Stuart Ritchie — Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Stuart Ritchie, of AES International. Financial Practitioner For Expatriate Investors. No Minimum Account Size Requirement for DIY Platform, $75,000 USD for full service account minimums

For years, investors have been asking me, “Is there a financial advisory firm in the Middle East that will build index fund portfolios for clients.”  The answer has been no.  Until now, I’ve recommended that all Middle East residents run from the financial advisors that step into their paths.  That includes (unfortunately) the advisors that are endorsed by the many international schools in the region.  Well meaning administrators have invited sharks into seal pools.

But one firm in the Middle East is arriving with a lifeboat:  AES International.  Investors could pay as little as 0.35% per year to use a DIY platform.  That costs more than a DIY platform with TD Direct International.  But with AES, there’s always the option of paying one-time advice fees to ask needed questions.

Investors who want a portfolio completely managed by an AES International professional require a minimum of $75,000 USD (equivalent).  The platform costs 1.25% per year for accounts below $1 million, and 1% for accounts above $1 million.

I interviewed AES International’s Stuart Ritchie to tell us about himself and the firm.


  1. Please tell us a little about yourself professionally, including your qualifications.

I am a Chartered Wealth Manager and a Chartered Financial Planner through the UK Chartered Institute of Securities and Investments and the Chartered Insurance Institute respectively.

These qualifications reassure my clients that I adhere to a strict code of conduct, am subject to ongoing assessment and that my knowledge is continuously updated to take into account the latest planning strategies as well as the many changes in legislation and taxation. This so that I am always best placed to advise them.

I am also a UK Pension Transfer Specialist and remain registered on the UK Financial Conduct Authority Register.

My entire career has been in Financial Services. I began at a Private Bank in Glasgow and Edinburgh, followed by a move into their Investment Management arm. I then moved to Aberdeen and worked in the Wealth Management arm of an actuarial firm, followed by a move to Scotland’s largest independent Chartered Accountancy firm.


  1. Please tell us something about you, as a person.

My very early years were spent living as an expat in Noordwijk in the Netherlands, and my parents have been expats for the vast majority of my adult life, living in Cairo, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Kuala Lumpur to name but a few.

I was working for an advisory firm when my father began receiving numerous calls from offshore salespeople offering ‘guaranteed’ returns at ‘almost no risk’. He was then approached by a firm in KL offering him an offshore bond. Having reviewed the paperwork for him I was able to advise my dad to steer clear due to the hidden costs and poor investment options, including multiple structured products that had been selected. These experiences stimulated my interest in the offshore marketplace and in helping international people.

I am now back living as an expat in Dubai with my wife, who works for a Private Bank based in the DIFC and we are expecting our first child in August.   

I see my long-term future in Dubai. I’ve joined The Scottish Association and was recently voted onto the Board as Treasurer. I am also a member of the local Supporters Club of my home football team, which has over 200 members in the UAE.


  1. Could you give us an introduction to your firm?

I head the team of Financial Practitioners at AES International in Dubai who are committed to helping triage expatriates to get the right type of service for their needs. 

I was attracted to AES because of our mission to ‘Positively Change’ the international financial services marketplace.  This means helping clients understand, protect and grow their assets in a way that is almost entirely different from the rest of the financial industry. 

Our team is fee-based, uses index funds, open architecture platforms and integrated planning solutions.

Being a large firm brings both advantages and disadvantages.  We are well capitalised, have a huge number of licenses, a very experienced team, strong internal compliance and excellent economies of scale.  However, we also have the legacy of being part of the problem which we are trying to solve (having many historic clients in mutual funds or insurance-based investments).  This is because just like the wider world – our marketplace is continually evolving and changing and solutions delivered a decade ago are now outdated.  I believe this gives us an unparalleled depth of knowledge and expertise in helping international investors get the best possible investment outcomes and financial planning services.

As evangelists of inbound marketing – we provide a huge amount of free information and knowledge leadership about these experiences to international investors via our knowledge library and blog.


  1. What is the minimum account size requirement you have, in order for a person to become a client?

We are happy to speak with absolutely anyone and to lend a helping hand wherever possible. 

