What should a financial centre in danger of being perceived as a ‘tax haven’ do to manage the outpouring of potentially damaging headlines? The Global Financial Centres Index (GFCI) indicates that the ratings of these centres tend to rely largely on the perceptions of people involved in financial services. These perceptions are affected by press coverage and the work of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and other international bodies.
In GFCI 19, published in March 2016, the Caribbean centres of the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and the Bahamas all suffered significant declines in their ratings with Panama showing a larger decline than any of them. The British Crown dependencies of the Isle of Man and the Bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey had a similar experience with Gibraltar, Malta, Monaco and Liechtenstein completing the picture with downgrades of their own. Looking back over the last three years, almost without exception, all of the Caribbean centres and the Crown dependencies have moved in the same direction in the GFCI – moving up together and down together clearly affected by the feelings and perceptions of the industry at the time of the survey.
If this were not unfortunate enough, the recent scandal has undoubtedly led to the deepening of these negative perceptions. In the light of the recent adverse publicity as a result of the ‘Panama paper’ leaks, what should a financial centre, which is likely to be drawn into the debacle do? There are three obvious options:
- Lie Low and stay under the radar – it is likely that many centres will decide that in the face of such a media storm, it is best to lie low and stay out of the news as much as possible. This is perhaps understandable and may be a viable short term strategy.
- Protest – several centres proclaim their innocence. In the current climate these protests of “it’s not us!” do not gain much sympathy. Several of the centres protesting the loudest do not deserve much sympathy!
- Differentiate – a valid longer term strategy is to become a different type of financial centre. Encourage finance for good purposes and make it much harder for money launderers and tax evaders to operate in your territory so that when the next wave of bad publicity arrives (as it surely must), you can genuinely hold up your hand and claim that you are different.
It is pleasing to note that a newly formed financial centre is genuinely setting out to be different. Trinidad and Tobago offers global investors unparallelled access to markets within the Latin American and Caribbean region. Already recognised as the financial hub of the Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago holds great potential for international growth with a highly qualified talent pool, well-established business infrastructure, global connectivity and a wealth of investment opportunities. The Trinidad and Tobago IFC is being developed using global standards and best practices and will have a modern, principle based regulatory framework which will be supported by enforcement action against firms that breach the legislation and regulations. This model has already been used to successfully establish the Dubai International Financial Centre. The legislation for the Trinidad and Tobago IFC has been drafted and is awaiting approval by legislators.
"I am pleased to see that Trinidad and Tobago are doing what they can to make sure that they are not confused with other, less scrupulous Caribbean centres. Creating a truly modern financial centre with the repution that will attract international investors require is a great challenge in today's uncertain times."
Mark Yeandle, Associate Director, Z/Yen Partners Limited.