Asset management firms tend to categorise the Middle East as part of their Europe and Africa businesses, but the Qatar Financial Centre Authority (QFCA) argues that this is the wrong approach.

This may be a “fundamental change” that's required within large organisations – to think of the Middle East and Africa as part of Asia rather than part of Emea, says Shashank Srivastava, acting chief executive of QFCA, the development arm of Qatar’s financial sector. The authority wants to see asset managers set up shop in the country and offers seeding programmes as incentives.

“You can live your life looking in the rear-view mirror or through the windshield,” he adds. “If you look through the windshield, you see the growth is going to be in Asia and capital is in the Middle East, and to bridge that, the Middle East needs to be linked to the Asian operations.”

Akshay Randeva, director of strategy at QFCA, elaborates on this point. “Years back, in the Far East, many large organisations started by servicing it remotely, and as the regional revenues expanded, at some point they decided they needed a flag there,” he says. “At what point do you decide the ‘E’ leaves and 'mea' needs its own flag?”

Lester Gray, Asia-Pacific CEO at Schroders in Singapore, says he understands the rationale for these comments. “It’s down to the growth dynamics,” he says, “in that many Middle Eastern countries have greater similarities to countries in Asia than the older, more developed countries in Europe.”

But ultimately, says Gray, this is a call for a firm’s global – rather than regional – management.

Randeva goes on to say that one thing fund managers have learnt from their experience in Asia is “the importance of relationships, and of actually getting in there early enough to understand and have the relationships to be positioned correctly to capitalise on the growth when it happens”.

“There are at least a couple of institutions that are already kicking themselves over how China has played out and how they've participated in how that happened,” he adds. “You keep asking yourself, for how many more years is a similar sort of thing going to happen in Mena [the Middle East and North Africa region].”

Now is the time for asset gatherers and investors to start developing relationships, suggests Randeva, especially since 20 years on the Arab Spring is likely to be seen as a turning point for the region.

*A full Q&A article based on a roundtable discussion hosted by the Qatar Financial Centre Authority will appear in the upcoming (December) issue of AsianInvestor magazine.