Is Dubai a new hotspot for fintech developers?

22.06.2021

Originaly posted on Medium

In May 2021 the UpTrader team visited the first fintech exhibition in Dubai after a forced 1.5-year break. During our 1-week visit we noticed that a lot of our clients and fintech companies opened their offices in Dubai. So we decided to do a small research of the trend and figure out why the Arabian night attracts the financial industry. We were wondering whether it is a good idea to open a representative office in the Emirates or not?

So there are at least 3 reasons why this might be interesting.

Real estate market in Dubai now

The real estate market in Dubai has been falling since 2014. And according to some expert estimates, it has not yet reached the bottom. In addition to Dubai’s own market problems, the global pandemic caused the prices to go down. In general, at the moment the market is still trying to deal with the consequences of the flooding of real estate objects that happened in 2014. At that time frozen construction projects began to be completed and released to the market after a protracted credit crisis in 2008. Eventually supply exceeded demand, and continues to exceed it to this day.

This year the market has fallen 8% for purchases and 12% for rentals, and continues to fall. New construction projects are flooding the market this year. Now prices are 30% lower than 2014 prices. However, to reach 2010 prices, according to experts, the market needs to lose another 20%.

In May 2021, our team had meetings in some Business Bay towers and we were impressed by the desolation of these giants. One can say wind and sand are walking through the unfinished offices. On the one hand, all this makes a depressing impression and reminds us of post-apocalypse from Blade Runner 2050, on the other hand, really low prices and rather lively business activity in Dubai attract the attention of business and make you think about the prospects for opening an office there.

Good bye Cyprus?

For the last two decades, Cyprus has been the traditional place for fintech developers. The offices of many well-known brokers were located there, as well as satellite companies serving them: software, legal, PR and advertising companies. Cyprus had become the forex capital for many years. That became possible because of Cyprus financial regulator, the only European regulator whose license at one time cost reasonable money and leniently regulated broker activities. Different types of brokers could get a license, and they did. One of the conditions for getting a license was the opening of an office in the country and the employment of a certain number of Cypriots.

The maintenance of such a small office costs 20–25 thousand euros per month. It could number in the hundreds of thousands for a bigger one. In general, the years were rich, and the morals in Forex were quite free.

However, since about 2015, the legislation of European countries has slightly begun to tighten the rules for financial brokers. Cyprus did not stand aside and soon obtaining a license in Cyprus became as difficult as in other European jurisdictions. As a result, brokers stopped getting Cysec’s licenses, followed by the closure of offices and the migration of companies. And there was not much sense left for the fintech service companies to open their representative offices there. But we are wondering where is the new capital of forex now?

Is Dubai the business and financial center of the future?

The United Arab Emirates have long been working on diversifying the economy, building a model based not only on the export of raw materials, but also on other industries, including developing business tourism. For this, in addition to the construction of new areas, the authorities create attractive tax conditions for business. So the United Emirates has 5 tax-free economic zones (according to the number of the emirates). Companies registering a business there must pay about 12 thousand dollars a year, but their activities are free from tax. What other benefits does a business have by opening an office there? As we said, 0 taxes. Up to 5 employees of the company can get a residence permit.

According to current prices, a square meter costs an average of $25 per month. Maintaining a small office in Dubai of about 70 square meters costs about $ 2,500 per month. Another crucial benefit is an access to Arab banks. So even unlicensed

brokers who have problems with European banks can count on the loyalty of local ones.

The Emirates attract different types of business via the annual international exhibitions. It makes Dubai an attractive hub for fintech.

So experts say that real estate prices in the Emirates will hit the bottom by 2022, so maybe now is the best time to start looking for offices or apartments with a gorgeous view of the business center or the sea.

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