However, we don’t currently provide specific solutions for clients with under £50,000 of investable assets.

We also offer execution only services and guided services to clients who are happy to ‘do it themselves’ and find that most people’s affairs are not so complicated as to require full advice, unless their asset base is quite substantial.


  1. Why do you only build portfolios of low cost index funds or ETFs for your clients?

Industry and academic studies indicate that the majority of active investment managers underperform their benchmarks over time by falling prey to pitfalls such as market-timing, short-term thinking and attempting to outsmart the market. Moreover, those managers who have favourably performed in the past are no more likely to perform favourably in the future. So at AES we don’t play the game of pretending to have inside knowledge of identifying the great performing fund managers of the future.

Using ETFs and other passively managed investments allows us to focus on the more important issue of asset allocation instead of share selection. As index investors we can achieve higher average net-of-fee returns by avoiding the most common failures of active management, including higher fees, higher turnover, and the inability to predict who will outperform.

ETFs make up the majority of our client’s portfolios. The precise investment exposure and cost of an investment are primary considerations. The investment structure, whether ETF or index fund, is secondary.

ETFs help to control risk through the opportunity to obtain diversified exposure to an asset class in a single trade, leading to increased ability to customise a portfolio’s asset allocation.  


  1. Could you give us an idea of the kind of services you offer, as well as your charges? If they differ, based on circumstances, could you give us a few examples?

If clients are happy to use a ‘DIY approach’ then we can direct them to a suitable execution only platform and provide on-going guidance as appropriate for a 0.35% custody fee pa.

However, many clients value the more in depth services offered by our Financial Practitioners.  This full financial planning service is founded on the belief that every individual has a unique set of circumstances and objectives. A financial plan shouldn’t be prescriptive – it should be tailored to reflect our clients’ specific evolving needs and goals.

Our financial advice is focused on helping our clients meet their financial objectives – whether that’s through their existing arrangements or advising on new ones.

We can:

  • Build a financial plan to give our clients confidence for the future;
  • Assess their financial needs and identify issues, gaps and opportunities;
  • Analyse the amount of risk they are prepared and need to take to achieve their objectives;
  • Help our clients to understand how their assets can meet their needs, now and in the future; and
  • Create a plan so that their assets pass to those who matter, as efficiently as possible.


All initial consultations are without charge.

As part of this ‘triage’ process (many clients are best suited to DIY which costs 0.35% pa) we provide all clients with a written tariff of fees and charges.

These differentiate between investment advice (which may also include banking/platform charges) and financial planning services.

Advisory fees for investment management are 1.25% pa. 

In regard to financial planning – we work with all direct clients on a fee basis.  Our fees are dependent on the nature and complexity of the work being carried out.  All of our fees are agreed with clients in writing in advance of any planning, advice and recommendations taking place. 

We offer hourly rates or fixed fees.

Hourly rates are typically between £100 and £250 per hour, dependant on the work and initial fixed fees range from 3% on small amounts to 1.75% on larger accounts.

The fee for ongoing advice and rebalancing is 1.25% per annum.

In terms of the initial service that our clients would receive from AES and the Financial Practitioner team, this would include:  

  • Initial and subsequent meetings (can do via Skype);
  • Data gathering, including liaison with existing providers as necessitated, and detailed analysis;
  • Legislative, market and product research;
  • Full planning report, cash flow analysis and recommendations;
  • Arranging of the recommendations; and
  • Verification and issue of the Policy Documentation Pack.

The ongoing servicing and regular reviews would include the following:

  • An update and appraisal of our clients’ financial and personal situation, needs, circumstances and objectives;
  • Rebalancing of investment portfolio as asset allocation changes over time;
  • A review of their attitude toward investment risk and volatility linked specifically to the performance of their funds, to ensure continued appropriateness. This will help ensure that their risk tolerance continues to match asset allocation being used;  and
  • As assessment and review of investment performance and markets relative to their specific investment as well as a wider economic overview.


