Pride and Prejudice in the British Virgin Islands

I am not just the black sheep of my family; I am the black sheep who stormed out of the farm, sought out the neighbourhood wolf pack and then asked if he might be able to join.

I come from a family of doctors, nurses and teachers who have spent their lives working exclusively in either the truly incredible and freely available British National Health Service or the state sponsored comprehensive school system, which provides a free education to anyone and everyone in the UK. All of these roles are incredibly noble and I remain very proud of the careers my family have chosen.

So it is safe to say that when I elected to go down the path to becoming a lawyer, there were a few furrowed brows. When I then mentioned I wanted to start by assisting major corporations with their legal affairs before moving onto the investment funds industry, frowns began to form. And when I finally announced that I was going to take this vocation into the offshore environment, the tears began to flow accordingly. The sheep in wolf’s clothing had arrived.

Now, the funds industry will always have its detractors and whilst some of the criticism is entirely fair, hedge and private equity funds play a vital role in the global economy, especially by providing liquidity in times of undoubted financial hardship. When you throw in the incredible role venture capitalists have with sponsoring the latest and greatest start-up and emerging businesses, I can hold my head up high at most dinner tables and talk proudly about the role we play. Amusingly, the huge popularity of the show “Billions” has helped enormously on this front as well, as the wider world now seems absolutely fascinated about how this industry works. Whilst of course I’d like to think they ask me about it because they see echoes of Bobby, Wags or Taylor in my personality, we all know that they see me as his weasel-like lawyer, Orrin Bach, but I’ll still take that. It’s better than Lionel Hutz from the Simpsons.

But the offshore part of my life has always been something a number of people have struggled with and whilst I have constantly defended and explained everything I do, the prejudice that international finance centres face from such a wide variety of sources means that it is virtually impossible to fight the unfair and almost always entirely inaccurate rhetoric. The fact that most people have also watched or read “The Firm” also doesn’t help; damn you Grisham, Cruise and Hackman.

But finally the place I have called home for almost ten years now is fighting back. Fresh on the back of bringing in McKinsey in 2014 to facilitate a study on our financial services industry, the government through its marketing arm, BVI Finance, commissioned the group Capital Economics in 2016 to truly delve deep into the role that the BVI plays in the global financial industry and allow a highly credible third party to finally tell our story for us. And finally it is here. I am not expecting many to read the full report that has just been published (it is over 130 pages long and includes so many facts and figures that it begins to melt the brain a little, notwithstanding the very pretty pie charts), but BVI Finance has also pulled together a fantastic website that neatly sets out the key messages and summarises what all of us on this rock knew already, but finally the outside world might begin to understand.

Even better than that, the younger generation can also sit down and watch this fantastic three minute video (whilst tweeting, snap-chatting or instagramming of course) in which pictures and words seem to come together in a moving form. Modern technology today, eh?

If you do get a chance, please do give it a watch and we’d love to hear your thoughts on the messages that come out of it. We genuinely believe this might be the start of a far fairer and more balanced dialogue about the role international financial centres, such as the BVI and the Cayman Islands, play in the global market.

As a side note to the overall impact of the report, it was also great to see Capital Economics estimate that collectively funds domiciled in the British Virgin Islands have approximately US$250billion under management. We of course remain extremely proud to assist a large number of those managers on a very regular basis.

So, finally this sheep is getting invited along to family gatherings again; they may even start talking to me soon. Baaaaaaaa.

Philip Graham
Philip is a partner and expert on offshore funds at Harneys who puts his ever increasing grey hairs down to three young children, supporting Liverpool Football Club, and being married. In no particular order.

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