The opening up of states to business investment has been accompanied by a willingness by the authorities to seek out external advice. Public-private partnerships are set to increase, as governments become increasingly inclined to join forces to bring their complex economic and infrastructural visions to life.
At sector level, firms will be required to become more flexible and adapt their business models in response to client needs – whether that means diversifying their in-house offering or teaming up with complementary providers.
But for firms that are able to support their clients to navigate the distinctive challenges of this new era, the potential rewards are great. What the insights of our panel reveal above all is a confidence about the opportunities in the sector, and an appetite for meeting the challenges with ingenuity.
“Saudi Arabia’s mega project is a long game opportunity. Africa is another: a lot of international businesses are basing themselves in Dubai to access African markets, so we’re trying to identify those clients and expand into Africa alongside them. China’s Belt and Road programme is a third opportunity: we have a lot of connections with Chinese construction companies, which are going to be active in a number of MENAT countries over the next 10 years.” – Mark Blanksby, Clyde & Co
“We are seeing an encouraging amount of dialogue between government and professional services. Governments know they don’t have all the answers. We’re close to the coalface and we have the ability to influence policy and inform governments about how best to make a difference.” – Matthew Lewis, Boyden
“Many clients are seeking to consolidate their supply chain and streamline their processes by purchasing advice from fewer sources. Client demand for non-traditional law firms is becoming more prevalent. In order to compete in this ever-changing market, law firms must diversify to survive.” – Shiraz Sethi, DWF
“I think we might see the emergence of a kind of pop-up culture. You can open an office for three years because there happens to be a particular need and then shut it down. Potentially we’ll also see support to clients built around technology rather than human interface.” – Sachin Kerur, Reed Smith
"Liquidity (or sometimes lack of) is a common issue across the region. Family businesses and large conglomerates often require debt restructuring services. This has become and will continue to be an important growth area. The impact of COVID-19 and the NPLs we are seeing in the region, some of which were triggered by fraud and poor governance frameworks, is testimony that things were not really in good shape. Likewise, diverse corporates often look for expert support in areas such as business transformation, especially at a time when liquidity or operational efficiencies and cost savings become critical matters. Based on what we have seen in the region, those who suffer the most have weak governance structures and require strategic advice to guide decisions to address NPLs." – Yaser Dajani, FTI Consulting
“Access to funds in the region is not as easy as in other countries, especially for SMEs. Professional services need to be geared up to deliver solutions for those businesses. Other solutions, such as crowdfunding and blockchain developments, are emerging. We need to be addressing the problems that keep business leaders awake at night.” – Gerard Rahman, BDO
“We talk a lot about megatrends across the world, such as shifting power from west to east, demographic changes and the rise of technology. In the Middle East, we’re at the epicentre – it’s megatrends on another level. Around $4trn of capital projects are planned in the region across transport, utilities, big infrastructure, resources, and new cities. They all require support in strategy, development, financing, disputes and resolutions.” – Stephen Anderson, PwC