Advice firms in the Middle East need to modernise and potentially force leadership changes for the market to move away from its sales-driven mentality, Omar Jackson, partner at private equity and investment firm Berkeley Assets, told International Adviser.
“The Middle East has a different way of doing things that largely comes down to regulatory issues,” he said during a recent trip to London.
It was on the back of some “cooperation issues” with Dubai-based advice firms that Jackson wanted to speak out about how the industry can, and should, change.
Jackson said: “Everybody is trying to sell something no matter what industry you’re in. Before, you could get away with the hard sale. But nowadays, with social media and the internet, there’s far more awareness.
“[Clients] are far savvier and more intelligent, especially in the world of investment. People take far more control when handling their finances than they used to.”
The development of the industry in Hong Kong, where Berkeley Assets is setting up an office, is one Jackson has viewed with interest. “The environment was very similar to Dubai and the Middle East but now it has changed.
“A lot of the offshore advice firms have been squeezed out because of the fee-based model brought in, which means you are left with strong branded firms, such as St James’s Place.”
Taking a similar path could shake things up for the Middle East, Jackson said: “Some of the firms, like DeVere, have adapted and are still doing well. That’s testament to the work they’ve done. Globaleye as well.”
He suggests that the Middle East needs someone like St James’s Place. “Ten years ago, Hong Kong had every major advice firm. They were all there, as they were in the UAE and Singapore. Now, none of those firms are there and if they are they literally have got four people left.
“All the good ones that wanted to do things right and that were able to keep their clients moved to St James’ Place.”
Alternatively, Jackson suggests that DeVere may be the company that could provide a similar model in the Middle East.
Forcing a leadership change
A key criticism Jackson has of the Dubai advice industry is that some firms are “childish” and “petty”, having recently experienced firms blocking Berkeley’s attempts to recruit their staff.
“I want to reach out to these companies and tell them to grow up and be adults. Let’s be businessmen,” he added, saying some firms have very short-term intentions.
“There is no push for regulation. If they don’t want to change the regulation you could put the right pressure on the companies to have the right leadership.”
How to modernise
The steps Jackson recommends for modernising would likely be viewed with disbelief by advisers in more heavily regulated parts of the world.
“Don’t cold call clients 10 times a day. Look at the clients’ needs, what their demands are and how they prefer to be approached. It’s all about comfort. Look further ahead, more than ever before, look at the full process,” he said.
“Look at what it’s going to happen with the client in two, five and 10 years because they allow people to plan effectively. It’s very plain and simple. When people want to move their hard-earned money into investment, they want comfort more than anything.”