UAE/UK debate: Partnership and trust take on the trade challenge
The UK and UAE sailed past their original bilateral trade target two years ahead of schedule and have now set the bar even higher – to hit £25 billion a year by 2020. Banks and advisory firms, along with government-sponsored bodies and trade fairs are encouraging small and medium sized enterprises to lead the way. Euromoney gathered representatives from several of these organizations to discuss the future of this burgeoning market
• The UK and UAE want £25 billion of bilateral trade by 2020
• SMEs hold the key and there is plenty of support for them
• Building relationships is vital
• UK firms enjoy an in-built level of trust in the region
• Banks and advisory firms strengthen ties with local partners
• Local banks want to demystify their market for outsiders
Chris Wright, Euromoney In 2009, the governments of the UK and the UAE set an ambitious target of £12 billion, or Dh70 billion, of bilateral trade by 2015. They didn’t just meet that target, they beat it by two years, achieving it in 2013. Let’s set the scene with the patterns we see in trade flows between the UK and the UAE, and how they might develop.
Going into the UAE is not necessarily something for the novice small business. The advice our trade advisers would give is that there should be a level of experience: a well-seasoned business that has enough capability, access to finance and is very clear about the opportunities to pursue in a market before going in-country. They need to consider having some kind of representation, and spending time understanding the culture, market and any language barriers (English is the business language in the UAE). Although the UAE, particularly Dubai, is very liberal, other parts of the region can be more conservative. Contracts tend to be robust, but being clear about the partnerships you are signing up to is an important part of being successful.
Euromoney Karen, what’s your perspective?
KW, UKTI We were delighted to meet that target in 2013, and now our new target is to hit £25 billion by 2020. The aim is £1 trillion globally by 2020.
We are seeing, especially in Dubai, that the oil price has not really affected trade, and this is true of all the oil-producing nations in the GCC. They are continuing to finance infrastructure, and Dubai is still seeing many mega-projects being announced. There are many high value opportunities and these are what the UKTI programmes are skewed towards. The ones we concentrate on the Expo 2020, education –16 new schools are needed by 2020 – the experience economy and airports, with the new Al Maktoum International Airport, a $30 billion project. In Abu Dhabi there are opportunities in healthcare, oil and gas, rail and metro and airports. Abu Dhabi is more conservative in terms of the big infrastructure opportunities because of the decline in the oil price, but in most projects we are not seeing any change.
To mobilize the supply chain, if I can use the example of Al Maktoum airport, we have developed a working group of all interested parties from top design consultants to contractors who are interested in bidding for contracts. They all signed non-disclosure agreements and we put 70 companies in front of the client. We communicate regularly with any interested company regarding where the project stands. We have adopted the same approach with Expo 2020. We are also using the leverage of UK Export Finance (UKEF) for the larger projects, which ensures a minimum of 20% of content goes to UK companies. For example, UKEF have given Dubai Airports Engineering Projects (DAEP) a letter of interest for $2 billion for the Al Maktoum International Airport project, and $500 million for Expo 2020.
Although Dubai is focused on high value opportunities, that’s not to say we don’t have other things for SMEs. Dubai is home to the majority of regional trade shows, and trade shows are a good way for a company to do initial research into the market.
But it’s not all about Dubai and Abu Dhabi. There are leisure and tourism opportunities in Ras al Khaimah; in Sharjah, Shurooq (the investment arm of the emirate) has plans to build a mixed use commercial/residential development and is keen to involve UK Export Finance; expansion of the airport in Fujairah, and a gradual makeover of its infrastructure due to its strategic importance to the UAE.
Companies have to be prepared to spend time developing and cultivating relationships. The British are sometimes not good at sharing personal details, but if you don’t do that in this part of the world you won’t get very far.
Euromoney UKTI is presenting a picture of great opportunity, with some challenges. What is Santander seeing?
What are the main obstacles for SMEs when exporting? Mostly lack of knowledge – whom to export to and get in front of, how do they go about doing it, what are the customs regulations. Knowledge is critical. Second is the issue of trust: if an SME has to set up a joint venture in Dubai in which it owns 49%, can they trust that local partner? Will they get paid?
