"We want to consolidate for the moment because of COVID-19.“
What is your assessment of the response of the RAK government and business community to the pandemic?
We are incorporated in Ras Al Khaimah and work with RAKEZ and RAK International Corporate Center. Even before the pandemic, they essentially moved 99% of their operations online, which was a blessing when the pandemic broke out. The government’s approach was to move to an online business platform, which it enacted fairly successfully. In the UAE, most things can be done online, and it is well ahead in terms of technology. It has realized that this is the way moving forward, and it had implemented digitalization with a fair amount of success.
What is the assessment of your industry in light of the pandemic?
Everyone has been affected by the pandemic, especially entrepreneurs, SMEs, and small businesses. They are going through lockdowns, and businesses are being closed. The business that we do is set up entities to provide administrative services, set up funds, and so on. That part of our client base, that market, was affected by the pandemic, and we suffered in the process. Our institutional clients are still there, because they still need to operate. Generally, business has been slow because of the lockdown, and we have seen a reduced number of transactions. Looking forward, we hope for herd immunity and widespread vaccination so businesses can resume as before and embrace the new normal.
Are there any strategies you have designed to attract more clients?
Because we are a service provider, our main reinvention is the way we provide service, namely how we reengineer ourselves and the way we service our clients, as opposed to our approach before. Since the government has been proactive in moving online, we have been trying to get into a position where our service level remains the same, despite working from home and the travelling challenges. Another positive thing is that banks went online many years ago, and internet banking has become the new way of doing business. Banking wise, the platform is there. We wanted to maintain the same level of service for our clients, and if we manage to do that then we should be able to cope with this new normal.
How do your operations in the UAE and Saudi Arabia compare to other operations around the world?
The UAE and many other countries in the region have a tax-free environment, where there is not much of an incentive for companies to set up overseas, and there needs to be more of a long-term trust relationship. In the Middle East, they operate more on a trust basis. We use the UAE as a product, and not as a market where we want to win clients. We are trying to kick start something to get into the market, and we want to have a larger presence, especially in Dubai. We also looked at Qatar, which is a big services center, and Bahrain, which is a banking hub. We are always looking into expanding into the Middle East. It is easier to do business in the UAE compared to other countries in the region.
2021 promises to be more exciting than last year. What are OCRA’s goals and expectations for the coming year?
We want to consolidate for the moment because of COVID-19. We have not revisited the plan for Expo 2021, because all the countries where we are operating are still under some form of lockdowns such as Singapore, Mauritius, and even China. Once the pandemic settles down, we can revisit our plans to grow in the UAE. For now, we want to consolidate our current operations.