At 35,000 feet, we all do our best thinking. Now, as I’m flying across the Atlantic Ocean after two frenetic weeks in London and the unfolding of significant developments in the UK Parliament, I’m feeling particularly contemplative.
As I reflect on what we have accomplished as a nation over a 35-year period: a vibrant industry built on the basis of our creativity combined with a spot of luck, I am proud. On further reflection, I think back to what we came through last September when we awoke on the morning of the 7th to a browned out, bombed out landscape. Although we have a long way to go to full recovery we have come a long way!
Without fear of any contradiction I maintain that the fundamentals of our financial services industry remain rock solid. That’s why it will take a lot more than an amendment to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill passing in the House of Commons in the UK to knock us off our game.
And let me be clear – Public Registers of Beneficial Ownership are not an option for the BVI financial services industry.
That’s why earlier this week, Elise Donovan, Director of BVI House Asia and I spent a full day with our public affairs and PR team to review the situation in the UK and to plot the road ahead. We all came to the same conclusion – that the BVI’s financial services industry has a bright future.
The fact is our business is growing. Whether it be across China and the wider Asia region where Elise has been the BVI’s flag-bearer for the last four years with strong industry support, or in Latin America where our industry partners continue to grow the market. Even if we look to Switzerland, Europe or the United States who are experiencing increasing business from our partners in the funds sector, opinion remains the same – 100% in favour of the British Virgin Islands.
The BVI fundamentals
We asked ourselves what are the fundamentals underpinning this positive sentiment? What is the essence of the BVI advantage? What keeps our valued clients coming back and encourages new clients to work with us? Our answers were myriad, but I will recall a few that I know you will share.
The BVI is:
- a jurisdiction that facilitates global cross border trade through its many offerings;
- a jurisdiction that through research by highly respected economists has established its value to the global economy;
- a jurisdiction that meets all global standards, exceeding in some instances regions such as the US and the UK;
- a jurisdiction that has a great depth of human resources, be it in the legal, corporate, funds, accounting, banking, fiduciary or asset management sector;
- a jurisdiction that remains on the cutting edge of new products and legislation;
- a jurisdiction that has found the right balance between regulation and flexibility;
- a jurisdiction where speed and efficiency are paramount to our offering; and
- a jurisdiction where the client’s needs come first.
Although I’m confident of our successful future, it would be disingenuous of me to not acknowledge that the next few weeks will be challenging. But we must maintain our clients’ confidence in the jurisdiction, asking them to trust us and to hang tough while we find a solution that enables them to continue to receive the same level of excellent service from us and remain loyal to the BVI.
BVI above board
Specifically in relation to the amendment to the Sanctions & Anti Money Laundering Bill, the Premier and others in the sector have made eloquent arguments regarding the constitutional overreach of the UK Parliament. They have also explained how it is a violation of the BVI’s human rights, particularly with respect to the right to privacy in keeping with the EU Convention on Human Rights to which BVI is a signatory.
I will therefore not dwell on these factors, but I will say that our financial services industry is built on the principles of privacy and we have continued to meet global standards on this, specifically in relation to the OECD and the FATF’s conventions.
Although I cannot discuss specifics at present, rest assured that every option to fight this amendment is on the table and is being vigorously pursued.
Moreover, contrary to some lazy assumptions and stereotyping, the BVI does not fear transparency. Today we are members of the Steering Group of the OECD Global Forum. If you can recall, in 2002 it was the BVI’s clarion call for a global level playing field in tax information exchange, led at the time by Robert Mathavious, which largely resulted in global progress in this area. This is hardly the track record and behavior of a jurisdiction that fears transparency.
Best days still ahead...
Finally, I began by referencing that last year’s hurricanes. Not only did they devastate one pillar of our industry, but they knocked out 80% of our homes and businesses. I myself am still technically homeless!
Importantly, however, our financial services industry remained resilient and continued to grow in these challenging circumstances.
In my initial post-hurricane blog I mentioned a number of people, including five or six unkempt – and dare I say unwashed – men who came together to fix our industry. Thankfully the Commission kept VIRRGIN going and did all that was needed to manage the catastrophe.
But these six men, all leaders in the industry themselves, had a choice not only in other overseas territories, but in regions including the Channel Islands, London, Hong Kong and Shanghai to which they could move. But they did not.
They believed in the jurisdiction of the BVI, not because of the ease at which they could hide ‘dirty money’ that MPs in their ignorance accuse us of, but because they understand the value that we contribute to the global economy.
So, I said it then and I’ll say it again: our best days are still ahead.
Don’t lose confidence!