There are three parts to the international trade cycle: creating the business, then executing it, then managing it. There are not many genuinely local banks. Santander is a local bank in the UK, but not in the UAE, just as Lloyds or HSBC aren’t either. If you are a BP or a BT you will be looked after by the big global banks, but they haven’t got the coverage to go below that top level. Our model is that in key markets like the UAE, we want to use local partners to help.
In terms of creating business, we have a Trade Portal that tells SMEs the key contact details for the main importers of their product – name, phone number and address. For execution, we are linked with Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank to provide the best possible conditions: they have a universal offering with truly local support for UK SMEs entering the UAE. In terms of managing the company overseas, we have a well-established international desk network who work closely with ADCB and will set up for each client entering the UAE. The model of banking will change from just covering the large multinationals to making sure that SMEs are properly banked. That’s where the partnerships with UKTI and Stonehaven are important in terms of that trust factor. You need local people who know what’s going on in a market to make sure companies are comfortable.
It is important we demystify what might be considered a racy or exotic market. We try to make it simpler by providing information with our partners, which is not just demystifying but derisking the market too. We want to make trading with the UAE as easy as with Birmingham or Manchester.
Obviously banks sell risk products but it’s also about trying to provide partnership. The traditional model of banks who sell products is long gone. Now it’s about bringing the right people in to give support on legal advice, tax, regulatory – products and services the banks can’t sell or aren’t licensed to sell – and assembling a value proposition way beyond a banking service, as more of a facilitator. The SME world cannot be catered for by thinly spread global organizations. Depth of coverage and quality of product in a country is key.
ADCB is very focused on SMEs who are really important to our franchise and the economy here. We are a one-country bank so we spend a lot of time focused on the supply chain in the country. In our value-add to customers, the partners we have globally become very important, and Santander is a good example of that. We can facilitate business end-to-end across the trade flows between the UAE and the rest of the world.
We have an economy here that is doing well, and we as a bank have trade volumes growing 40% annually. A lot of that happens through us spending time with SME clients on international trade and trying to help them grow.
Euromoney Let’s hear from Stonehaven and its arrangement with M Partners.
Having that local access to win contracts, to get through bureaucracy, with people who have done it before and know what tenders look like: this is all very important in working with banks and making sure SMEs have successful business enterprises in the region. Most MDs are overstretched and juggling their current revenue in the UK and Europe with opportunities in the Middle East.
RD, Stonehaven In this market, whether you’re an SME or a large cap, as a British company you are probably up against Chinese companies, and other mass market companies offering cheaper product. But there are such historic trade and diplomatic links with the UK, and an engendered in-built element of trust that companies need to capitalize on. And they do, but it’s something that can never be underestimated, it’s so powerful.
Euromoney Nick, tell us about what you have done and the challenges involved.
The relationship part is incredibly important, you cannot overestimate it, and to get the relationship you need to be out there. Once you’re there, you can gain trust. There are lots of people you could trust, but who do you trust?
That thing about Britishness engendering trust is absolutely true. I’ve not been let down by anybody. In fact, I’ve spent 18 months trying to disprove what looked like great things in the first place, only to find I should have gone with my gut feeling.
We did 10% of our overall business in the Middle East last year without being based there. Having clarified the opportunities, I see there is immense potential if you’ve got something slightly unusual, innovative, or higher quality than available locally. The competition is generally cheap, Asian or India-derived, but there is a low and a high end-product demand and for us there is definitely a gap in the upper-middle end of that.
People talk about Emiritisation and the triple bottom line. If your business can tap into Emiritisation, that seems to be a differentiator. It’s not a clincher, but it gets you the meeting you might not have had if you’re seen to be someone investing in the Emirates. We’re pinning a lot of our plans on this.
Euromoney In terms of what you need from banks and advisers, it sounds like a large part of it is an enabler role, introductory, rather than straightforward products.
JC, Santander The execution part of business is something that banks have done for 100 years. Letters of credit and all of that part of the service should be a given. It’s creating opportunities and managing the business that are critical now. Being able to join up with other banks – like ADCB – to provide opportunities for the client is something banks have never really done.
