Written by Philip Graham, Partner, Harneys, British Virgin Islands
As Chair of the BVI Investment Funds Association, I eagerly awaited the publication of the Capital Economics Report like a kid in the run-up to Christmas.
The BVI has a long-standing reputation in this industry for excellence, dating back to the publication of the Mutual Funds Act in 1996, but we have never had the statistics to back up every practitioners’ firm belief in the jurisdiction that we have one of the globe’s largest and most flexible fund jurisdictions.
The numbers from the Report are exceptionally impressive and very exciting. It finds that the BVI is one of the largest jurisdictions for regulated funds in the world. Combined, the value of these finds stands at roughly US$250 billion.
This is particularly exciting when you keep in mind that it purely focuses on the regulated open-ended funds domiciled here, which will largely be solely based on the hedge fund industry. This means that our ever-expanding private equity focus remains outside scope. If you also get out your crystal ball and extrapolate for the number of Initial Coin Offerings we are seeing, it’s clear the unregulated sector of this part of the market is very well served.
So why do people elect to use BVI companies (or indeed limited partnerships or segregated portfolio companies) as fund vehicles?
The two key reasons are the speed and efficiency at which these structures can be established by our resident experts, and the BVI’s strong and innovative corporate legislative framework, ensuring that the rights of all of the investors are protected whilst giving the managers the flexibility they need.
There is a common misconception that people establish fund vehicles in jurisdictions like the BVI to “avoid” paying tax. This is fundamentally wrong. Investors in BVI funds still pay their own tax in the jurisdiction in which they are tax resident on any monies they receive out of a fund vehicle.
Furthermore, any gain on the underlying investments (for example, if the BVI fund acquired some undeveloped land, developed it in full and then sold it for a profit) could feasibly be taxed at source before the net sum is passed on to the fund vehicle.
The tax neutrality of the BVI fund ensures that there isn’t a third level of tax, which would result in a further reduction in the overall value of the investment prior to the investor receiving their return.
Given that these investors are very often pension schemes, the global recipients of this critical advantage that BVI fund vehicles offer is incredibly widespread.
The funds industry will always have its detractors and whilst some of the criticism is entirely fair due to the very public fraudulent activities of some high profile managers, there is absolutely no doubt about the vital role both hedge and private equity funds play in the global economy, especially by providing liquidity in times of undoubted hardship.
When you throw in the incredible role venture capitalists have with sponsoring the latest and greatest start-ups and emerging businesses, the fact that the BVI enables these types of ventures to launch and flourish is something to be extremely proud of.
Companies in this global marketspace simply cannot operate without access to capital, which is absolutely dependent on free-flowing capital markets. If the capital markets seize up, the global economy slows, and people lose their jobs. The effect of this downward spiral can obviously be enormous.
Employment is critical to the well-being of any nation and it is therefore fantastic to see that the numbers in the Report that show that the BVI supports around 2.2million jobs worldwide. The funds industry is clearly a subset of that and it was interesting to read that over 250,000 people in North America alone are either directly or indirectly employed by the hedge fund industry.
At the heart of Capital Economics’ report is that fact the BVI at the heart of global capital markets and its role in facilitating investment via funds brings benefits right across the globe. The effect of the BVI’s funds industry in terms of driving investment, enabling business growth, delivering jobs and creating wealth and tax revenue is truly remarkable – and I believe the industry is on a strong footing to achieve even more.