New data points to fundamental societal changes



The UAE is undergoing many of the social and cultural changes associated with other parts of the developed world. Attitudes towards marriage, education and employment, for example, are shifting: people are waiting longer to get married, more women are working outside the home and couples are having fewer children.

As The National reported yesterday, the recently released Abu Dhabi Statistical Yearbook found that the average age of marriage among female Emiratis has risen from 23.7 years of age in 1995 to 25.9 in 2012. A similar but slower pattern is evident among men.

Neither statistic is surprising. Education has changed people’s priorities and perspectives. Young men and women are now more focused on completing their undergraduate and postgraduate studies and establishing their careers before getting married. Many women are no longer dependent on men for their financial destiny. Conversely, the rising cost of weddings and dowries could equally explain this trend.

The government's statistics also reveal a startling and sudden decline in life expectancy among men in the emirate, falling from 77.1 years of age in 2011 to 75.2 in 2012. The assumption here is that a statistical anomaly is at work, one that will most likely correct itself when the next data points are released. However, it could be associated with the high number of car accidents involving young men.

The total number of car accidents has declined since spiking in 2009 when it reached 5,240 casualties. In 2011, that number had fallen to 3,873 injuries and deaths, suggesting there has been some accommodation of safety messages by road users.

Other statistics tumble from this mine of data, recording ordinary and extraordinary snapshots of our lives: the quality and quantity of date production has markedly improved since 2009; the number of camels in the emirate has also increased by around a fifth.

Such surveys give an unvarnished insight into the world we live in and chart how our lives have changed and will continue to do so. They provide a data-driven account of the state of the nation. The Statistics Centre Abu Dhabi should be commended for this thorough survey, which will no doubt inform policymaking and strategy in years to come.

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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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