Time to ring the changes at DFM with new bell

We’ve all become quite familiar now with the bell-ringing ceremony that ushers in the first day of trading in a security at the Dubai Financial Market, and what jolly events they are.

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We’ve all become quite familiar now with the bell-ringing ceremony that ushers in the first day of trading in a security at the Dubai Financial Market, and what jolly events they are.

You get a chance to chat to some of the big wheels in the Dubai financial scene, make new contacts and reinforce old ones in an atmosphere that is – usually – upbeat and celebratory. Nothing like the feelgood of a successful market listing to make people chatty and convivial – and looser than ever with interesting information.

But there have been so many of these events this year, what with the string of IPOs, sukuk and bond issues, that some of the participants might be expected to be growing a little tired of them, although I see no sign so far that bell fatigue had set in.

In particular, Essa Kazim, the governor of the Dubai International Financial Centre whose presence is usually obligatory at the ceremonies, is bearing up stoically to the demands of so much clanging, although I swear his biceps are noticeably bigger over the past year of waving all that heavy brass around.

I’ve never had any doubts about the exercise as a good bit of PR, until this week with the Amanat ceremony.

The bell ringers looked edgy and uncertain from the moment they appeared on the little balcony above the main DFM trading floor. Perhaps they were unnerved by the fall in global markets as a result of the plunging oil price, maybe they had already caught wind of the “sell” orders that must have been building up in the DFM trading system ahead of Amanat’s formal debut.

The event just seemed a little less glamorous, less self-confident than before.

And then it struck me: it was the bell. I'd never spotted it before, but the DFM bell is quite clearly out of place in the modern Dubai financial scene.

It’s like one of those instruments I remember from school days so many years ago, a hand-held, brass affair with a wooden handle that told me it was time to start lessons for the day, or called me in from break time. I don’t have very good memories of that kind of bell.

I’m sure the DFM has a reason for using such an antiquated bit of kit. Perhaps it’s modelled on the very similar brass bell used to open business at the New York Stock Exchange for many years.

But the NYSE has experimented with several different sounds over the centuries: a Chinese gong and different calibres of bells have all been used, as well as the wooden gavel that is still used to signal the end of trading.

Nowadays, the commencement of trading is signalled by different kinds of bell in different parts of the sprawling NYSE trading floor, but they are all rung at the touch of a button, rather than by hand. London has a similar set-up.

Dubai’s needs as the hub of financial business in the fast-growing Arabian Gulf are different to those of the NYSE or London.

There, they want to emphasise their longevity and heritage. In Dubai, I believe the market authorities should be celebrating modernity, innovation and vision above all other qualities.

So it’s time for a new bell at the DFM. Or maybe a revolutionary new kind of opening technique, more in keeping with the emirate’s glitzy image.

A bigger bell in solid gold, perhaps, permanently mounted in a high-profile spot and operated by an up-to-the-minute electronic mechanism? It could be a thing of beauty, and a declaration of intent by DFM policymakers.


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