If Barbados wants to become a major player in the global trust and estate business, the island must modernize its legal framework, which influences the overall business environment, and also improve the time it takes to do business, industry representatives say.
Immediate past chairperson of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners Worldwide (STEP), Hélène Anne Lewis, told Barbados TODAY that while Barbados remained a niche market for international business, especially out of Canada, there was room for more opportunities especially related to trust and estate planning.
“It seems that Barbados is very much a niche market for particular types of products,” she said. “They have a very close relationship with Canada and most of the wealth planning advice and tools that Barbados has developed, are particularly geared to the Canadian market.”
She added: “They are not necessarily into the offshore companies and trust structures such as the other more popular centres such as the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and the BVI, but they are holding their own in their niche.”
However, Lewis said there was a challenge for Barbados to remain commercially relevant if it did not focus on marketable products.
“Barbados has an effective trust flow but it needs modernizing. They do not have a deep cadre of professionals because there are limitations on work permits, and relaxation of work permits and immigration regulations are almost imperative if one wants to grow the industry in a quality kind of way,” she said.
In a separate interview, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of The Axebridge Group, Roland Jones, said while Barbados was “extremely poised” to be very competitive in the trust business, one of the biggest challenges was getting things done in a timely manner.
“We still need to be very competitive when it comes to speed, efficiency, the ease of how you incorporate, or the ease in which you can make certain changes to your company, and the certainty in law,” he said.
“And I think for us, one of the biggest things is the speed at which we make legislative changes. We have been asking for something like private trust company (PTC) as an innovative product particularly for Latin American clients who don’t like to release control because, for them, it is less of a tax issue and more of a security issue,” Jones added.
“Right now, I have clients who want to incorporate a PTC but there is no regulation, there is no form, you can’t do it. So we are actually turning away business because we haven’t finalized that. And that is something that we have been trying to get for the last five years.”
“So these are real issues where the private sector is saying to the Barbados legislators, ‘look, you want more foreign exchange in Barbados, you want to create more job opportunities, you want a bigger injection in the economy, this is what to do’, but then it takes five, six, seven or eight years to actually achieve what you want. It doesn’t make sense (and) those are some of the issues that we have to look at,” said Jones.
Lewis and Jones spoke with Barbados TODAY on the sidelines of the 17th annual STEP Caribbean Conference in St Maarten.
In his presentation during the first day of the three-day conference, Justice David Hayton of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) said it was critical that countries of the region had efficient judicial systems.
“The first three cases we had in Barbados . . ., the Court of Appeal took more than four years in all three cases before giving a judgment. So you really need an efficient judicial system,” stressed Hayton.
He urged regional policymakers to “take advantage of transparency laws” to up their game in order attract more trust business from emerging markets such as the Middle East and China.