  1. Could you give us your contact details and your firm’s website?



  • Name:Stuart Ritchie
  • Company Name: AES International
  • Website:
  • Email:
  • Phone: +971 4450 2500
  • Phone: +971 56 824 1598

Andrew Hallam

I’m a financial columnist for Canada’s national paper, The Globe and Mail, as well as for AssetBuilder, a financial service firm based in Texas. I’m also the author of Millionaire Teacher: The Nine Rules of Wealth You Should Have Learned in School (2nd Ed. Wiley 2017) and The Global Expatriate’s Guide To Investing: From Millionaire Teacher to Millionaire Expat (Wiley 2015). My mission is to educate, motivate and inspire people on basic retirement planning and best practices for investing, using evidence-based strategies. I'm happy to comment on your questions. However, please read the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and the Comments Policy.

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28 Responses

  1. toony says:

    Instinct tells me to avoid ALL financial companies in the UAE like the plague but want to give AES a chance to prove they are one of the extremely rare ‘good guys’!

    However, have some questions about them that worries me

    1. Have heard that they still push ILAS products (and then managed funds and finally index funds/ETF only if experienced customers specifically request them). Is this true? Why would ANY reputable company sell such a class of product when infinite better options are avail? (eg what Tony Noto did when he realised the nature of these ILAS)

    2. Are they registered and regulated in the UK? so under jurisdiction of UK ombudsman should people need recourse or complain. People able to have any recourse within the UAE courts?

    3. About the 0.35% pa for diy accounts. a) Why so high for basically a bank account ($350 pa for 100k account? b) why not charge fix rate instead of % when it’s not aum? (I even balked at the Saxo’s 0.12% and this is ~3x higher! IB is free for accounts $100k+ or a tiny $10 per month with $10 worth of free trades

    4. Do they sign financial fiduciary forms with clients?

    • Toony,

      AES International won’t sell an ILAS to a new client. They will only build portfolios of ETFs. Clients don’t need to ask for them.
      When the firm (Dubai office) mandated this, they lost 80% of their advisors. Most quit. Many were fired. Anyone not on board with this policy was asked to leave.

      They are fully regulated and registered in the UK.

      Saxo charges less for its DIY platform, but in a pinch, nobody at Saxo would answer questions about diversification. Yes, the DIY platform could be cheaper. But it’s still three times cheaper than a DIY platform in the UK with Virgin’s Tracker Index funds. It’s also three times cheaper than the index funds sold directly by Canada’s biggest banks: Royal Bank, CIBC, TD. Their investors series index funds cost between 0.9% and 1.25% per year in management expense ratio costs. And yet, those Canadian index funds are still better than actively managed funds.

      These guys are the real deal.


      • PM99 says:

        Hi Andrew,

        I was really excited to learn about AES last year through my own research and I had a nice chat with one of their advisors. Perhaps I may have understood some of their charges incorrectly, in which case I would apologize in advance, but I found that on top of the 0.35% pa for DIY account, there is a £125 account management fee per quarter (which amounts to 1.32% for a $50k account). There is also a £50 transaction dealing fee and 0.5% guided service fee for all transactions made in funds outside their white list (perhaps their white list would be good enough that you won’t need to invest in funds outside that list). This may not be a concern to investors who have a large chunk of money, but for small scale investors and for folks like me who are just starting their investment journey these charges add up. I would be happy to be told that my understanding is flawed and the charge is only 0.35%pa in which case I would happily set up another consultation session with AES. Hoping to hear your advice. Thanks in advance.

        • PM99,

          The fees as you mention them may or may not be accurate. But there’s a bigger question. If you want a DIY account, why not choose TD Direct International? You wouldn’t pay a platform fee that acts as a wrap fee, charging a percentage of your assets (they recently lowered account fees). Your commission charges would also be low. I think AES offers a great service for those who want a full service financial advisor. But for DIY investors, I offered far cheaper options in my book:

          • Stuart Ritchie says:

            Dear PM99,

            I would agree with Andrew that for smaller, DIY investors without complex needs, the use of Chartered Financial Planner, like myself, sadly isn’t economical.

