INTERVIEW-Qatar’s QFC to focus on insurance, asset management

By Reuters Staff
February 3, 2010

By Regan E. Doherty

DUBAI, Feb 3 (Reuters) – Qatar Financial Centre (QFC) has altered its strategy to focus on asset management, reinsurance and captive insurance, the head of its governing body said, in a move to compete with other Gulf financial hubs.

QFC, which began operating in 2005, had focused earlier on the expansion of financial services in the Gulf Arab state. It allows 100 percent ownership by foreign companies and all profits to be remitted outside Qatar.

“In insurance, the opportunity is there (in Qatar). The majority of insurance premiums are re-insured out of the region,” Shashank Srivastava, acting chief executive of Qatar Financial Centre Authority, said in a telephone interview with Reuters.

More than 100 firms are now registered with the QFC, which is vying with financial zones in Dubai and Bahrain to attract regional and global finance companies, as their economies try to diversify from oil and gas revenues.

The QFC’s model differs from Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), a free-zone governed by the Dubai Financial Services Authority. Companies licensed by the QFCA operate under Qatari law and are considered Qatari firms.

Qatar, the world’s top exporter of liquefied natural gas, was one of the few countries worldwide with robust growth in 2009, expanding more than 11 per cent. It has been pouring billions of dollars into infrastructure, real estate, and education projects to diversify its economy.

The financial crisis has had a positive impact on Qatar and the QFC, with international firms showing increasing interest in launching regional operations in the cash-rich Gulf state, the QFCA’s former chief executive said in October.

Qatar is “a phenomenally attractive market for foreign investors in terms of financial services. This is a great place, particularly in the current economic climate. It is looking to diversify both its portfolio and its investor base”, Srivastava said.

A shake-up in the management structure accompanied the strategy shift. Former Chief Executive Stuart Pearce was replaced in November by Srivastava, who also retains his role as director of strategy and planning.

After attracting a critical mass of firms, in late 2008 the QFC started working on its next phase of development, looking at other models around the world such as New York, Bermuda, Hong Kong and Singapore, Srivastava said.

The focus on insurance does not mean that the authority will exclude other industries, Srivastava said.

“We are very committed to the ecosystem of financial services, especially the banking industry in the context of asset management. But now we have a private sector in Qatar that is capable of providing these services to our clients,” he said.

“It makes perfect sense for us to exit these activities and hand them over to the private sector in Qatar,” Srivastava said. (Editing by Firouz Sedarat) ((regan.doherty@thomsonreuters.com; +971 4 391 8301))

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