A Tale of Two Cities

Please forgive the shameless plagiarising of the Dickens classic. We accept fully that the only thing the next few paragraphs has in common with the 1859 work of genius is that London is involved in the story!

In the late 1980’s, London’s solution to aggressively growing its financial services sector from its dated and outmoded (albeit conveniently located) financial centre was to develop a post-industrial dockland area into what is known today as Canary Wharf.

Notwithstanding a few development headaches & bankruptcies at the start, the project became synonymous with London’s rise to global financial dominance over the next three decades. At its peak 100,000 people were employed in Canary Wharf & almost all of the bulge bracket global brands had their European HQ offices in the many skyscrapers.

Fast forward to 2023 & the decision by HSBC to exit Canary Wharf to much smaller premises, back where they came from 35 years previously, signals the death spiral for this piece of real estate being a top 3 global home of finance, coming as it did after a slew of other global brands have also departed. Amongst the many reasons for this sad demise is the land grab underway in many global locations to secure their reputations as financial centres for the 21st and 22nd centuries.  

Nowhere is this more evident than in the Capital of Capital: Abu Dhabi. No doubt learning from the examples of London, Hong Kong & New York – Abu Dhabi; 1 of the 7 emirates constituting the UAE, has constructed its own financial centre of towers, malls, hotels, restaurants & associated services called Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) which opened in 2013 on a 114 hectare natural island called Al Maryah right next door to downtown Abu Dhabi (for the more curious amongst you, the island is named after a breed of Arabian deer)! In only 10 years, ADGM has grown so much that it has outgrown its acreage and is now expanding to a neighbouring island called Al Reem which is 10x the size!          

We are privileged to live amongst & see up close the changing of the financial services world order. We cannot think of a better way to summarise the resulting pain and opportunity for the old and new guard locations than to quote Mr Dickens; ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…’