For example, Nick will start up in the UAE without a long track record there. In the past, local banks would say: I don’t know what you’re about. So he needs to use the trust of his original bank in the UK to facilitate that business. He needs someone who can say to a local partner, with confidence: Nick’s going to set up in the UAE, can you look after him just like BP?
NB, PVL It’s all about a trust network. That seems to be the modern way of attacking different market areas: all around this table are elements of skills and products that, tapped into appropriately, can be game-changers.
Euromoney Is that your biggest challenge, knowing whom you should be working with?
NB, PVL In terms of enablers or customers? Customers are the easy part. We have found new business without trying very hard. It’s the enablers that are the challenge. The gap for me was: I’ve got a product, found some interest, how do I get there and start fulfilling this? It has taken the whole of the last year, and a lot of revisiting the country, to ferment that into a decent plan.
Euromoney Everything I’ve heard supports the idea of your tie-up between ADCB and Santander, but how do you make that gel in practice?
JC, Santander We have a seven-step programme, linked in with local partners like UKTI and Stonehaven, to provide a local, sectoral and international feel.
First, we engage with our regional directors. We have 68 business centres around the country where we are focused on developing the different industries in each region. Then, we get our international country specialists to use things like the Santander Trade Portal and say: in food and drink, for example, where are the real opportunities for these sized companies to expand? Where are the growth markets and, within them, where are the concrete opportunities? Next, we know our own current clients, and what their interests are, so we connect them with the best opportunities.
Fourth is hosting local roundtables along with experts like ADCB, bringing in, for example, their expert on food and drink or healthcare or telecoms to give that local knowledge. Fifth, with the Trade Club, we are able to physically connect overseas clients with UK clients. Sixth is a trade mission, such as the one we are running to the UAE in October. It’s so much easier if we can get UKTI to speak to clients three weeks before they go out about the issues and initial contacts, so that instead of just arriving jetlagged they have some hard work done before they get there. And finally, putting all these steps together to help the customer enter the new market.
DM, ADCB To add a practical example, Santander has 14 countries where they have very deep market connections, and has a community of international desks where everyone knows everyone else. Business referrals go through this corridor, and they have a conference each year so they know each other and this facilitates a very personal, consistent service. We at ADCB are seeking to replicate that model, or at least be compatible with it. We attend Santander’s international desk conferences and get to know the people in those domestic markets for Santander. Every country has its unique regulatory and documentary needs, and if a client wants to open an account in that country we try to get it right first time, and do it once. So we mirror the practices of Santander and they will mirror ours. We know what we will get with Santander in Mexico because it will be very similar to Santander in London. And this alliance can go much further. It’s all about trying to make it simple, wherever you are.
JC, Santander It’s not vastly different to the airline industry. If I want to fly from Hong Kong to Seville but there’s only flights to Madrid, I need a local partner for the Seville leg. I want to be looked after the same way on both legs.
DM, ADCB The result is that immediately Nick’s not a stranger to the UAE if he comes with an introduction from Santander. He will get that service immediately. You could call it a passport.
Euromoney Colin, in the Gulf many banks are trying to become more regionally expansive in their own right. So is your partnership model unusual?
CF, ADCB Yes, in my opinion it is. There are a couple of trends going on. First, a number of international banks are retrenching from the market, and therefore support for corporate UAE, and SME UAE, is important. And second, there are a number of Middle Eastern banks expanding their international footprint, which makes sense for them.
Our view is very simple: we would rather, when our clients go, say, to trade or invest in the UK, work with an organization that has 800 branches across the UK and where we have a regular forum where we can work with our partner so we coordinate our client issues. And the commitment we make to the businesses we support who are customers of Santander is that they will get the best service we can offer. We want to make sure if there is a specific issue relating to the cross-border nature of that client, there is a group of people devoted to making sure it is delivered well, rather than in a large organization where it might be more complex.
One of the challenges large organizations have is connecting businesses on a cross-border basis. We hold a monthly forum with senior people where ADCB goes through a comprehensive agenda to make sure the partnership is working properly. What we think we get is two universal banks working together for clients in a cross-border corridor.
Euromoney In advisory, Richard, how do you see the competitive environment? Is your model unusual?
