Qatar looks for gaps and tries to fill them
The state has been welcoming to western financial institutions reconsidering their Gulf domiciles. But the structure of investment style and regulation in the emirate is a limiting factor on foreign players for now.
When the Arab Spring swept across the region last year, the financial markets’ sense of the region’s safe havens was challenged. Bahrain, which for decades had positioned itself as the hub state of the Gulf, the safe and familiar conduit through which to serve Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, was suddenly in the headlines for unfamiliar and unwelcome reasons.
So attention turned instead to the other states with the infrastructure and regulation to court international business: the Dubai International Financial Centre and, closer to Bahrain, Qatar. Qatar’s population is so small and so rich, without the Sunni/Shiite mix that flared into conflict in Bahrain, that there is surely nowhere in the Middle East less likely to face dissent or unrest. In the early days there were some clear indications that Qatar was gaining a few advantages from what was happening in Manama. Fund Forum, the main asset management conference in the Middle East and a long-standing fixture on the Bahrain business calendar, swiftly shifted its event to Doha – and it has stayed there this year. In conversations around the edges of events like these, foreign bankers and fund managers would ask each other about the logistics of moving their staff from Bahrain to Doha or Dubai, even if the legal incorporation of their businesses remained in Bahrain.