Fiona Le Poidevin took over as chief executive of Guernsey Finance in July 2012. Here she outlines the scope for future development in the island's private client sector.
In July 2012 I took over from Peter Niven as chief executive of Guernsey Finance – the promotional agency for the island's finance industry internationally. Peter and the team have done a very good job in flying the flag for Guernsey and therefore, it is very much a case of evolution rather than revolution in terms of how we market the island going forward. Certainly, the global economic downturn means that these are challenging times but I am pleased to say that overall Guernsey's finance industry continues to perform robustly. The island has benefited from the breadth of its industry, which has meant that while one sector, banking, has experienced something of a downturn, others, investment funds and insurance, are seeing growth.
Guernsey has 50 years' experience in wealth management. Today, there are 154 lead corporate fiduciary licensees (as well as nearly 40 licensed individuals, who can act as directors, co-trustees or trust protectors). These range from multinational organisations to independent, locally-owned firms, who in total employ nearly 2,500 members of staff.
I am hearing from the industry that overall growth in the Guernsey fiduciary sector is relatively flat at the moment, which reflects trends globally. Practitioners are finding that there is a limit on new business opportunities from the traditional introducer centres in the UK, in particular the City of London, and continental Europe due to the relatively mature nature of these markets and certain business streams no longer viable following regulatory and/or legislative changes.
It is for this reason that Guernsey is diversifying the products we supply and the markets which we are servicing. For example, we are particularly keen to showcase the way in which our finance industry can provide a wide range of services to particular industries, such as film and cleantech. In addition, we are seeing firms innovating, with insurance specialist, Robus, and fiduciary, Marlborough Trust, coming together to provide a pioneering trust-based insurance product, the Risk Purpose Trust. The Guernsey Government is also making a number of changes to enhance the tools available for local practitioners to meet the needs of their clients. The island's Commerce and Employment Department has recently reaffirmed its commitment to introducing a new aircraft registry for aircraft belonging to local residents and those held through fiduciary structures on behalf of clients.
Guernsey has become the first jurisdiction in the world to recognize image rights in law and provide them with a register. This is managed by the island's Intellectual Property Office – which is part of the Guernsey Registry – and adds a further dimension to our cutting edge IP environment. The image rights offering can be utilised by corporate entities such as those wanting to protect brand identities but it will be particularly attractive to high-profile individuals, including those from sports and entertainment. Indeed, the register went live on 3 December 2012 and later that day, the world's first image right application was made on behalf of personal branding specialist, Lesley Everett of Walking TALL International Ltd. It is also hoped that the innovative and pioneering legislation will lead to these individuals using Guernsey as a hub for their whole range of wealth management requirements.
The island has significant experience and expertise in providing high quality trust and corporate services to private clients from around the world. In July 2012, the Guernsey parliament approved the Foundations (Guernsey) Law, 2012. It has now received Royal Assent from the Privy Council and came into effect in January 2013.
The introduction of the Guernsey foundation provides practitioners in the island with another option for meeting the needs of their clients. However, they are expected to be particularly attractive to clients in civil-law jurisdictions not just in continental Europe but also further afield in Asia, in particular China, Russia and Latin America, where the common-law concept of the trust is less well understood. What I am hearing from a number of local practitioners is that they have had inquiries from clients who have foundations currently domiciled in other jurisdictions but they are now considering the migration of these to Guernsey. This is principally due to the specific provisions of the new law but also due to the heritage we have in providing trust and company administration as well as, of course, our reputation for being a well regulated and tax transparent international finance centre.
International finance centres have continued to receive negative coverage in the UK national media in relation to tax matters. We are monitoring the situation closely but it is for the UK alone to decide what constitutes "abusive" or "aggressive" tax avoidance. Tax planning and tax avoidance are legal and Guernsey has never condoned illegal tax evasion. Indeed, Guernsey businesses should not take on clients that are proffering "abusive" tax schemes and should appraise each potential client thoroughly to ensure they are comfortable with how a structure operates and why.
The strength of our position is reflected by the fact that in 2011 the IMF commended our regulatory standards; in September 2012 the island's zero-10 corporate tax regime was given a clean bill of health by the EU; Guernsey's standards of tax transparency and exchange of information meant that we were among the first set of jurisdictions placed on the OECD/G20 'whitelist' in 2009; and the island has now signed Tax Information Exchange Agreements (TIEAs) with 38 other jurisdictions and is expanding its network of Double Taxation Arrangements (DTAs).
In addition, Guernsey, along with the other British Crown Dependencies of Jersey and the Isle of Man, has announced that it plans to negotiate an individual partnership agreement with the US to implement the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) and that this will be along the lines of the 'Model I' type agreement that the UK has signed with the USA. The UK has signalled that it is now looking at how it might implement the FATCA principles to the Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories. Representatives of the Crown Dependencies have held an initial meeting with officials from HM Treasury to explore their proposals and we expect further discussions in due course.
Guernsey has an ability to combine a reputation for high standards while also providing practitioners with the flexibility to be able to best meet client needs. This environment is proving very attractive to new contacts we are meeting within the 'emerging' markets of Asia, in particular China, India, Russia and Latin America. Guernsey Finance continues to lead the way but we are now seeing an increasing number of Guernsey-based law firms and fiduciaries establishing their own operations or making regular visits to these regions. This is a very encouraging development as we see these major sources of both corporate and private wealth as important markets for our fiduciary sector in the future.
These are challenging times but they also present huge opportunities and we are working hard to ensure that Guernsey is well placed to reap the rewards.
Originally published in Private Client Practitioner, January 2013
For more information about Guernsey's finance industry please visit www.guernseyfinance.com.
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