Asset and fund management is in the midst of what could be described as its most interesting period in a while. That is of course because of Brexit and the uncertainty that it causes – a topic that, at this point, has been discussed across thousands of interviews, podcasts and think pieces in nearly every industry imaginable. It raises questions over how stable the future of investments in and around the UK will be, and has also created a rush for funds to be started before anything tangible changes as the negotiations continue.
With 10 years' practical experience as an asset management lawyer in the City of London, and now two years in Guernsey, Craig Cordle, a Group Partner at Ogier, has a different view of how Britain and the EU parting ways might affect his area of expertise.
"Brexit is the million-dollar question really, I don't think we have seen the seismic shift that everyone was expecting, and I don't think we will either," Craig said. "What has been interesting about the whole situation is that we are starting to realise that less of our work is done with Europe than we thought. The UK does a lot of business with the US and the East, and Brexit has been useful in encouraging places like Guernsey to really look at the work it does outside of Europe and work on that.
"There had been a difficulty in convincing people to start new funds and investments in this 'time of uncertainty' – but the 21-month transition deal announced last month will help add some clarity. The results of Brexit when the negotiations are done will make it easier for us to start bringing in new business again because people will know what is what – the lack of information is the damaging part. Hopefully we should start to get some answers very soon, and Guernsey will be able to take steps forward once the UK makes its position clear."
While Brexit is going to be one of the major catalysts for change in asset management, other trends and new ideas are also helping the industry to evolve. These changes are something Craig's team at Ogier is harnessing to bring in new businesses and give them exactly what they want.
"As things continue to change, clients are often looking for increasingly specialised vehicles for their investments. Do they need to be offshore like in Guernsey, onshore in Luxembourg or just in the UK, or maybe a mix of both? The entire field is starting to become more bespoke, so we can now offer a platform for very specific needs. With that comes a dual model with vehicles for one fund in multiple locations.
"Along with that move to more bespoke models, I think there is going to be a surge of funds set up this year, as with Brexit round the corner it is kind of crunch time for investors to set up any funds they may have been considering or working on. There is a time period now before anything actually changes for them to make use of the status quo as it is now, so I am expecting us to see a bit of a rush.
"I remain quietly optimistic about everything that is happening at the moment. I really think that Guernsey is in the right place as we start to create these bespoke vehicles for investors – and with the increasing digitisation of both the industry and others, many of the disadvantages Guernsey faces are falling away, leaving just the advantages."
Craig's role sees him advising on all aspects of the structuring, restructuring, merging, establishing, and operation of investment funds. He acts as legal counsel to boards of a number of investment funds including funds listed on the London Stock Exchange plc's Main Market and Specialist Fund Segment. Before joining Ogier in 2016, Craig started his career at City firm Herbert Smith's asset management firm – now Herbert Smith Freehills – in 2005. He later moved to Norton Rose Fulbright's team, where he started to work closely with colleagues and clients in Guernsey, and through those contacts eventually decided to take a job on the island.
But surprisingly, Craig didn't think Guernsey was all that different to London:
"I think most people who are working in London look over here and think it's really different from living and working in London. I suppose the one big thing would be the lack of commute, but that is no different for me now, because I lived about 20 minutes away from my office in London, and I live across the road here so it is pretty similar. In London I think people often assume they get all of the big deals, either there or in New York, but the reality is that a lot of big deals go on here as well.
"You get more people who specialise in different types of law in the City – I did notice when I came here that a lot of lawyers are involved in lots of areas, whereas all of my previous team nearly exclusively worked on investment funds. Here we will look at all of the surrounding matters as well. The other difference is that we deal with multiple transactions at once sometimes, and that was not always the case in my previous roles.
"In general, I suppose the London perception of Guernsey is that it is a small island with not a huge amount to do, but that couldn't be more wrong – or at least I think so, or I wouldn't have moved here."
For Ogier, Craig said the future was bright. With these more bespoke vehicles being created for new funds, with elements, say, in Luxembourg and Guernsey or the Cayman Islands and Jersey, Ogier truly comes into its own, with offices in all of those locations and more. In its Guernsey office there are around 60 staff working across different areas, and across the world that number comes to over 450. The Luxembourg office has just celebrated its sixth birthday, and across the board, all of Ogier's offices are growing and performing above and beyond the highest levels.
"As I have said I think we are going to start seeing this dual approach, where we have a Luxembourg vehicle and a Guernsey vehicle, say, so we can meet the most specific requirements. Ogier has all of those places covered, and staff that know the local areas to an expert level. It is great to work closely with a smaller team which is so passionate and knowledgeable, but also with a network across the world."
originally published in Connect magazine's Guernsey edition.
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