The most critical element for shifting away from hydrocarbons towards a knowledge economy is to build up the human and intelligence capital of a country. If the UAE can continue to provide a stable and open society, it will be able to leverage itself as a gateway connecting the traditional centres of power in the West with the rising East, said Dr Kai L. Chan, economist and distinguished fellow at Insead, advisor to Prime Minister’s Office of the UAE/Minister of State Office.
Dr Chan spoke to Khaleej Times on the sidelines of the 10th CFO Strategies Forum Mena. “We are moving in a data age which will empower people and generate employment in a very complex world where intelligence capital is very critical.”
Financial experts, economists and business leaders from around the Mena gathered in Dubai on the first day of the CFO Strategies Forum, organised by business facilitation company Naseba.
“The market has undergone rapid changes over the past 12 months. This year, we found that agility, identifying key growth drivers and managing human capital in times of distress were common challenges facing CFOs in the region,” said Sophie Le Ray, CEO of Naseba. “The CFO Strategies Forum Mena provides CFOs and business leaders with a platform to learn from one another and share experiences,” she added.
Preserving bottom line
In panel discussions, these experts clarified that while the global economy remains subdued, interest rates in the GCC remain low and inflation is expected to rise, both of which are positive indicators of economic growth. However, recent economic turmoil in the region is causing businesses to focus on creating flexible, realistic strategies to preserve their bottom line – and CFOs are at the vanguard of developing and implementing these strategies.
The forum opened with a macroeconomic outlook in a panel discussion featuring Geoffrey White, CEO of Agility Africa; Kai L. Chan; Tiago Severo, lead economist – managing director’s office at Abu Dhabi Investment Authority; and Nadir Qureshi, CIO of Makara Capital.
The experts noted that the current regional economic situation maintains risk appetite among investors, particularly in growth markets.
A key theme of the session was the importance of developing the UAE’s capabilities as an economic gateway between international markets. Dubai in particular is set to benefit as the logistics hub for China’s investment into Africa and serve as a gateway for the flow of goods, according to White.
Growth was also a key theme in a panel discussion on strategic alliances featuring Umar Saleem, former Group CFO of Depa; Sunita Singh-Dalal, partner at AC&H Legal Consultants; and Munawar Mohammed, CFO of National Technology Enterprises Company. The panel explored the value of strategic alliances for CFOs, both within their organisations and beyond.
During the discussion, the panellists noted that tough adjustments will be needed to deal with economic and regulatory changes like the new tax regime and stressed the importance of cultural understanding in cross-border transactions.