The City & GCC Financial Services Summit, a major conference which aims to promote closer cooperation between the financial centres of London and the Gulf States, was held on 25th June 2009 at Merchant Taylors' Hall in London.
This was the fourth annual conference focusing on UK-GCC relations and took place against the backdrop of the global economic downturn with unprecedented uncertainty in the financial sector. More than 250 delegates from regulatory bodies, banks and financial institutions attended the summit to debate the regulatory and risk management lessons learnt from the global credit crunch, the strength of the GCC economies and the possibilities of funding future growth and the resilience of Islamic finance and insurance.
The conference was opened by Michael Thomas, Director General of the Middle East Association which organised the summit, and by Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean who chaired the event.
Alderman Ian Luder, The Rt Hon The Lord Mayor of The City of London gave a keynote address, praising the historically strong trade relations between the UK and the Gulf. He was upbeat about the prospects for the Gulf economies, saying that the IMF predicted an average growth rate of 3.5% for 2009, and that this coupled with a requirement for the import of goods and services amounting to almost $500 billion would provide an 'important stimulus to global demand'. He spoke about the need for reform of financial sector regulation and the need for transparency, first of all in the UK, but also in the GCC states, saying: 'Greater transparency is relevant to the Gulf too: for centuries business relationships have been built on trust alone... but audited balance sheets, international standards of governance and proper profit and loss accounts have a place as well.'
Alongside the panels focusing on finance, there was a dedicated education panel which discussed the development of financial sector skills in the region. Bridging the skills gap and equipping local people with the knowledge to work successfully in the private sector is being seen as increasingly important across the MENA region but especially in the Gulf. Michael Thomas stated that: 'education and financial services have become two absolute priority sectors for the UK in developing relations with the region. Each of the Gulf's financial centres has now developed its own specialist education and training programme and this has spawned tremendous opportunities for UK educational specialists'.
The conference finished by examining Islamic finance and insurance which proved remarkably resilient during the global economic downturn. The possibility of Islamic financial structures substituting conventional structures was discussed as well as the lessons that could be learnt. The UK is the leading Western provider of Shariah-compliant products, and the Lord Mayor of The City of London stated in his earlier keynote address that 'we are keen to learn from the GCC and share knowledge and best practice in Sharia-compliant finance'.
This was the fourth such conference bringing together delegates from London and the GCC states. Cooperation remains very close, with English common law used as the basis of contracts in some of the GCC states, and there are immense prospects for future partnerships in the fields of regulatory reform, education and training provision and the development of Shariah-compliant products.
Global Arab Network