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Personal security grows as wealthy expats flock to GCC

personal security opening car door for client Shutterstock/LightField Studios
As well as traditional personal protection, GCC clients seek assistance in managing their own security
  • High net worth individuals are making their homes in the GCC
  • Personal security firms are seeing demand for their services double
  • Clients seek home security advice as well as personal protection

As more and more high net worth individuals choose to call the states of the GCC home, the private personal security sector has become big business, and some providers are reporting surging demand for their services.

Last year 5,200 more HNWIs relocated to the UAE than left. The Gulf state had the highest net inflow of millionaires in the world in 2022, according to the Henley Private Wealth Migration Report.

The study forecasts a net inflow of 4,500 HNWIs – people with investable wealth of more than $1 million – to the UAE in 2023. And these people value their privacy — and safety.

“The Middle East is really the place to do business for us,” said Alex Bomberg, CEO of Intelligent Protection, which has teams in the UAE, Oman and Jordan as well as across Europe and the Caribbean. “Business has certainly doubled since coming out of Covid, if not trebled.”

Similarly, Bruce Wienand, CEO at Dubai-based PPS Group, said the protection services company had seen a 35 percent uplift in business since before the pandemic.

Growing demand

Personal security has always been at the forefront of desirables for the rich and famous, royalty, politicians, celebrities and sports stars.

Earlier this month, regional sports management company Palm Sports, a subsidiary of International Holding Company, completed the AED300 million ($81.67 million) acquisition of Securiguard Middle East, a specialist firm offering services across a number of sectors.

Research company 6W Research forecast the Middle East’s commercial security market, including demand from government, will reach $8.4 billion in revenues by 2025.

“Our competition is really ramping up,” said Wienand. “Obviously companies have seen the market and they’re putting their resources in.”

Alex Nicholl, group commercial director of Messe Frankfurt Middle East – the organiser of safety and protection trade shows Intersec and Intersec Saudi Arabia – said the latter event, which takes place in October, is 85 percent sold out.

“In 2022, 90 percent of visitors were based in Saudi Arabia,” he said. “However, 50 percent of those were expatriates, all sourcing for in-country requirements.”

In some respects the demand for security and protection is surprising. The GCC makes up half of the top 10 safest cities in the world, according to mid-year 2023 data from Numbeo.

It rates cities based on user-submitted surveys on factors such as perception of crime levels, perceived safety and worry about specific crimes, including mugging and robbery.

Abu Dhabi, Ajman and Doha take the top three spots, with Dubai in fifth and Muscat eighth. Riyadh and Jeddah also feature in the top 50.

Given this level of perceived safety, Wienand said much of PPS Group’s detail revolved around personal security for GCC clients on their travels abroad.

“We’re seeing people attracted to the region for the tax benefits and the safety,” he explained. “You can bring your family here, put your kids in school, go for a nice lunch and you’re safe.

“Central Asia, the horn of Africa, in west Africa – we call it the difficult environment – [are] post conflict, low infrastructure, poor governance, that type of thing.”

A different approach

Bomberg, a former soldier in the British Army and previously an aide to members of the British Royal family at Kensington Palace, London, said personal security provision in the GCC was somewhat different.

“In Dubai, people don’t use bodyguards on a daily basis, generally,” he said.

“Sports people and high net worths generally want covert protection. They don’t want to be seen with bodyguards, they don’t want to be hassled. They want much more relaxed security.

“We give them advice and help them become more security aware. That’s one of the biggest things for us, helping them manage their security themselves.”

Mark Doughty, head of security services at Dubai-based Transguard Group, said its protective services division, which was started in 2018, is also seeing demand for protection of assets and personal valuables.

“Many individuals and companies now require more than typical executive protection, manned protective security services,” he said.

“They’re also asking for security system installations and villa/home consultancy on security requirements, as well as the fitting of personal safe rooms, valuables storage and safes to be added to personal homes and corporate office spaces.”

Client selection

Those seeking personal security are often discerning about those with whom they work, but the companies providing protection have an interest in proper appraisal, too.

Among the expats in the GCC, the UAE in particular has seen a sharp uptick in the number of Russians relocating since the conflict with Ukraine began in February last year.

Bomberg stressed that due diligence is conducted before securing new clients, including ensuring groups and individuals are not placed on any global sanctions lists.

“We’re an international company,” he said. “We can’t work with people who are sanctioned.

“We’ve got to know who you’re working for because we’ve got to limit our risk.”

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