Striving for better in the Middle East

As part of our interviews series we talk to Sam Instone, CEO of wealth management business AES International, about starting out in the UK, scaling up in Dubai and raising standards across the Middle East.

The AES International story begins like so many others - as a start-up. Founded in 2004, it later became one of the UK’s fastest growing wealth managers. But then the company decided it needed a new challenge, outside of the European Economic Area (EEA).

“We’d grown a really strong business inside Europe, but it became clear that there was more of a mission to be achieved. One of the markets where we knew we could make a huge difference was in the Middle East,” explains Instone.

Instead of operating from a distance, AES International packed up and got straight into the heart of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), setting up an office in Dubai. After coming from such a highly regulated and progressive market in its native UK, the move was a culture shock. Instone explains:

“The ‘traditional industry’ in this region is decades behind other leading financial service markets.

“The UK and Australia, for example, have long moved away from the manufacturing and vending of products through a broker, and calling that financial services. The industry here in Dubai, and many other international markets, is still operating that 1980’s style model and we spotted an opportunity to change this. To help educate and bring progressive, new model advisory practices to a large and wealthy geographic region.”

How regulation drives standards

Tapping into this opportunity means leading the charge towards far greater transparency across the GCC, a challenge made harder by the lack of regulation in the region.

“In other markets, regulation has brought people giving advice to account. It’s driven standards and professionalism, allowing financial services to thrive for all the right reasons. In the GCC we’re some 20 or 30 years behind that.”

This is where AES International has identified its niche: creating a business model that draws on best practice and trust to partner with the clients it represents, which are mainly ex-pats.

“Tax, legal and regulatory complexity combined with the exigencies of this transient region have historically created rich pickings for traditional, mercenary providers.

Technology is the key enabler for us to achieve any kind of scale, supported by the right talent.

Sam Instone
CEO, AES International

“Our mission is enabling far better informed and more effective decisions based upon science not speculation. We want to be at the forefront of the emerging profession of financial planning and employee benefits. This means an entirely different approach built around UK Chartered and US fiduciary standards. Of course, this also means fully embracing technological change.”

A strategy for scale

“It’s why we’ve chosen to work in partnership with a technology company like Iress, one that operates in the markets we like. And thinks like us. The onus is not on us to keep up with the latest new thing or emerging technology trends. Iress does this for us. And as a result, it's been a long relationship. Technology is the key enabler for us to achieve any kind of scale, supported by the right talent.”

“It’s why our graduate training programme is so important. Bringing in the next generation of people with the right attitude. We’re getting to them before they are tempted by the dark side of international financial services. We are training them up to be young jedis!”

Here’s to a brighter outlook for the profession in this part of the world.

To find out more more about AES International: