AIFC meets the Hongqi

Two days ago one of the world’s leading regulators called me to talk about the rise of LawTech – the successor, in many ways, to two decades of FinTech.

LawTech is technology designed to enhance access to justice and make the law something that serves citizens, not the other way around. Terrifying lawyers and law firms, it aims to democratise the law, making the law available to help all, not the few.

As you can imagine, huge sums are now being invested in legal technology that will benefit us all, and which bursts the monopoly held by lawyers on the provision of legal advice.  And the regulator wanted to know where it should look to find out more.

“Where should we be looking for innovation and best practice in LawTech” I was asked. “London, Singapore and the AIFC” I replied. A pause, followed by:

“Where is the AIFC”?

“You know”, I said, “the AIFC. The leading financial centre in Central Asia, the safe harbour for investments throughout the CIS and China, one of the world leaders in Islamic Finance and Green Finance and the only International Financial Centre to have an Advisory Council dedicated to Legal Technology.”

Another long pause.

How can it be that the AIFC is achieving so much, with so many world firsts, and yet is largely unknown outside of, well, the AIFC?

It’s rather like the Hongqi. Not a derogatory term for white people from the 1970’s, but rather a magnificent Bentley-esque limousine developed in China for the Premier and Ministers. The car boasts the latest technology, has a ride like floating on clouds, over 400 horsepower out of a V12 6 litre power train and costing well over $800,000. How can this Maybach-challenger exist but be largely unknown outside of, well, Beijing?

Marketing, I hear you say. Well, Daimler is estimated to spend more than $2 billion a year on advertising, which excludes the $500 million it spends on F1. That’s how it maintains its position in the premier league of motor vehicles globally, and why, when we see that three-pointed star on the front of a car or truck, we think about reliability, quality and dependability.

Figures vary on the marketing spend on the Hongqi, but it seems to vary between a groat and a goat and, guess what, we have no idea what the Hongqi stands for.

Kazakhstan has so much to be proud of in the AIFC. It is a world leader in some areas, a regional leader in many areas and a visionary when it comes to trends like Legal Technology. It is pioneering, employs brilliant people and has a clear vision to be one of the leading financial centres in the world, It is poised to host some of the most exciting developments ever seen by the Kazakh economy, and is a hub for billions of dollars that will be invested in Kazakhstan and its industry. And yet, ask 100 business people across the globe, including in Almaty, what AIFC represents and more will talk to the American Iranian Friendship Council (probably not a huge group at present) than the vision and values of the AIFC.

It is time, as part of the global KZ@30 campaign, for the AIFC to emerge from its bubble and let the world know what it represents. What makes it different. Why it stands out.

It should talk to the opportunity the AIFC offers, the trust one can have in its institutions and the excellence that underpins all it does. In short, it should go from a melange of disparate messaging about laws, courts, regulation, exchanges, green energy and the like, to a single message, underpinned by clear proof points.

Now, as a lawyer, I am to marketing what Diane Abbott is to maths. But here’s a start for the AIFC. A slogan which I gift to them, and on which I hope they can build a global campaign.

‘AIFC: The Steppe-ing Stone to Success’

Whichever tagline they choose, and I suspect it won’t be mine, this is the time for the world to see that AIFC is no longer the Hongqi of financial centres, but rather the Rolls Royce Phantom.

Mark Beer is a writer, academic and lawyer. He is the co-founder of Seven Pillars Law in the AIFC, Chairman of the Metis Institute, a visiting fellow at Oxford University and a visiting professor at the Shanghai University for Political Science and Law.

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