To most of the world, the fact that Dubai won the Expo 2020 earlier this month passed with a few minor headlines. Locally, however, the emirate – and the UAE as a whole – is gearing up for a party that could create thousands of financial sector jobs over the coming years.
Experts on the ground believe that Dubai is set for an expat population explosion that could echo the glory days of 2007 (before the global financial crisis eventually caught up with the region). Towers Watson says that 200,000 jobs could be created across all industries, with competition for talent reaching the pre-crisis trends of “higher employee turnover and a spike in salaries”, according to Roman Weidlich, director at Towers Watson Middle East.
All of this, of course, needs to be taken with a heavy pinch of salt. Dubai is the king of self-promotion, and predictions of huge hiring are reminiscent of when Qatar won the 2022 World Cup, and plentiful financial services jobs have yet to emerge there. However, the National Bank of Abu Dhabi has already unveiled plans to add 900 new staff next year, largely due to the “huge opportunities” created by Expo 2020.
Most of these will be in the retail banking space, as banks in the region expect an influx of expat workers and therefore new customers. Most retail roles are taken up by Emiratis, who can command salaries of up to $200k as a branch manager. It also singled out trade finance as a growing area.
More excitingly, the new-found optimism on the prospects for Dubai could unlock the IPO markets for the first time in years, believe banking analysts. This is already starting to cause potential headaches for investment banks in the region.
“Investment banks want young talent, but the problem is that there’s very little on the ground,” says Peter Greaves, managing director of IES HR Consulting in Dubai. “Most came here in 2008, only to face either unemployment or reduced job opportunities. The challenge is persuading them back again.”
The biggest boon, though, could be for real estate bankers and project finance specialists. Dubai already has $11bn worth of projects underway and could increase this by $6-8bn as a direct result of winning the Expo. It also needs to implement huge change as it seeks to become one of the world’s most sustainable cities in time for 2020.
“We’re expecting there to a general uptick in financial services jobs across the UAE, particularly for project finance specialists, and this will present opportunities for people currently outside of the region,” says James Wakefield, director of recruiters Cobalt Abu Dhabi. “Dubai is great at marketing itself, and we’d expect that to impact how financial services professionals view it globally.”