Abu Dhabi residents are squeezed on disposable income



Rana Suri has lived in Abu Dhabi since 2011, and works as a nurse at a government-run hospital.

“During the first few years I was in the UAE, I spent a lot of my wages on electronics and gifts for family and friends,” says the 35 year-old Indian. “But now I have much less spare at the end of each month for such things.”

Ms Suri says she has noticed a 5 per cent increase in living costs this year compared to 2016. “Salaries have stagnated in the last two years,” she says. “In my department, we’ve seen no increments, and I feel like this will continue into the future.” Ms Suri says her 30-minute daily commute is also more expensive. “Before deregulation of petrol prices [in August 2015] it used to cost me Dh100 for a full tank. Now it’s gone up to Dh120 a tank.”

Ms Suri’s car insurance for her 2013 model, mid-size sedan was Dh1,350 in 2016 and hiked to Dh1,870 for 2017.

Although rents have been nosediving across the UAE, the benefits are not being passed to existing renters who, like Ms Suri and her husband, choose to stay put – in their case, in a two- bedroom flat on Electra Street. “When we renewed our rental contract, our landlord refused to drop the rent,” she says. “But when we looked at other apartments in our area, we saw the rent was 10 to 15 per cent below our Dh95,000 rate.”

Salik charges have risen in Dubai because the Al Safa and Al Barsha toll gates are now delinked, so it now costs Dh8 instead of Dh4 in charges for Ms Suri to drive to Dubai at weekends to visit her friends.

Two years ago, she took out a Dh320,000 five-year loan, which she invested back home in India. “I bought a home, and invested the remainder. I will use that for my future plans to mig­rate to another country – hopefully Australia or New Zealand, once my loan is repaid.”

But despite watching her dirhams these days, Ms Suri says she is still thankful. “Despite saving less money last year, overall since I have been in the UAE, I have made a lot more money than I would have done if I’d just stayed in India.”

‘I don’t visit the salon much these days’

Sara Guindi, a Canadian housewife, has lived in Abu Dhabi since 2013 with her Egyptian-Canadian husband and two daughters, ages one and three.

“Things started out really well and we were happy to be here,” says Ms Guindi, who is 38. “I worked as a technical specialist for a government entity from November 2013 to January 2016, but then I was let go due to budget cutbacks and company restructuring. So that was a major loss of income.”

Ms Guindi’s husband works for a private company in a fin­ancial sales role. “He doesn’t get a good salary, and salary payments are frequently late,” she complains. “Last year, payments were five months late at one point. Only small cash allowances were given to cover phone and car expenses.”

In the past 12 months, Ms Guindi has noticed rising gas prices, and says her family’s electricity and water prices have nearly doubled. The flat municipality fees of 3 per cent has also added to their monthly bills.

When Ms Guindi lost her job, she also lost her Dh1,500 monthly utilities allowance and company-sponsored education allowance. “Luckily our kids are still too young for school, otherwise it would have been a major cost increase,” she says.

Last November, the family decided to downsize from a two-bedroom apartment in the city (which was Dh95,000) to a one-bedroom apartment in Khalifa City A (Dh48,000) to save money. “We’ve also had to cut down on entertainment expenses like eating out, and I don’t visit the salon much these days,” she says. “We’ve opted to keep paying our nanny, because we don’t want to lose her in case I go back to work. So we’re currently not saving anything.”

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COMPANY PROFILE

Name: SmartCrowd
Started: 2018
Founder: Siddiq Farid and Musfique Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech / PropTech
Initial investment: $650,000
Current number of staff: 35
Investment stage: Series A
Investors: Various institutional investors and notable angel investors (500 MENA, Shurooq, Mada, Seedstar, Tricap)

Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

“What we have seen is a desire for higher returns in what has been a low-return environment specifically in various fixed income or bonds,” he said.

“In this environment, we have seen a de facto increase in the risk that clients are taking in things like illiquid investments, private equity investments, infrastructure and private debt, those kind of investments were higher illiquidity results in incrementally higher returns.”

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”

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Rating: 3/5

Company name: Farmin

Date started: March 2019

Founder: Dr Ali Al Hammadi 

Based: Abu Dhabi

Sector: AgriTech

Initial investment: None to date

Partners/Incubators: UAE Space Agency/Krypto Labs 

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Company profile

Company name: Xare 

Started: January 18, 2021 

Founders: Padmini Gupta, Milind Singh, Mandeep Singh 

Based: Dubai 

Sector: FinTech 

Funds Raised: $10 million 

Current number of staff: 28 

Investment stage: undisclosed

Investors: MS&AD Ventures, Middle East Venture Partners, Astra Amco, the Dubai International Financial Centre, Fintech Fund, 500 Startups, Khwarizmi Ventures, and Phoenician Funds


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