Are you on the endangered species list?

The title of the final STEP Global Congress session was as illuminating as it was eye catching, reflecting the insecurity of the wealthy and their advisers in the face of the current transparency revolution.

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In Jersey we have lived with the transparency agenda for a long time. An early adopter, firstly of all crimes legislation, making tax evasion a predicate crime under our anti-money laundering regime back in 1998, then the capture of beneficial ownership information, early (voluntary) entrants to the OECD Tax Information Exchange programme, through on request exchange, and now an Early Adopter of the new Common Reporting Standard on automatic information exchange.

We have taken these changes in our stride and there is no doubt we have taken on the costs of early adoption and had to deal with the client education involved, after all not every government is a trustworthy and safe steward of highly sensitive personal financial information.

For more than 15 years through an active suspicious activity reporting regime we have borne down on tax evasion to such a degree that we are regarded as a high risk jurisdiction by the criminal community and the tax evader. If they come to Jersey they are likely to get caught. 

There has been a cost to this approach. For a time a differential opened up, where early adoption of transparency standards drove up our compliance costs putting us at a competitive disdavantage. We knew this would be the case, but continued to act on the basis that transparency, cooperation and sound regulation are necessary preconditions of joining with the community of nations as a good neighbour, and constitute the price of admission to international markets. 

Of course the naysayers will always be in denial, after all their access to the policy agenda, and ability to achieve publicity and funding, depend on keeping the 'weapons of tax destruction" mythology alive. Their claims look increasingly hollow in the face of the mounting catalogue of evidence reaffirming our approach to sound business conduct. 

Our value proposition has for decades been built on the four pillars of our industry; private wealth, banking, funds and capital markets. These pillars are underpinned by significant expertise developed over the last 60 years, as one of the worlds leading specialist finance centres. Inherently strong characteristics have enduring appeal and they are difficult to emulate as new entrants have found. A common law system that dates back 800 years buttressed by sound and progressive regulation, a respected legal and judicial capability, economic stability and tax neutrality, all provide the certainty and security that so many clients in the world today are seeking. Certainty in an uncertain world is an attractive proposition.

We are now seeing a commercial dividend for this investment, as clients both individual and corporate become increasingly concerned about reputation, substance, sound governance and transparency.

My closing message to the conference was this; embrace transparency, it's the right thing to do, defend compliant confidentiality, and make the case for the value you add in helping to create jobs and growth around the world, through the efficient allocation of free capital. If we do this we have an assured place amongst the community of nations, a place built on creating wealth and doing social good. 

Ultimately what centres like Jersey and the advisory community who use them do, is to finance the freedom and prosperity of nations.  We can be proud of our contribution to globalisation and to the rise in general living standards over the last thirty years.

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