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How UAE is gaining trust in the world’s financial system

Experts weigh in on why UAE must continue adopting appropriate controls to fight emerging risks, given its position in the global economic landscape

In February, the international body that oversees the fight against money laundering removed the UAE from its “grey list.” After two years, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) said that the UAE was no longer subject to additional scrutiny, having demonstrated its significantly improved ability to stem financial crime. 

The decision was a victory for the UAE, which has become an increasingly important global trading hub.

Getting out of the grey list is just one step for the one-time regional pearl and fish trading hub which now attracts the globe’s wealthy and is an increasingly popular destination for cryptocurrency firms. 

Dubai’s luxury property is at par with New York and London, while the UAE last year overtook Belgium to become the world’s trading hub for rough diamonds.

Plugging the Gap
For the last two years, to plug its gap, the Gulf state has been fighting emerging risks as a transient economy and as an important economic center of the world.

“The UAE has refined its legislative framework to align with international best practices and standards, introducing innovative legislation to address emerging technologies in the financial sector,” says Ian Johnston, Chief Executive, DFSA. “The recent removal of the UAE from the FATF’ grey list’ reinforces its position as a global financial hub.”

Home to numerous international companies’ headquarters, the country has taken measures to get off the grey list by bolstering its Executive Office of Anti-Money Laundering and Counter Terror Financing to crack down on illicit money and beefing up legislation.

The country introduced an online system for reporting suspicious activity and worked on improving a national registry of companies. Last year, the Central Bank of the UAE established the Ombudsman Unit to cater to consumers of financial institutions for complaints and dispute resolutions.

Regulatory mandates around Recovery Planning, enhancements on Credit Risk Management, and Climate-Related Financial Risks have recently been issued.  

The UAE’s Financial Intelligence Unit pointed to increased compliance activity, proof that the state’s systems are strengthening. Also, recently, the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) enacted the Digital Assets Law, wherein the regulators have intensified enforcement actions to enhance the country’s financial system’s reputation and foster trust in its services. 

The UAE’s removal from the FATF “grey list” will streamline international transactions, reduce processing costs and time, and lower bank charges, adds Johnston. “This positive development will encourage greater confidence among global entities, stimulating trade and investment flows.”

Benefits of Reform
In the Middle East, countries are increasingly competing to develop non-oil sectors such as financial services, trade and logistics, and tourism. Attracting money from abroad is a central part of that effort.

“We are already seeing the benefits of such reforms,” says Hisham Farouk, CEO of Grant Thornton UAE. “International recognition is growing as the UAE implements leading practices across regulatory frameworks, ensuring sustainable support to the vibrant business environment.”

Measures taken by the UAE include increasing financial investigations and prosecutions, boosting international cooperation, and aligning virtual asset regulation with international standards.

In the digital assets sector, the UAE’s standards and frameworks inspire positive transformations globally, says Farouk.

Giving an example of how compliance with international standards and regulations makes the country a more desirable location for priority sectors, Simon Sharp, Partner at Global Ventures, says, “In the UAE, fintech, which thrives in environments with regulatory clarity, is expected to grow from $3.16 billion in 2024 to $5.71 billion by 2029, which will benefit startups, global players, and potential unicorns.” 

“There is also increased activity across industries such as real estate, e-commerce, and technology, bolstered by a strong legislative environment and increased compliance controls,” says Farouk.

Not just in anti-money laundering and digital currencies, in recent years, the UAE has made significant progress in enhancing its regulatory regimes and legal frameworks in data protection and privacy, bankruptcy, and whistleblowing policies. 

“Multinational corporations seeking to establish operations in jurisdictions like the UAE, recognized as compliant by global regulatory bodies, are likely to grow as confidence in the UAE’s stability as an investment destination strengthens,” says Sharp. 

By actively engaging with the regulated community and global regulatory bodies, including IOSCO, IAIS, and the Islamic Finance Services Board, the DFSA has been seeking to facilitate information sharing and enhance cooperation, “reinforcing the DIFC’s status as a prominent player in the global financial landscape,” adds Johnston.

Meanwhile, DFSA has been cracking down on regulatory non-compliance to maintain confidence and stability in the financial services industry in the DIFC. The regulator aims to reduce systemic risk in the sector and prevent, detect, and restrain conduct that causes or may cause damage to the reputation of the financial hub.

The country has shoveled resources into social and business reforms.  

Despite growing competition from Gulf neighbors, in 2022, Dubai attracted an estimated $12.8 billion in FDI capital. Financial centers in Abu Dhabi (ADGM) and DIFC have provided attractive regulatory reform to attract global financial services firms to the region. 

No wonder the DIFC maintained its position as a top destination for FDI for the fifth consecutive year. 

Continue Appropriate Controls
Following a swift economic rebound post-COVID, Dubai is racing to attract people and capital to drive long-term growth. While it’s rebooting the economic model that has focused on property investment, tourism, and foreign capital inflows for decades, going forward, experts say, these legislative and regulatory reforms will set the stage for increased FDI and international engagement.

“Well-mapped legislative frameworks aligned with international standards will incentivize investors to establish their businesses or engage with existing businesses to develop, scale, or expand their regional presence in the UAE,” says Farouk. 

The country is chasing lofty new goals: A 10-year economic plan known as D33 aims to double the economy’s size and make Dubai one of the top four global financial centers in a decade.

However, to achieve that, the UAE must continue adopting appropriate controls to fight emerging risks, given its strategic and geographical location in the global economic landscape, and align with the standards of other global financial hubs. “The UAE must continually assess and adapt to international best practices, particularly amid emerging challenges such as crypto legislation,” says Sharp.

“Continuing to monitor and develop new enforcement mechanisms will demonstrate its commitment to compliance, thereby solidifying its position as a credible financial hub on the global stage,” adds Sharp.

Johnston adds, “Combating emerging risks in financial crime becomes paramount to safeguarding Dubai’s growth trajectory and reputation.”

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