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Why the Middle East is seeing a boom in family offices

20 May 2024

Across the Middle East, the number of ultra-high-net-worth (UHNW) individuals and families is rising rapidly. According to Knight Frank’s 2024 Wealth Report, there were around 18,800 UHNW investors in this region of the world in 2023, an increase of 6.2% on the year before. Fuelled by this upward trend in wealth, family offices across the region are proliferating. These entities are enabling affluent individuals and families to optimise their investment portfolios while simultaneously addressing important wealth management issues, such as succession planning, intergenerational wealth transfer, and philanthropy.

An attractive location for family offices

The Middle East has a lot to offer those looking to establish a family office. For a start, it’s home to a number of the emerging financial hubs. For example, there’s the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) – a special economic zone that is known for providing best-in-class, tailored services to family businesses and UHNWIs. There’s also the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) – an award-winning international financial centre that is known for its vibrant investment ecosystem. Additionally, there’s Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, which has a long-term vision to establish itself as a leading financial centre, and Tel Aviv in Israel, which has a well-developed financial sector and a rapidly growing financial technology (FinTech) industry.

The regulatory backdrop is also favourable. The DIFC, for instance, recently introduced ‘Family Arrangements Regulations’, which allow family offices in the UAE to operate without registering with the Dubai Financial Services Authority (DFSA) as a ‘designated non-financial business or profession’. We’ve also seen the UAE roll out new legislation known as ‘Family Business Law’. This aims to support the continuity of family businesses and enhance their role in the private sector, including the sustainability and growth of family businesses. Among other more specific objectives, the Family Business Law aims to set an inclusive, easy legal framework to regulate ownership and governance of family business, facilitate their transfer between generations, and provide proper mechanisms for resolving disputes.

Another major plus is the compelling tax landscape. In the UAE, there’s no personal income tax or capital gains tax. There’s also no inheritance tax. This combination of tax benefits makes the country an attractive location for families seeking to preserve and grow their wealth across generations.

The Middle East can offer investors many wealth creation opportunities because of its location between Europe and Asia. As such, we’re seeing an increase in family offices from Europe, Asia, India and even the U.S. setting up bases in the region. American hedge fund investor Ray Dalio, for example, recently opened a branch of his family office in the ADGM. This branch will oversee a range of activities, including Dalio family investments and philanthropic efforts.

Holistic wealth management services

One of the main benefits of establishing a family office is that they’re able to offer UHNW individuals and families more than just investment management services. From intergenerational wealth transfer to legal services, they can offer wealthy families a holistic approach to wealth management. Today, succession and leadership transition are some of the top priorities for family offices in the Middle East, according to Deloitte. This is understandable as around $1 trillion in assets across the region is set to be transferred to the next generation by 2030.

Furthermore, Investment management remains a key area of focus. According to Agreus Group, total assets under management by Middle Eastern family offices could surpass $500 billion by 2025. In terms of asset classes, commercial real estate remains popular, with Knight Frank’s 2024 Wealth Report predicting that Middle Eastern UHNW investors will be quite active in the space this year. Yet as investors seek to diversify their portfolios, alternative investments such as private equity, venture capital, and hedge funds are also gaining interest (the DIFC is currently seeing a record number of hedge fund registrations). Additionally, Islamic finance principles are a key consideration for Middle Eastern family offices when building portfolios. So, investments in Sharia-compliant asset classes and investment products – which allow traditional Islamic investors to participate in the world’s capital markets – are very common.

Family offices are embracing technology

It’s worth pointing out that Middle Eastern family offices are increasingly embracing technology today. In the pursuit of excellence, firms are seeking out technology solutions that can elevate their investment management practices, improve operational efficiency, and enhance client services. They’re also proactively investing in cybersecurity solutions to safeguard financial data and sensitive client information. Ultimately, firms are realising that a robust operational infrastructure is key to success.

Attractive long-term outlook

Looking ahead, the Middle Eastern family office market is expected to continue flourishing, fuelled by rising wealth in the region. A growing appetite for alternative investments and demand for holistic wealth management services are also likely to be long-term growth drivers. According to Knight Frank’s 2024 Wealth Report, the number of UHNWIs across the Middle East is set to increase by nearly 30% between 2023 and 2028. So, it’s likely that demand for family office services will be high in the years ahead.

Why set up your family office in the Middle East?

  • Strategic geographical location: Positioned between Europe and Asia, the Middle East is a prime location for a family office
  • Developed financial ecosystem: Home to several of the world’s financial centres, including Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the region boasts an impressive financial ecosystem with a wide range of financial institutions and professional services firms. This ecosystem can cater to the needs of family offices, providing access to sophisticated financial tools and expertise
  • Favourable regulatory landscape: The UAE has established clear and transparent regulations for family offices. These regulations can accommodate diverse structures and investment strategies
  • Attractive tax environment: The UAE boasts a competitive tax regime with no personal income tax, capital gains tax, or inheritance tax
  • Compelling lifestyle: The Middle East offers developed infrastructure, warm hospitality, diverse cultural experiences, and more. This makes it a great place for families to live, work, and invest

How IQ-EQ can help

IQ-EQ is a trusted local partner, offering a holistic suite of services to family offices, including global structuring, risk management reporting and compliance and regulatory reporting. If you’d like to find out more about the support available from IQ-EQ’s expert team, please get in touch.

Working with IQ-EQ has been seamless – you and your team understand our business, advise us appropriately, and handle your side of our collective partnership so that we can focus on making good investment decisions. Evan Gibson SVP, Merchants Capital

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