The usual way of building a financial centre is to provide the infrastructure and the tax breaks and to let the investors take care of finding business and skilled staff.

Qatar is approaching things differently by attempting to make education and research a key part of the country’s attractiveness. Clearly it is a long-term and slow-burning strategy, but the aim is to create the knowledge base which, if lacking, undermines the credibility of financial centre aspirations. Without it, established centres such as London and New York can always belittle the efforts of newcomers.

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Back in business

Recently the discussions about Qatar as a knowledge economy in the area of finance gave way to two very real examples of what the authorities in the country have in mind – these were the launch of the Qatar Financial and Business Academy (QFBA) and the release of a huge compendium research work called QFinance.

At the same time Stuart Pearce, chief executive and director-general of the Qatar Financial Centre (QFC) Authority, says that enquiries from potential investors are now picking up following an understandable lull during the darkest days of the financial crisis.

“What firms are telling us is that the plans they have for the Middle East are still intact and the plans they have to open in Qatar are still intact,” he says. “During the worst of the crisis, a lot of firms said ‘we are still coming but we have some issues to sort out’. It is now ­looking more comfortable and investors are re-energising.

“We decided there were three areas where we believe Qatar is well placed to position itself as a preferred location – one is in education with the development of the QFBA, the others are insurance and asset management,” says Mr Pearce.

“They are all interlinked. Education is a keystone for any financial services sector because you cannot build a financial services sector without qualified people. The QFBA is central to our efforts. Insurance, we believe, is a growing market in the Middle East and one of our key platforms to build that hub is Qatar Insurance Services. Linked to this is asset management.”

He adds: “Liquidity in the region has been growing. Qatar’s disposable income is going to grow and people are starting to recognise this. People are starting to say if you are interested in asset management in the Middle East there are two locations to consider – Doha and Abu Dhabi.

“The pick-up in interest in September has been quite remarkable. Firms we talked to six or seven months ago are now coming back to us,” says Mr Pearce.

Back to school

The dividends from investing in education can only be long term: in generations rather than in years. But Qatar is off to a good start with the launch of the QFBA, staffed by professors from top business schools such as Columbia, Insead, Harvard and London Business School.

QFBA is a joint venture between the QFC and the Qatar Foundation for Education, ­Scientific Research and Community Development. The director of the QFBA is Jon Morton, who was previously the deputy-principal of Henley Management College (now Henley Business School) in the UK. The aim is to start with the training of Qatar-based staff, whether locals or foreign nationals, and then develop into a regional training centre.

“When we first started to develop QFC, one of the key questions was: ‘What’s the local talent pool like?’ – and it is relatively small, which is not peculiar to Qatar,” says Mr Pearce. “We quickly decided that to build this market we would need a pool of labour that is better qualified, better accredited and better trained than other markets. It is also part of the knowledge-based economy the government wishes to develop,” he says.

Useful resource

With QFinance, there is a more instant impact – the 2160-page book contains contributions from 300 financial experts, including Harvard Nobel Prize winner Robert Merton, Goldman Sachs chief global economist Jim O’Neill and Mohammad Yunus, Nobel Prize winner for work in microfinance. There is a related website – www.qfinance.com – and the aim is to create a complete financial resource.

Other projects in the QFC knowledge store are plans for a research centre called Quantum Research, which builds on the existing quarterly magazine called Quantum, which is distributed by fDi Magazine’s sister publication, The Banker.

Curriculum Vitae

Stuart Pearce

2005Qatar Financial Centre

CEO

2002HSBC Investments, London

CEO

2001HSBC Corporate Banking, London

Head