            You can get information on the best platforms for this and some safe investment options from Andrew’s book. The gulf between affordability of fees for professional advisers (as listed on our website) and affordability for new investors is known as the ‘advice gap’ and you are right to identify that for a lot of smaller accounts the cost of advice outweighs the benefit. This is a core reason why this market segment is preyed upon by financial salespeople who appear to offer free advice far more expensive, opaque and toxic advice. It is hoped that so called ‘Robo’ adviser which is semi-automated may be a solution to this as firms such as Wealthfront, Betterment, Nutmeg and Wealth Bar have done in onshore markets.

            Our organisation is committed to developing this capability for international professionals and hope to have something in place by next year. I hope this helps and thank you so much for your interest and interaction.

          • PM99 says:

            Hi Andrew,

            Thank you so much for your response. Your response is spot on. First of all I would like to say that your book has been a real inspiration and an eye opener for me. I could not keep the book down and finished it within a single reading. The amount of research that has gone into the writing is truly commendable.

            Coming back to AES, when I had contacted them, I had just started to research for investment options for folks residing in UAE. And though I was impressed with what AES had to offer in terms of service, sadly the costs of DIY option with AES were a deterrent for someone who has not got the minimum of $75K to invest using their managed service.

            I later started looking for other DIY options including the ones you have recommended in your book and blogs. For residents in UAE, I found out that TD Direct, Saxo and Swissquote are the only cheaper options. After comparing their costs for my investment amounts, I have opened an account with Swissquote (minimum 0.25% or USD 35 as transaction fee and minimum of 0.0375% or USD 15 as quarterly custody fees). Would like to hear your opinion.



          • Gaurav,

            It sounds like a good option. Well done, and best of luck!


          • PM99 says:

            Hi Andrew,

            Since I wrote the above message, AES has now started a sort of low cost option called “Index Account”. It needs a minimum of USD 10,000 to being with which gets invested in Blackrock Managed Index Portfolio. Based on your risk profile they will offer the defensive, balanced or aggressive option of this fund. The fund invests in a combination of ETFs and Index Funds from Blackrock/iShares. Info for the aggressive option of this fund can be found at

            The charges to use this index account from AES are 1.25% advisory charge from AES and 0.5% from Blackrock fund. For someone like me who can afford only small contributions per quarter/ month using a DIY options platform like TD or Saxo, the charges for this Index account are comparable. However I could like to hear your opinion about the Blackrock fund itself. Will I be duplicating unnecessary charges by using a fund which holds other underlying funds and ETFs. The executive I spoke to AES tells me otherwise. For example if the Blackrock fund invests in a US index ETF (say the ETF charges are 0.2%) and the US index makes 5% in year will my returns be (5%- 0.2% US index ETF charge- 0.5% blackrock charge) or (5%- 0.5% blackrock charge). AES tells me it will be the latter but I am not sure if that is correct. Would appreciate your advice regarding this. Thanks in advance.

            If what AES says is true then UAE expats may finally have a product which may not be the cheapest around but still much cheaper than the insurance wrapped products and yet offering a diversified exposure to ETFs/ index funds.

          • PM 99

            AES is correct. Your total fees including all hidden expense ratio charges for each of the ETFs would be 1.75%.

    • Spud Murphy says:

      Reference point 2. Does the FCA cover advice given in the UAE?

      • Hi Spud,

        Sorry, I don’t clearly understand what you’re asking me. Could you elaborate?


        • Spud Murphy says:

          I mean if advice is given in Dubai, what has the FCA got to do with it? Toony asked if the firm is regulated in the UK, but it is a separate firm in the UAE as it has to be. All firms need a UAE shareholding sponsor, so the firm in Dubai cannot be regulated by the FCA. Confused.

          • Stuart Ritchie says:

            Hi Spud, We have a branch of our UK FCA registered company within the Dubai International Financial Centre which is a highly regarded centre for leading financial services companies. This can be checked here:

            We also have a Federal Company which is locally incorporated as you mention. I am also listed on the UK FCA authorised persons register in the UK and through this our branch establishments.

            Regardless of which one you deal with – the compliance is conducted by a central compliance team in London who will apply the same rigour. This structure is intended to ensure a wide blanket of client protection.

            Thank you for your interaction.


  2. Kristian Petersson says:

    Thank you Stuart for helping me and my family with your low cost no-nonsense approach. It is refreshing!

