Obediah Ayton — UAE Family Offices look for anything but banking products!
For years, family offices of wealthy dynasties have invested in bonds and shares. However, the next generation of family offices in looking to invest in alternative funds, technology solutions and fast-growth start-ups.
Traditionally, family office investment strategies have focused on public bond, equity markets and alternative investments, such as hedge funds and real estate. However, these investments are no longer providing the returns they used to, and we see heightened enthusiasm for direct investment in businesses in order to increase return. There is a real opportunity here to develop mutually beneficial relationships between family offices, new funds and SMEs.
Alongside this monumental shift in wealth, we are witnessing a modernisation of family offices here in the UAE. Family offices are not only selecting business models that allow for more control and greater returns but are also expressing a heightened interest in “impact investing”. Typically, this means investing in small or medium-sized organisations that are purpose-led and have a focus on sustainable or ethical business practices.
Additionally, the make-up of high-net-worth individuals is changing rapidly, especially with the boom in the number of wealthy individuals created in the tech space. People made wealthy by the tech industry have the knowledge and incentive to invest back into promising start-ups and growth businesses; with many of them setting up professional family offices to manage these investments. The money invested in global start-ups by family offices or rich individuals has risen five fold in the last five years.
With a huge amount of the UAE’s wealth concentrated in the hands of high-net-worth families and individuals who are now looking for promising direct investment opportunities, SMEs are overlooking a crucial area of untapped financing.
The UAE Family offices investment strategies are particularly varied with each family having their own philosophy, interests and areas of expertise and without the shorter-term objective of traditional private equity or investment banks.
Many of these Family offices may prove to have much higher and longer-term vested interest in the businesses they invest in compared to an institutional investor. In many cases, based on the experience of the principals behind the family office, they will seek to take a more hands-on involvement in the businesses they fund, acting as mentors and not merely benefactors.
Moreover, the principals behind the family offices have extraordinary networks of connections, which can prove invaluable for start-ups seeking customer exposure, business know-how or even further investment.
Since family offices in the Middle East are independent entities and are regulated less strictly than banks, they can be much more flexible in their consideration of investments across enterprise size, geographies and asset classes. The appeal of direct investment to family offices comes from more than just the alignment of capital. Direct investments allow them to take a more hands-on approach to selecting and managing their portfolios. Investments in the sustainability space and impact investing are particularly attractive.
As the number of UAE family offices and the pool of wealth amassed by them increases and is passed on to a new generation, the way they conduct themselves is evolving rapidly, investing in innovative, creative and socially conscious ways. SMEs should take note of this enthusiasm and use it to their advantage.
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