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Abu Dhabi and Dubai: Global Wealth Hubs with Growing Family Office Appeal

Dubai's millionaire population grew 78% in a decade, while Abu Dhabi manages $1.5 trillion in sovereign wealth funds.

By Athena Xu

6/10, 03:15 EDT
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Key Takeaway

  • Abu Dhabi's $1.5 trillion sovereign wealth funds and flexible ADGM structures make it a global hub for private wealth.
  • Dubai's luxurious lifestyle and DIFC Family Wealth Centre attract wealthy families, with a 78% rise in millionaires over the last decade.
  • Both cities offer easy family office setups, with Dubai's fees at $22,430 and Abu Dhabi's as low as $500, drawing global interest.

Abu Dhabi's Wealth Hub

In the heart of Abu Dhabi, the Four Seasons hotel has become a central meeting point for the world of private capital. The hotel’s lounge is often filled with men in white thobes and tailored suits, engaging in hushed conversations over Arabic coffee. This setting underscores Abu Dhabi's growing reputation as a global hub for private wealth. "Every Tom, Dick and Harry around the world is trying to come here," said Ryan Lemand, co-founder and CEO of Abu Dhabi-based Neovision Wealth Management. "It’s like the gold rush."

Abu Dhabi's appeal lies in its substantial financial resources, including the $1.5 trillion in sovereign wealth funds. The Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) offers flexible and discreet structures for investment entities, designed to minimize public disclosure and compliance requirements. This aligns with the preferences of the local wealthy elite, who value privacy. Christina Wing, founder of Wingspan Legacy Partners, noted, "They’re incredibly private. We don’t even know their names. We spoke to one, and not only did we have to do all the NDAs, we had to do it for over a year before we even knew the client’s name. In the US, that’s one day."

Dubai's Lifestyle Appeal

In contrast, Dubai offers a different allure. Its bustling hotel lobbies are filled with conference attendees, tourists, and business professionals. Dubai is known for its luxurious lifestyle, featuring high-end restaurants, nightclubs, and golf courses. The city has attracted a significant number of wealthy individuals, with its millionaire population growing by 78% over the last decade, according to Henley & Partners.

Dubai has also become a haven for wealthy families fleeing hostile regimes or wars, such as the influx of Russian money following the invasion of Ukraine. Henley estimates that about 3,100 high-net-worth Russians have moved to the UAE since the war began. Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) has made efforts to formalize its appeal to the wealthy by opening the DIFC Family Wealth Centre, which offers advisory services, workshops, and high-level networking opportunities.

Family Office Dynamics

Both Abu Dhabi and Dubai are working to create ecosystems where rich families can network, co-invest, and grow their fortunes. The number of registered foundations in Dubai rose by 53% last year, while Abu Dhabi saw a 35% increase. However, challenges remain, including staffing issues and cultural clashes. The UAE's Ministry of Economy states that family businesses make up about 90% of UAE companies, many of which are facing their first succession.

The ease of setting up family offices in both cities is a significant draw. In Dubai, the process involves a straightforward application, financial review, and fees totaling $22,430. In Abu Dhabi, entities can be owned by a single family member, with registration fees as low as $500. This ease of setup, combined with pro-wealth policies, has attracted a diverse range of families from around the world.

Street Views

  • Ryan Lemand, Neovision Wealth Management (Neutral on Abu Dhabi's private capital scene):

    "Every Tom, Dick and Harry around the world is trying to come here. It’s like the gold rush."

  • Tobias Prestel, Prestel & Partner (Bearish on Dubai's wealth ecosystem):

    "Where there’s money, there’s wannabes. And there are a lot of wannabes in Dubai."

  • Christina Wing, Wingspan Legacy Partners (Neutral on Abu Dhabi's wealthy families' privacy practices):

    "They’re incredibly private... We don’t even know their names. We spoke to one, and not only did we have to do all the NDAs, we had to do it for over a year before we even knew the client’s name. In the US, that’s one day."

  • Adam Ladjadj, Emirates Family Office Association (Bullish on family office networking in UAE):

    "At the end of the day, these families go on word of mouth... A lot of these families aren’t chasing big capital; they’re chasing the right partners. It’s not always pegged to a check size."