  3. Anto says:

    Hi Andrew,
    For aes could you advise is the account held with aes and where is the account located. Also if I moved away from Dubai how would this relationship work would I have to keep the account with them or is it easily transferable into a different one.


  4. Michael Gowgiel says:

    I met with Stuart a few weeks ago in Dubai. As a US expat in the UAE who has to move his investment accounts overseas, he was very helpful in giving me solid advice. He pointed me in the right direction regarding a low cost approach with MASECO. Even though AES was not able to take me on as a client, he was more than willing to talk to me and put me on his mailing list. His advice was greatly appreciated.

  5. Rehan says:

    Hi Andrew
    I am an Indian expat in UAE. Ive checked with AES and they only allow investments starting from 75000 USD.I dont belong to the high income category and I already made a blunder investing in Zurich and FPL. I wish I read your book and visited this site before I fell into that trap. However, there is not much advice for Indian expats who are a huge number in the middle east. I dont know if we are permitted to hold Index and bonds funds from US. Can you advice me on the investment firm -Finerd? They have a minimum investment amount of 5000USD. Thank you

  6. Abhi says:

    For DIY investing,
    Citibank offers a ‘Citigold’ trading account which provides access to a good range of funds, ETF’s and equities. I also find ‘Interactive Brokers’ much more cheaper than the platforms mentioned here (Swissquote, Saxo, etc) with a very good product range and geography.

    • Yes Abhi,

      But the Citibank and Interactive Brokers platforms may put the heirs of non-American investors at higher risk of paying U.S. estate taxes upon death. That’s why the other brokerages are preferred by more non-Americans.

  7. Rupert says:

    Finding a Life Raft While Swimming in a Sea Full of Sharks

    Andrew, in 2013 I became an expat again and was looking to put my savings to work, but knowing little about investing I opted to meet with a friend of mines Financial Advisor. The Advisor was based out of Kuala Lumpur and had a silver tongue, the information he gave was misleading, full of half-truths and as I would learn later, some outright lies. Over the next year and half I ended up with two polices, one with Friends Provident and the other with what is now Old Mutual. Between poor fund selection and the movement of custodianship to a company that subsequently went insolvent I had lost nearly 20% of my initial investment. To make matters worse the investments hadn’t been making any money, gaining less than 1% in 3 years; the shark hadn’t simply taken a bite, he had taken my whole leg and I was hemorrhaging.

    Fortunately, a life raft appeared in the form of Stuart Ritchie of AES and a conversation with a coworker that lead me to your website; While talking to Stuart I was also feverishly reading “Millionaire Teacher”, I had no idea just how deep the wounds were until Stuart did the research and then did his best to soften the blow he was about to deliver. As it turns out the silver tongued Financial Advisor had roped me into terms that were longer than agreed and I was paying 4.7% more in fees than what had been explained and agreed upon. I was devastated and I was wary of getting involved with another Financial Advisor, as the saying goes, “once bitten, twice shy”. From reading Andrew’s book I knew what I wanted to do but I didn’t know how to get myself out of the mess I now found myself in with FPI and OMI. This is where Stuart and his professionalism really shined; he gave me the facts along with options on how to deal with my current financial situation but never did he try and “sell” me on anything. I didn’t want to sign an agreement or contract with another financial institution, I simply wanted to extract myself from my current financial advisor, take what was left of my money from FPI/OMI and invest it in a diversified portfolio of low cost indexed funds on a low cost platform that I could then manage myself. Over the next few months that is exactly what Stuart helped me to achieve, patiently answering the many questions I had, with detailed responses in plain English that didn’t just simply provide an answer but also helped to increase my understanding and knowledge.

    As I slowly dry off and look back at the sea and the sharks that are swimming below the surface, I can say that I’m very fortunate to have met Stuart and my only regret is that I didn’t meet him or read your books before I stepped into the sea in the first place.

    • Thanks for taking the time to share this Rupert. I’m sorry about what happened to you. Unfortunately, most non-American expats have similar stories. But I’m really glad you found your lifeboat in the sea of sharks. Great analogy.