RD, Stonehaven The short answer is yes. We felt there was a lack of options in terms of partners. UKTI does a fantastic job, but once you’re beyond that, it is very localized, with very domestically based companies or families or institutions, and that can be quite difficult. If you are in a market new to your company, looking for a partner you can reach out to and have commonality with, and they speak a different language in a different culture – we felt there wasn’t much out there once you’ve left the safe haven of UKTI. The commercial bridge was lacking.
KW, UKTI We also saw a gap, which is where the British Centre for Business (BCB) kicks in. The UAE was at the forefront of an important UKTI initiative (the Overseas Business Network Initiative) targeted at high growth markets where British companies could work with the private sector in-market to grow their business through introductions to key contacts and intermediaries. UKTI performs brilliantly in getting companies to markets. It just doesn’t have the resources to work individually with companies in-market, which is where the BCB comes into its own as an incubator.
BCB has been operational in Dubai for just over a year now. It offers a licence and one visa for one year, where the local partner is the Department of Economic Development. It allows a company that needs a local presence onshore to be set up quite quickly. There are some hoops to go through, but it’s not like setting up a local partnership. There is the option of hot-desking facilities, which makes it cost-competitive to other organizations offering similar services, and payments are made in instalments. We’ve got 13 companies on board now.
In addition, once they are set up, the companies receive mentoring and support from the British Business Group in Dubai. Everything you need to help set things up is there at your fingertips alongside the experience of British businesses in knowing the market and the best route into it.
There are three others, in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, offering similar advice for companies and taking things one step further in terms of hand-holding and ease into the market.
Also, UKTI has handed over four of our sectors – food and drink, creative, retail and tech – to the BCB for the delivery of joint services and introductions. That is eventually going to help us concentrate on high-value opportunities.
Euromoney Thomas, are these sorts of services what people need?
TD, Stonehaven It depends where those SMEs are in their growth strategy, and their scale. I’m sure it works fantastically for some, but for others who perhaps have different products that don’t lend themselves to the wider market, or who want to pitch against bigger groups, that’s quite difficult to do. That’s where the model is slightly different, and where we facilitate medium-sized businesses to go in and pitch against that scale of business. We handle the high-level relationship entry.
NB, PVL It’s definitely not one-size-fits-all. I’ve had extensive conversations with UKTI and BCB, and over the last year I’ve met with a dozen potential introducers from local Emiratis to internationals, but some of the first people I met were Stonehaven. I went with that route because it fitted. BCB is a great option if you are largely service-based, but I need to employ people to physically do what I offer in-field. The advisory side can send a rep out to do the talking but I still need someone to physically stick things on. And I need both high-level conversations and low-level workshop discussions to get things front-ended.
Some set-up options get you to a free zone or non-onshore entity, but that can be a disabler for some businesses. With the relationship combination from UKTI, Santander and Stonehaven I’ve got pretty much everything I want covered.
It comes back to local knowledge. How do you choose a lawyer? I’ve never needed a consistent UK legal supplier because we’ve changed and evolved and grown. There are loads of expensive lawyers in the UAE, but does that make them good?
Euromoney So how do you choose?
NB, PVL You build that trust network, see who you trust the most, and see who they go to for legal services. You build a solid chain: another link, and then another. But you need a solid business plan or you can get into bed with the wrong people. I’ve seen a lot of large organizations have to unravel partnership agreements and it has held their business up for years.
JC, Santander Later this year we will have a pool of accountants, lawyers and translators who will be part of the Santander Trade Network. With five million corporate and commercial clients around the world we have the ability to negotiate with those accountants and lawyers more easily than an SME would be able to.
Euromoney What makes a good trade mission, and where exactly does UKTI fit?
TO, UKTI It depends. We’ve got programmes called export insight visits, something we offer to fairly inexperienced exporters, which gives a taster to go out to a country which they think is going to be part of their expansion plans but does not represent a large commitment. Then there are trade missions for more experienced exporters, where we will offer webinars ahead of them going out, to talk about the country, the economy, the agents they might be meeting out there – a bit of a deep dive before they go. All meetings are lined up before they go out there. It’s not a jolly.
