Blueprint for the future: Forging renewed City links with Saudi Arabia and the UAE

Charles Bowman
Pilgrims Attend Prayers In Medina
More opportunities are arising for City firms, from insurance to legal services, Islamic finance to capital markets (Source: Getty)

I am currently halfway through my first international visit, which has brought me to the Gulf.

Later today, I will be heading from Saudi Arabia to the UAE.

These are two very different countries, and yet at the same time remarkably similar. Both are our partners, visited frequently by my predecessors over the past few years.

Read more: Saudi Arabia has signed a deal with Nasdaq to upgrade its stock exchange

A common theme on this visit has been the diversification of their economies and possible support from the UK.

After an initial “wait and see” strategy, the oil-producing nations now recognise that the current decline in price is not going to change anytime soon. They must be bold in how they grow their economies and reinvest the sovereign wealth that they have accumulated through innovation and infrastructure.

Saudi Arabia has been gaining attention in the UK and across the world for a variety of reasons: its ambitious Vision 2030 plans, a move away from its reliance on oil, and more jobs for women.

From renewable energy to healthcare, education to manufacturing, as well as the dazzling and energetic designs we have seen for the megacity of Neom, here is a blueprint for the twenty-second century.

There are many opportunities for City firms – particularly across innovation, technology and services, for which the City is the


My meetings have focused on capital markets, asset management, and advisory services. My sense from these, and from two days in the country, is that Saudi Arabia is showing a great degree of openness to investment, trade and people.

We in the UK are trying to convey a similar message to our international partners post-Brexit.

This morning marks the start of my meetings in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, where I will be meeting representatives from sovereign wealth funds, government, the central bank, and various regulators, as well as hosting roundtables on fintech, legal services and taxation.

I am looking forward to hearing more about the UAE’s Vision 2021, similar to its Vision 2030 and also focused on economic diversification.

The hydrocarbon sector provides around one third of the UAE’s GDP: a figure that is falling. As other sectors grow, more opportunities arise for City firms, from insurance to legal services, Islamic finance to capital markets.

I have been reassuring investors and sovereign wealth funds that the UK post-Brexit remains the trusted cluster of choice for stable and secure investment, and that the City is the funnel for that business activity.

I have been keen to discuss how we are also in the global top five for a wide variety of sectors, including currency, banking, insurance, legal services, asset management and fintech.

On her visit to Saudi Arabia a couple of weeks ago, the Prime Minister emphasised that, as a country, we must “forge a bold, confident future for ourselves in the world”.

The City too is forging this future – and with 25 countries on the agenda still, it is going to be a busy, but productive, year.

Read more: The Saudi corruption crackdown should whet investors’ appetites

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