It was one of the positive trends highlighted when we presented our 2017 Annual Review and Strategic Review Update to our members in Jersey recently, and a reason for our continued focus on key overseas markets. As part of that programme, we pointed to more than 60 overseas events and at least 2,000 business development meetings planned already for 2018. We are also ramping up our presence in the United States, specifically in New York, where we have completed a business case ahead of opening a representative office. Our overseas engagement is helping to build awareness and wider international appeal.
I’m proud to say that we are now a dominant force In the Middle East and often the ‘go to’ destination among ultra-high net worth clients and their advisers in the region. We are without doubt the clear competitor in this market to Switzerland, something we were not in a position to say several years ago, before our enhanced investment in the region.
The Gulf Cooperation Council states (GCC) features heavily in our programme of roadshows which in 2017 also included events in Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, China and Hong Kong in addition to the UK. But we are expanding further. For the first time in 2017, we hosted receptions in Saudi Arabia in conjunction with British Embassies, another market where we intend to return to in 2018. And while Asia, Africa and the GCC are all markets we plan to visit extensively this year, we will complement those visits with an enhanced focus on the United States.
The further good news is that Jersey firms are responding positively to our growing international engagement. Record numbers of Jersey firms invested in flyout activity to our events last year, while in the GCC in particular, there are now around 40 firms active in the region, with many extending their reach in to the Far East and also exploring opportunities in Africa.
The renewed focus on the US is one of the conclusions that arose from the latest Strategic Review which has been undertaken with McKinsey & Co., a refresh of our 2013 strategy to make sure we remain on the right track. To set us apart from other IFCs, one of the priorities identified in 2013 was to ensure we continued to invest in new markets, despite the downturn that financial services had suffered generally following the global financial crisis. That decision has proved the right one. If you look at job numbers in financial services, we have not suffered the decline experienced elsewhere and employment levels are now as high as they were pre-crisis and if you look at business growth figures, we can point to healthy and rising percentages in both fund and private wealth sectors and forecasts of a record year ahead of us.
The Jersey event was an opportunity to provide clarity around our partnership approach with the Government of Jersey, the regulator and increasingly with the digital sector and I was delighted that Chief Minister Senator Ian Gorst representing the government, John Harris, Director General at the Jersey Financial Services Commission and Tony Moretta, CEO Digital Jersey, were on the platform to answer questions and provide certainty around our plans.
Alongside our ongoing push into new markets and partnership approach, another priority to emerge from the strategic refresh was the importance of digital and the exciting opportunities opening up within financial services through digital innovation.
The use of artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming a feature both in wealth planning and in algorithmic trading and quantitative funds, and the importance of handling data securely in an environment in which there are increasing demands on governance and information exchange, are areas where the finance and digital sectors in Jersey can combine to produce a powerful proposition which will help set us apart from the competition. The impact of AI and other technologies on family office structures globally will be the focus of our annual private wealth conference, An Open World, on 25 April 2018.
Our success in places such as the GCC and the Far East has shown we have the quality required to attract premium new business in overseas markets, but we made clear during the presentation that there is no room for complacency. We have a clear direction; a proven strategy and we are embarking on more than 20 forward looking initiatives during the next two years working together with our partners. We share the aim of remaining a world class International Finance Centre advocating high regulatory standards and providing the most attractive products and services to suit the needs of global investors.