(MENAFN - Arab News) Family businesses account for approximately 90 percent of commercial activity in the Gulf region. Over 5,000 family firms have amassed more than 500 billion (SR 1,875 billion) in assets. Women are starting to play an increasingly influential role in these family offices.
In a bid to develop the knowledge and skills necessary for long-term wealth preservation, the London-based Gatehouse Bank began a three-day course as part of the MBA in Real Estate at Dar Al-Hekma College on Monday.
Gatehouse Bank is a leading Shariah-compliant bank regulated by the UK Financial Services Authority.
The bank's involvement in the course is also part of a drive to promote financial literacy, particularly among women in Saudi Arabia.
"Women are gaining more and more financial influence in the Middle East," said Azeemeh Zaheer, vice president of Wealth Management at Gatehouse Bank. "As they become more economically independent, the decision-making process has shifted to incorporate women's interests and motivations. However, it is essential that women are fully equipped with the right knowledge, tools and skills to make the most of these opportunities and really maximize the long-term benefits of playing a more active role in business and investment decisions."
She added, "I have been to Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and have found that Kuwaiti women have been more exposed to international investment opportunities. They have been running businesses for a long time. I have met a number of Saudi female CEOs in Riyadh and Jeddah. I think they are still developing their skills and expertise. Among all GCC countries, Kuwaiti women are the most active in business, but Saudi women are coming behind at a very admirable second place."
A report recently published in Arabian Business indicated that Saudi Arabia ranked second after the United Arab Emirates on the list of the most powerful Arab women of 2012. Twelve Saudi women where mentioned from different fields and backgrounds such as business, medical research specialization, executives in organizations and United Nations and charity organizations.
Gatehouse Bank has initiated a corporate social responsibility (CSR) project to promote financial literacy among women in the GCC. The bank shares its skills and knowledge with women in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar.
During the three-day course, the bank will focus on real estate as an asset class, looking at the performance of property portfolios and examining the benefits of various real estate investment strategies.
"Gatehouse Bank has previously hosted a series of real estate investment seminars across the GCC, helping women to improve their understanding of property fundamentals. Now, for the first time, the bank is actively involved in a formal tutoring program," said Zaheer.
Mohammad Razzouqi, associate vice president at GSH, Gatehouse Bank's sister company in Kuwait, explained that real estate has long been a reliable source of revenue and wealth generation.
"Investors in real estate are looking for assets that are located in good regulatory regimes, where there is transparency and a strong legal system so that their rights and their rights of ownership are protected. This is particularly relevant to female investors. As they become more financially independent, we need to make sure we are providing them with the right advice and solutions so they can build and diversify their portfolios in the best possible way," he said.
Razzouqi said that the UK's reputation is on the increase as one of the most popular destinations for Islamic finance investment in Europe.
"Many asked, 'Why should I invest in UK and US opportunities, while these give only 6 to 7 percent revenue? Investing in the GCC would provide a return of 10 to 11 percent.' We like to emphasize that investors should not only look for returns. They should be aware that investing is always a risk, and some investments run a higher risk than others," he said.
"Investment markets in the UK and the US are very transparent and stable. When we look at GCC markets, anything could happen unexpectedly. The Gulf War of 1990 is but one example. Some markets, like Kuwait, do not have a large volume of liquidity and trading like the UK or the US. London, for example, has the biggest volume of liquidity in the entire world. Last year they had 9 billion (SR 33.75 billion) in assets."
According to Razzouqi, the UK offers a significant number of benefits to real estate investors, including a relatively transparent environment, flexible labor laws and a heavy concentration of high quality buildings and desirable areas. "It also offers a strong and improving infrastructure and transport system, with real estate leases that tend to be longer than elsewhere," he said.
Suhair Hassan Al-Qurashi, president of Dar Al-Hekma, said Saudi women are largely unaware of their rights in the Saudi market.
"We want to involve real players from the market to give our students a hands-on idea of the issues at play. Our aim is to teach our students how to be entrepreneurs and how to create jobs. We mould job creators, not job seekers," said Al-Qurashi.
"Rights start with education. Without proper education, a woman will not learn what her rights are. Saudi women are testing the changes taking place in the Saudi market. They can now assume jobs and positions that they have never had before. In the coming years, we will witness many positive changes for Saudi women, especially as the Shoura council opens its doors to women. This will transform the whole scope of limitations," said Al-Qurashi.