(CNN) — Mention Morocco and most would first think of the exotic markets of Marrakech, the desert dotted with ancient kasbahs and, of course, the classic 1942 wartime film “Casablanca.”
But Casablanca, the main port city of Morocco, is among the places being tipped by experts as emerging future global financial centers.
As the gateway between Europe and Africa, Casablanca aims to take advantage of its geographical position and also act as a hub for North, West and Central Africa, said Hicham Zegrary, director of operations and institutional affairs at the Casablanca Finance City Authority (CFCA).
The CFCA is working hard to position Casablanca as an international financial center, he said, by building its technology infrastructure and improving the legal environment in which business is done. Zegrary added that due to Morocco’s many partners throughout Europe, North America and Asia, for investors “it is easier to do business with African countries from Morocco.”
Since its inception four years ago, the CFCA says it has attracted over 50 companies including BNP Paribas, AIG, Clifford Chance, Silk Invest and Boston Consulting Group to name a few.
While Casablanca’s ranking is still relatively low overall (62 out of 83) in a recent Global Financial Center Index report, it’s significant that it debuted on the list and it signals a larger growth in the region.
What’s more, GFCI asked international financial services professionals which cities they believed will likely become more significant in the next few years: Casablanca was the name that came up most.
“They’re putting a lot of work into it there,” said Mark Yeandle, associate director of Z/Yen Group, the company who published the GFCI report earlier this year on global financial centers. “They have a sensible budget and a good team,” he added.
Casablanca is building its infrastructure and rebranding itself as a hub for financial services needed in Morocco, Tunis, and even further away in Lagos, Nigeria. “It (Casablanca) will be as good as any,” said Yeandle.
Another newcomer and fairly unknown city is Busan, South Korea, which has traditionally operated in Seoul’s shadow. It ranks 27th on the GFCI report, just behind number 26 Qatar. But it ranks second only to Casablanca as a place tipped by finance professionals as likely become more significant.
Busan has the fifth busiest port in the world, not to mention the largest department store in the world, despite the fact that many people have never even heard of it.
“Busan are putting a great deal of money and promotional activity behind their growth as a financial center,” said Yeandle. “They are building a dedicated area for the center and are publicizing their focus on maritime finance and derivatives trading.”