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Private Client Services in the Middle East – Q&A with Stephen McCormack

12th May 2020

How long has JTC been in Dubai and why is it important to have a presence there?

Our first office in Dubai was established in 2009 under the Minerva brand – Minerva of course became part of the JTC Group in 2018. For clients in, from or connected to the region they often have to deal with service providers in different time zones and different working weeks. It can hinder their global activity. Having an office in the GCC removes those barriers and enables our clients to work with a team on the ground with global experience. Being able to meet with clients on a regular basis or at short notice – clients very often turn up unannounced at our office – is hugely beneficial in terms of building client trust. Having a company representative simply flying in once or twice a year, as many others do, pales in comparison.

What services does JTC offer in Dubai and how are they specialised for the region?

We administer corporate entities from multiple jurisdictions – for instance Jersey or BVI – where economic substance rules permit. Those entities hold a broad spread of assets – from private family businesses and investment portfolios through to very significant holdings in entities we held from private hands through to IPO. In addition to the international entities, we also establish local offshore companies, as well as free zone entities for clients wishing to set up a physical presence in the country. As an economic trading and transit hub, the UAE is ideally positioned to facilitate global trade, and many international firms choose the UAE for a regional HQ.

The Middle East has become an increasingly important focus for firms that provide private client services – how are clients’ requirements evolving and changing in the region and why?

There’s a growing consideration for wealth transfer to the younger generation. In addition we’re also seeing greater diversification than we might have done, even in very recent years. Families in the region are no different to others globally in the sense that they are increasingly mobile and that their children are not necessarily going to remain on home soil. As a result, asset classes are broadening into new markets and new segments. Privacy and trust are paramount, so where a family wishes to discuss international structuring, we have the experience to appropriately deal with those enquiries.

How is JTC’s Middle East team structured and what does it specialise in?

In addition to our core team on the ground (including Tara Ferguson and Alia Haskouri), who are primarily focused on administering and winning new client structures in Dubai, we are very lucky to have a strong team outside of the region. Domestically we have very significant UAE and Kuwaiti client relationships. Our international team members bring added support in business development and, most importantly, in client relationship building. There will always be some overlap in client jurisdictions. We see, for instance, some Jersey and Guernsey based colleagues with significant relationships in the UAE, and our JTC Private Office team, particularly those based in Monaco and Luxembourg, is also building relationships across the region.

We also work closely with our Asia and Africa-focused colleagues, as clients increasingly have a footprint in more than one region.

What do you see as being the main opportunities in coming years for JTC in Dubai?

Private wealth structuring is the easy answer here. However, it’s more nuanced than some may understand. Clients in the Middle East often have very specific needs, including for instance adhering to Sharia principles, preferring to have a locally administered structure in their own time zone, general cultural understanding or retention of control over corporate entities. We have to be nimble enough to provide solutions to fit client needs rather than trying to force a structure which works elsewhere on a client who wants bespoke service. Technology will drive a lot of change in the coming years.  Dubai is a leader in this field, yet there is no doubt that the personal touch and being physically present to spend time with clients will continue to carry significant weight for some time to come.