Dubai is bracing for an influx of expats as an increasing number of Western finance professionals see the region as a more attractive place to gain job security.
The responses to an emailed survey of 700 finance professionals in the UK and Dubai by eFinancialCareers in November on their perceptions of the emirate were overwhelmingly positive. When asked whether they would consider a move to Dubai, around 88% of respondents in the UK said that they would, and 57.1% of this group said that the emirate was more attractive than during the boom years of 2006-08.
“The Middle East, and Dubai in particular, is now more of a natural move for experience financial services professionals based in Western markets,” said Bill Allum, managing director of headhunters Execuzen, which specialises in recruitment from developed countries into emerging markets. “Working for a sovereign wealth fund, or indeed a large regional bank, is now considered a viable long-term career move. Five years ago, many would have associated such a move with an element of desperation.”
To some, this reaction may seem a little strange. Middle Eastern teams of international investment banks have not been spared from cuts – Bank of America, Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse, Nomura, Rothschild and UBS have all cut jobs, and more are expected. While regional firms have fared better, and sovereign wealth funds continue to beef up , the job market remains far from buoyant.
The appetite to move to Dubai may simply result from the dire state of the financial sector job market in the UK currently. The Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) estimates that 99,000 jobs have been lost in the City of London since 2007, while new (and deeper) job cuts have emerged regularly this year, most recently 10,000 redundancies at UBS and 11,000 job cuts at Citigroup.
Western job seekers, however, aren’t unrealistic about Dubai’s job market. Asked in the eFC survey why they wanted to move to the emirate, just 12.6% of UK-based professionals cited a buoyant job market or growth prospects. The largest proportion (67.1%) said that they’d move for the right job opportunity, followed by greater remuneration and the prospect of tax-free salaries.
“The ‘gold rush’ mentality that accompanied expats’ move to Dubai in the build-up to the financial crisis has been replaced by a more realistic outlook,” said Barbara van Meir, managing director, MENA at headhunters Pemberton Partners. “People are seeking security and long-term career progression potential.”
In the wake of Lehman Brothers’ collapse in 2008, an increasing number of investment banks relocated senior staff out to the Middle East, which appeared to be (in the short-term at least) sheltered from the crisis. By 2010, most of these big hitters – notably Goldman Sachs’ Alisdair Warren – had moved back to London or New York.
Nonetheless, the perception of Dubai as a transient location for expats may be changing. Of the respondents in the UK considering a move to Dubai, 41.6% said they would consider staying for three to five years. Nearly 25% said they would stay for one to three years, but 13% envisaged a stay of more than 10 years.
Still, the breadth of career options available to financial services professionals in developed markets remains greater than the Middle East, even if the volume of jobs is down.
“Expats have to accept that companies in the Middle East are recruiting their expertise because it cannot be found among the local population,” says Allum. “If you’re, say, a G7 trader, your career options are limited, but if your job is relationship driven, once you’ve accepted one position in the Middle East it’s likely other opportunities will open up further down the line.”
The largest proportion of Dubai-based respondents to our survey are considering a move out of the Middle East for their next job opportunity. Singapore was convincingly the most popular choice (28.2%), despite recent headlines about increased job cuts on the Island State, followed by London (13.9%) and New York (12.6%). Still, 12% of respondents wanted to move to Abu Dhabi for their next career move, followed by Qatar (7.8%) and Saudi Arabia (5.8%).