In terms of our partnership with Santander, in Brazil for instance, we are working with them to deliver an MSB focused trade mission; Santander will sponsor a reception in Sao Paolo. Santander’s breakthrough programme is geared towards UK businesses keen to internationalise. Its value proposition is to offer a combination of trade finance products as well as supporting tools like Trade Portal and Trade Club. The partnership is also to make sure, from UKTI’s perspective, that there is a British brand supporting businesses while you are out in-country. That does give a lot of comfort. Making the leap internationally is not an easy one. It is a very aspirational step to say: my market is here but I will go to another country to see what’s there for me.
Euromoney Nick talked about the challenge of finding the right lawyer, but what about the legal system? Is the unfamiliarity of the UAE legal code an issue?
TO, UKTI Legal issues will be a big part of understanding the market. You need a sponsor in-country when you go out there, and that sponsor needs a licence for each of the seven Emirates, otherwise there will be access issues. As a foreign investor you are prevented from owning more than 49% of a UAE venture, but again it’s a question of how you find that partner, and what you write into the contract so that if things don’t go to plan you are able to exit.
KW, UKTI The first thing we do is advise businesses to see a local law firm. DIFC [which has its own legal system modelled on English common law] is an option, regardless of the contract and where it is, provided both sides are prepared to use it.
Companies need to ask whether they want to be onshore or offshore. Dubai has over 40 free zones, and within them companies can have 100% ownership. Onshore there are various options: we mentioned BCB, but through our own research we try to find local partners. It does take time, and perhaps UAE is not for first-time exporters.
RD, Stonehaven Having an offshore licence, if you are manufacturing or product-based, can be problematic when one goes to seek government business, especially in Abu Dhabi. A large number of government entities won’t deal with you as an offshore business. They will want to see a proper onshore UAE entity at the very least in Abu Dhabi, and in many cases in Dubai. The laws are not necessarily hard and fast on this, so you need to take a view on it. Agency agreements are quite a nice way to find your way into the market: find a partner you are comfortable with for a period of time, and then see if your product is relevant to the market. If it is, within a year or six months you can move to an LLC.
We advise against companies arriving in the UAE, taking office space, signing with a local partner, employing someone local. Before long you may have hundreds of thousands in costs with an untested partner and you may not know if your product is relevant. Caution is the watchword.
CF, ADCB There are a number of organizations that act as a professional local partner, sometimes run by expatriates themselves. That way you, as an entrant to a country, can deal with people who are from where you are from and culturally understand what you are looking to do.
There are a whole host of ways you could manage these issues, and a number of different forms of company. If you can start to demystify all that, you get all the advantages the UAE has to offer: an incredibly business-friendly climate, free zones, infrastructure, competitive tax.
You do have to be a little careful how you think about local law. It’s not always a case of just operating under the DIFC, which to some degree mirrors the UK system, but potentially you can submit yourself to the jurisdiction of a legal system which makes life easier in certain circumstances. Just taking good quality advice can remove a number of the pitfalls.
Euromoney What role can technology play as an enabler?
JC, Santander The Trade Portal has been key. People are inundated with resources, but say: how do I start? The Portal provides you with the information, with five key elements. It will tell you which are the key markets for your product, who are the key providers, what are the customs regulations, how much does it cost to hire a local employee in Dubai, all that info. It gives you a one-stop shop. And once you’ve made that first step, you can then go to UKTI, Stonehaven and so on, but you need that tech to get going.
The second part is the Trade Club, which will be broadened to the UAE in the near future. The idea is to encourage one-on-one webinars where you can pitch from your office to a potential client, and then follow up with visits. It provides in-depth knowledge of local partners but removes months from the process. That is a game-changer for an SME.
DM, ADCB Our objective, by October, is that when UK delegates get off the plane they will already have had webinars with our chief economist telling them the lie of the land, and we will have two potential counterparties in the first meeting that these delegates attend, to give a flavour of what the market is like. That, for me, is an absolute game changer. I don’t know anyone else who is doing this.
They will be able to meet counterparties in very specialist searches. It’s not: I make toys. It’s: I have three-wheeled toys for five- to eight-year-old girls, made in the UK. We will find people in the UAE who are buying or distributing them.
Euromoney Is that achievable?
