During 2022, the UAE's economy performed well compared to many countries. A renewed sense of optimism drove strong performance across several sectors, including financial services. The continuing positive sentiment is reflected in the International Monetary Fund’s latest Regional Economic Outlook forecasting a growth of 3.6 per cent for the Middle East and Central Asia region in 2023.

Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) will record robust growth for 2022, contributing significantly to the UAE's economy and reaffirming its position as a major player in the global financial industry. A significant growth area is FinTech. Between January and September, DIFC-based FinTech firms secured more than AED2 billion (USD 559 million) of funding and the number of FinTech and innovation firms joining the Centre exceeded the total that established operations during the whole of 2021. DIFC also became one of the brightest growth spots in the global FinTech market, valued at more than USD 135.9 billion in 2021.

With FinTech continuing to remain a key priority for us in the new year, DIFC will host the inaugural Dubai FinTech Summit in May 2023. The global event is expected to bring together more than 5,000 experts, thought leaders, policymakers and decision-makers to discuss how they can shape a new wave of innovation, enterprise and growth for the global financial industry.

We have also seen firms from across the finance industry setting up in DIFC. As an example, it has been widely reported that hedge funds are choosing Dubai as a global hub. This is for several reasons, such as the collaborative approach we have between our clients, the regulator and ourselves as the authority, being the most proven financial services platform in the region with almost 20 years of experience and access to the best talent.

Building on our approach to innovative thinking, we will enhance the way people experience DIFC in 2023, starting with DIFC Living. We broke ground on the project in late 2022 and DIFC Living will begin to take shape throughout the coming year. It is a step-change project designed to elevate our reputation as a global centre, not just for financial excellence, but position us firmly as a place where you can work, live and play.

We are developing residences featuring high specifications that people and companies in DIFC have come to expect. The project will also include built-in co-working spaces where people can meet and collaborate and then go on to enjoy the restaurants, galleries and retailers that make up the fabric of DIFC.

DIFC Living is set to become a major part of our Innovation Hub, which is the region's largest innovation community. Currently, we have more than 600 growth-stage tech firms, which range from established innovation companies to digital labs, venture capital firms and educational institutions. The Innovation Hub generates added economic value by fostering innovation, enterprise and talent across various sectors, with a focus on future-oriented industries.

In addition to this focus on the expansion and diversification of DIFC’s offerings, we will continue to place sustainability, environmental, social and governance at the forefront of everything we do.

For example, sustainability concepts were ingrained right at the planning stage of DIFC Living and the expansion of the Innovation Hub. We have been meticulous with the environmental impact measurements, which are in place for every phase of the construction and post-handover.

In addition, we have also ensured that DIFC Living, and the expanded Innovation Hub meet not only our own high standards, but are also compliant with LEED standards, the international green building rating system.

In 2023, the world’s eyes will be on the UAE as the 28th session of the Conference of Parties (COP28) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will be hosted in Dubai. DIFC was the first government entity in the UAE to announce a 12-month programme in the build-up to COP28, which is bringing the global finance community and partners, such as the Global Ethical Finance Initiative, together for an important cause – our planet. Our Path to COP28 is well underway and in the New Year, the DIFC Academy will be offering the region’s first training programme focusing on climate finance. Our commitment to sustainability is deep-rooted and is reflected in the various aspects of our operations. For example, in 2019, we created the Dubai Sustainable Finance Working Group, the first group of its kind aimed at making Dubai the region’s best city for sustainable finance. For 2023 overall, our objective is to ensure that we provide thought leadership and support meaningful change in sustainable finance.

We will also continue to focus on expanding our influence to become the largest ecosystem of financial services, technology and innovation in the region as well as the regional headquarters of choice for unicorns, venture capitalists, FinTechs and other growth companies. Furthermore, we will expand our infrastructure in the most cutting-edge manner possible by expanding virtually into the metaverse with our very first Metaverse Accelerator Programme.

We have so much to look forward to in the new year. If 2022 is any indication, 2023 will be a landmark year for DIFC, and I invite you all to be part of our journey.

Written by Arif Amiri

In his capacity as Chief Executive Officer of DIFC Authority, Arif Amiri is responsible for setting the strategy and growth direction of the Authority. Under his leadership, DIFC has emerged as a powerful catalyst for the financial services sector, as well as the leading global financial centre in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) region.