on the immediate steps for 2022. We ignore the fact that 2022 is fashioned out of our "beast of burden" lasting the fifty years. Instead, we focus on themes which herald rapid change.
Driving the pace of change
Decarbonisation is the lowest hanging fruit for change-spotting in the Gulf. From Attenborough to Thunberg we are told that the planet is running out of time.
Current teens will wonder if their future car can be charged from their I-phone.
In an interview with staff of the UAE's Securities and Commodities Authority (SCA), the new generation of Emirati workers are advised by cabinet ministers that they "will be waving good-bye to the last barrel of oil".
Since then, the UAE has launched its "Centennial Plan 2071" which involves a shift in energy strategy towards the sustainable from the unsustainable black stuff.
The target of fortifying the country's reputation as a "soft power" naturally drips into "Projects of the 50" , the employment of Emiratis into the private sector and the encouragement of private enterprise to invest into the UAE for the innovative new world which the Attenborough/Thunberg types say we (being the planet) must have to survive.
To prove that the UAE is up-for-this they plan to set up the first human settlement on Mars in 2117. From these high-level drivers- expect fast-paced change- with financial advice being part of that.
The elephant in the regulatory room
At an Economist event (Expo 2020) entitled Competition and Innovation, I took the liberty of asking H.E Abdulla Bin Touq Al Mari, (Minister of the Economy) for his thoughts on the myriad of regulators governing the same financial consultancy tasks.
To his credit, His Excellency acknowledged the situation as "a problem" and we were encouraged by the suggestion that a solution was being planned for "next year" (2022). Whilst we have no secrets to share on how, we nevertheless stick our neck-out for a prediction that some sort of clarity would unfold during 2022. They won't get to Mars with multiple regulators checking the same thing.
At the same event His Excellency mentioned several areas where nettles were being grasped, memorably that "tax was coming". Probably referring to the OECD deal and the 15% global minimum corporate taxation. We raise the point to demonstrate that the UAE is certainly attuned to listening to the planet in all its forms of communication. "Soft power" depends on it.
SCA Rule Book- Raising the bar in 2022
As regulation evolves, our experience with SCA and the SCA Rule Book leads us to expect a higher level of standard in the realm of "conduct of business". Issues such as transparency are well voiced in guidelines on Client Agreements and the Suitability and Appropriateness Report.
Whether SCA or another body becomes "the one", or one of a reduced number of regulators, what we will predict is that the spirit of the Rule Book (as it relates to conduct of business issues) will remain largely intact for those providing traditional IFA type services.
Those who say "we do it this way in the UK (or wherever)", simply become irrelevant assuming the Rule Book is enforced.
The UAE Labour Law and End of Service Benefits
In 2017-2019 we enjoyed working with FAHR (The Federal Authority for Government Human Resources) then led by H.E Abdulrahman Al Awar. As we know him to be the champion of the expatriate working man, we were intrigued to see him slip across from the public sector to the private sector (MOHRE) Ministry of Human Resources and Emiritisation.
Whilst the working week change was a surprise, it was not a surprise to see Dr. Al Awar at the helm of fast paced change. Building sales teams in Medieval Anglo-Saxon style is challenged by Labour Law changes scheduled for February.
His Excellency's public comments that the Feb changes herald a "reposition of the Labour market as a global market and a key driver of the national economy" is noted.
With the DIFC EOSB mandatory plan already embedded and with Dr. Al Awar's zest for progressive reform, we predict more change coming into the EOSB scene simply because the law already exists for an element of gratuity and any following of DIFC/DFSA precedent is not far-fetched.
Who will get the hump with the Camel?
Notably the SCA Rule Book Section One, General Provisions Article 17 is about "Sanctions". Decision 13 sets out behavioural standards which are defined. Laws which can be broken. Standards can be challenged.
Our final prediction is that the playing field of providing financial advice in the UAE will begin to become fairer. The current UAE environment in which we have a fund manager claiming a 30% annualised return as their usual "form " should be challengeable.
We are expecting the playing field to become clearer and at a fast pace. The need of firms is to be nimble and responsive to reform. The vulnerable slow will be those who continue with indifference to the authorities being above or to the side of the law. Will they get the hump with the progress of our camel in 2022?
By Sean Kelleher, chief executive of Mondial Dubai