  8. Branko says:

    Hi Andrew,
    I am a Canadian expat living and working in the UAE for the last 3 years. After many months of trying to figure out what to do with my current and future savings I have ran into your blog. Both the blog and your book (expat’s guide) were a real eye opener and I have decide to take the DIY approach.
    As a first step I am trying to decide on which investment company I should go with and TD International is currently my favorite. But my concern is what happens in the case that such institution defaults ?
    From the legal documents on TD’s website I can see that they are regulated under CSSF (Luxemburg) and protected by the FGDL Deposit Guarantee Scheme for cash deposits.
    But, what about the actual investments, how are they protected ? I can see that , for example, in the US there are many layers of protection (like SIPC) and it seems very unlikely that one would not get most of their investments back in case of a brokerage default.
    Do you have any information on what happens to clients investment if an institutions like TD international or Saxo defaults ?
    Best regards,

    • Branko,

      TD Direct International is part of the TD Bank Group. Canada has six big banks. Unlike U.S. banks, none have ever been financially on the edge. They are global leaders for best banking practices and they have been for about 100 years: 2008/2009 proved that. The ETFs wouldn’t be owned by the bank. They would be yours. In the case of bankruptcy (incidentally, if that ever happened, we would all be on the Titanic) the ETF ownership would not cease to exist. What you buy doesn’t belong to the brokerage.


      • Steven says:

        Andrew, any thoughts on the impending purchase of TD Direct by Interactive Investor?

      • Branko says:

        Andrew, thank you for your reply. You have put my mind to ease for full 2 days 🙂 (up to Steven’s news regarding Interactive Investor).
        It just goes to show that there is no certainty or security in this business.
        As I haven’t yet opened any accounts do you think that in light of this news, Saxo would make a better choice or you would(will) stick with TD ? I know that nobody can tell for certain what will happen but still, any thoughts would be appreciated.
        Also, I guess that Steven’s and my comments would be more appropriate for the “TD Direct International’s Low Fuss Investing For Expats” entry so maybe you can move them there (I don’t want to hijack Stuarts Ritchies thread).
        Best regards,

  9. Guilherme says:

    Hello Andrew,

    I share the same concerns of Branko. I was decided on TD Direct knowing how solid TD Bank is, now with this purchase by Interactive Investors, I’m a bit worried about a possible change in direction/practices, specially as II’s is taking over the management of TDD ( Another question I have is regarding ETFs in case of a brokerage going bankrupt. You mentioned ETFs ownership does not cease to exist, but how do we get our ETFs back? How straightforward is it to change brokerage firms?

    Regards, Guilherme

    • Branko says:

      Hello Guilherme,

      regarding TD, I believe that we need to consider them as Interactive Investor (II) from now on and not as TD anymore. They were also my first choice because as Andrew said, they were backed by a very reputable Canadian bank. Now the owner and management will be II (and JC FLowers), the name will be II and the fees and charges will (probably) be II. So the only thing left from TD will possible be the staff. This doesn’t necessary mean that they will stop being a good or competitive choice, just that it is difficult for me to look at them as TD anymore. Also, if TD can sell their brokerage like this, so can any other bank or broker out there, so there is no ‘security’ here. I have checked out Keytrade in Luxembourg and they have also been bought and sold several times, so you never know with who you will end up. This is probably more frightening for someone like me, looking for a safe place for long term investment than for an active trader. Maybe diversification between brokers would also be a good choice but it could come with a higher cost (in case of fixed holding charges).
      Regarding what happens with your portfolio in case of a brokerage default, I suggest you read this excellent article:
      Unfortunately it’s not very reassuring as it seems that most assets are held in the name of the broker and although most of them are required to keep clients assets separated form their own ,in case of a sinking ship they can decide to sell of everything to try to save them selves (this should be illegal but desperate times usually call for desperate measures).
      Also, if you decide for Saxo Denmark, I couldn’t find in their documents anything regarding keeping clients assets separated, so maybe this is not even a requirement in Denmark (someone please correct me if this is wrong). Saxo Luxembourg seems covered in this area.
      Anyway, please consider all this as only theoretical babbling from someone that is just starting to enter into this exiting (and scary) world of DIY investing (my biggest ‘investment risk’ up to now was buying bank CD’s 🙂 )



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