October 9, 2010, Abu Dhabi, UAE: 

Mixed teams (meaning both men and women are on the teams) compete at the annual Dragon Boat racing competition. Each team represent a corporation and can compete in different races denoted by the length of the course. At the end of the day teams are given awards and one is named the champion.

Lee Hoagland/ The National
Mixed teams compete at the annual Dragon Boat racing competition.

Dragon boats take to Abu Dhabi waters

ABU DHABI // Jordan Solon pointed to his stomach as he took a break from rowing a dragon boat with his teammates.

He was illustrating how he shed a few pounds over three months of training for the Abu Dhabi Dragon Boat Festival, as part of the Fairmont Vikings.

Organisers say the annual event is not just a way to stay fit, but also a team-building exercise, where executive officer and janitor row side-by-side and camaraderie is on full display.

"It's all about community," said Levent Tekun, the director of sales and marketing at the Shangri-La Hotel, where the tournament was being held.

Hundreds of participants lined the beach despite the searing afternoon sun, enjoying barbecued burgers between bouts of furious rowing.

It was particularly challenging for the Shangri-La and Traders Dragons, a joint team who adopted the gruelling Chinese style of dragon boat rowing for the 200m race.

"Quicker strokes all the way. It's more tiring, a short course, and 110 per cent of our power," said Rodolfo Vierdida, the team's captain.

The team had stepped up their practice before the competition, trying to fit in some training time every day in the fortnight before the races, which began on Friday. The teams had all the resources they needed at their disposal, Mr Vierdida said.

Henning Fries, the general manager of Fairmont Bab al Bahar and a member of the Vikings team, said the activities helped employees and colleagues socialise.

There was a "good mix of all the different departments and nationalities", he said.

Dragon boating originated 2,500 years ago in China. In 2006, Dragon Boating in Dubai was the first UAE-based organisation to adopt the sport, practised by 50 million worldwide.

The races are divided into a corporate competition, whose participants are usually better supported, a premier competition and another for schools and universities.

Mr Solon said the team took their cue from the Philippines' national dragon boating team, who are record holders in the 200m race.

They would find out later that day if they were on track to follow in their footsteps. "They're our idols, simply the best," he said.

Pearls on a Branch: Oral Tales
​​​​​​​Najlaa Khoury, Archipelago Books

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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