DM, ADCB We can consistently bring people together. We can’t force the issue, but at the very least exporting clients from the UK will meet relevant people, and get a good dialogue about trade. Ideally we would like to see new business for the banks generated from it, and it’s implicit we can offer all the commodity products to support this business as it develops.
JC, Santander The reason that this is the model for the future is that Colin wants the trade business and the local accounts and liabilities for Nick, and I want to have the full banking commitment for Nick, but we will all spend time and energy, and ask the most important thing we can do for him. The quid pro quo is eventually Nick hopefully becomes a customer of Santander.
NB, PVL When I went on that first trade mission I was not a Santander customer (though I do have a personal mortgage with Abbey National). Since then, I’ve seen the value in all these other services, and it makes economic, business, commercial sense for me to join up so I can have access to these other things properly.
If you’ve got two builders’ vans outside your house, and one advertises: we build extensions, and the other: ”I leave your house tidy”, you’ll likely go with the second one because it’s a key differentiator. I didn’t meet any bankers when I went on that trade mission to the UAE – or at least they didn’t seem like bankers. They were people who had a completely different view on the business world and what their bank could do for it. That was a step change.
Euromoney With banks talking about being facilitators like this, is it getting into Stonehaven’s model? Is there a clear delineation?
RD, Stonehaven There are some blurred lines, but we don’t want to try to provide the services the bank does. Equally, we can work together using common knowledge for Nick’s end goal, which is to have smooth-running businesses in both the UK and UAE. If we can work hand-in-hand it makes everyone’s processes a lot smoother.
JC, Santander The lines are not that blurred. I’m not the local expert on providing backing services in the UAE, I don’t have the sectoral knowledge UKTI does and I don’t know about introducing people to the right parts of the royal family in the UAE. What we can do is bring that all together, but we need each of these partners to complete the jigsaw puzzle that Nick needs.
DM, ADCB And nobody wants to be the weak point in the chain. When a bank like ADCB represents itself to Santander, as much as it’s useful to say we’ve received major awards in cash and trade, being able to say we are Basel III compliant and receive significant awards for corporate governance is every bit as valuable to a banking partnership and to their clients as they enter the UAE market.
Euromoney You are each taking on each other’s risk, and assessment of risk. How does one agree on that?
JC, Santander We need to take on the risk of Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, and ADCB needs to take on that of Santander. There’s reputational and credit risk involved, so we need to choose a bank we are very comfortable with, one that’s prepared to go beyond servicing the top 30 corporates in the country, as well as being comfortable from a risk perspective.
CF, ADCB: For us it’s a mirror image of what John said. There are certain boxes you have to tick and institutional risk is one of those. You have to work with a counterparty you believe is not just a good bank from a capital and liquidity perspective, but is well run and interested in its customers. Then it comes down to the individuals involved and the culture of the organisation.
In Santander we have a partner with an understanding that global banking is changing and banks have to pick markets they can make a difference in and find good partners in those they choose not to operate in directly. We need to see if we can find other organizations in other global markets that are thinking the same way.
Euromoney Is that 2020 target of £25 billion of trade achievable?
TO, UKTI I think so. The UK has set a very challenging target – not just an aspiration – that 100,000 more businesses will be exporting by 2020, with £1 trillion in value of exports by the same measure. The UAE is a very significant market for the UK: annually we do bilateral trade of about £12.4 billion a year.
Karen talked about high value opportunities like Dubai Expo 2020, and it is important we make sure SMEs in the UK are gearing up to be aware of opportunities like that, and that we are providing them with enough awareness to be part of the supply chains for the bigger corporates that are already present. As the UAE moves away from its focus on oil and gas and diversifies to other sectors, it will present greater opportunities for UK businesses.
KW, UKTI Ministerial support has been enormously valuable in winning big contracts. The UAE two years ago had over 30 ministerial visits, with high-level engagement, which you saw in the Rolls Royce win, a £6.2 billion deal, not counting the supply chain opportunities that will come from that. So the targets are ambitious, I agree, but we can meet them.
JC, Santander It’s all about Nick. It’s about Nick doing business and the rest of us trying to help. It’s about everyone going in with a much more focused approach, which can help break down the obstacles and allow Nick to succeed.