What next for offshore?

Offshore PerceptionsSTEP has published Offshore Perceptions, a major new piece of research looking at the current state of the offshore world. It paints a picture of a sector adapting rapidly to a new regulatory and institutional environment. It also confirms that measures designed to tackle abuse by a few, are actually having a major impact on costs for the legitimate clients who are the overwhelming majority of users of private client services both offshore and onshore.

The research, sponsored by First Names Group, is based on a survey of over 1,000 respondents, fairly evenly split between the offshore and onshore world, and with a very broad geographical reach.

Over three quarters of the offshore respondents to the survey report that compliance has become a burden to a ‘great’ or ‘large’ extent. Not surprisingly, this rising burden of compliance is driving up costs to the client and the report highlights a shift away from smaller clients and lower value work, both of which are no longer economically viable in the new cost environment.

Another major factor impacting the industry is the move by banks to de-risk their business. Half of all offshore respondents identified this as impacting their business to a ‘great’ or ‘large’ extent. Intriguingly, the de-risking issue was seen as important by even more onshore practitioners, with 60% telling us that it was having a ‘great’ or ‘large’ impact on the offshore worlds.

This mix of rising costs and the major banks withdrawing from many areas as they lower their risk appetite is, not surprisingly, expected to produce yet more consolidation in the offshore world, with most offshore respondents expecting the pace of consolidation to accelerate still further.

This inevitably raises fears about employment prospects, although there is still considerable optimism about business opportunities, not just in Asia and other traditional offshore markets but also, increasingly, from Africa. The survey confirms that family offices are also seen as an important growth area within the overall offshore environment.

Measures to improve transparency and tighten regulation have been one of the key global themes of the past few years, impacting offshore and onshore practitioners alike. The Offshore Perceptions report confirms that industry concerns have proved accurate in predicting that these measures, aimed at tackling abuse by a few, would result in sharply higher costs and less choice for the many.

The report also suggests, however, that the offshore world is busy adapting to the new environment and is far from gloomy. Over three quarters of offshore respondents feel optimistic (to a ‘great’, ‘large’ or ‘moderate’ extent) about the prospects for their jurisdiction and a broadly equivalent number are also optimistic about the prospects of their business sector. Many of the offshore centres have had to adapt to major challenges in the past. Generally they seem well placed to do so again.

George Hodgson is Interim Chief Executive of STEP

STEP puts CRS, transparency and public registers under the SIG spotlight

SIG Spotlight Session Nov 2016STEP hosted its annual Special Interest Group (SIG) Spotlight Sessions on 14 November in London, a day comprising six conference streams. SIGs provide opportunities for members to connect and advance their focused area of practice.

I attended the International Client SIG session, which focused on the needs of practitioners serving international clients with complex planning needs. The presentation was entitled ‘Moving Out, Moving In and Moving On: Key Movements for International Clients’. STEP members John Riches, William Ahern and Dr Angelo Venardos spoke on the topical issues surrounding CRS, transparency and public registers.

The Common Reporting Standard (CRS) continues to cause confusion in some key areas, and STEP is seeking clarification on a number of points surrounding settlors, beneficiaries, protectors, what constitutes a trust, controlling persons that are entities, charitable trusts and private trust companies. William Ahern and Dr Angelo Venardos discussed how CRS is being applied in Hong Kong and Singapore, and they touched upon the inconsistencies in the legislation compared to the UK, for example, anti-avoidance legislation, which is not as comprehensive as the UK’s.

Automatic exchange of tax information on a wide basis will unleash a deluge of confidential and highly sensitive personal financial information for transmission around the world. Differing jurisdictions may have differing issues to consider under these circumstances. Some jurisdictions may also need to consider if their data-protection laws are consistent with the commitments they have made with respect to CRS implementation. Conversely others may have to consider if the confidentiality obligations contained in their trust and banking laws are consistent with their CRS commitments.

The emergence of many corporate and non-corporate trust registers across the globe has caused privacy and compliancy concerns among most practitioners, although the recent non-constitutional ruling of the French trust register may have an influential outcome across Europe in that respect. We continue to wait and assess the new challenges as they arise in this upcoming new era of transparency.

However, the consistent theme across most jurisdictions is the urgent need to consider which jurisdictions are fit and proper to be granted access to an individual’s financial details.

About STEP’s Special Interest Groups

STEP’s SIGs focus on some of the more complex issues families face in planning for their future, including international families, protection of vulnerable people, family businesses and philanthropic giving.

The groups aim to benefit the practitioner, their area of specialisation, the clients they serve, and the industry at large. They are also open to professionals who are not STEP members.

The SIGs are:

• Business Families
• Charities
• Contentious Trust and Estates
• Cross-Border Estates
• International Client
• Mental Capacity
• Philanthropy Advisors

Please see this page for more details: www.step.org/sigs

 

Emily Deane TEP, STEP Technical Counsel