The Wealth Forums & Switzerland as a Safe Haven

The Wealth Forums & Switzerland as a Safe Haven

As you all know, has partnered with The Wealth Forums to cover their upcoming “Swiss Safe Haven: Why Invest in Switzerland?” event to be held on September 6th at the Hotel Splendide Royal in Lugano, Switzerland.

Richard Moir, CEO of The Wealth Forums and an international market access and business development specialistAs part of this partnership, we’ve had the honor of talking to Richard Moir, CEO of The Wealth Forums and an international market access and business development specialist with a 35-year career in international private banking, insurance and corporate services.

In this exclusive interview, Richard answers several questions pertaining to his organization, the Swiss-specific event and other trending topics in the world of wealth management.

Before moving along, please remember that as a Taxlinked member you’re entitled to a 10 percent discount to the September 6th event. For more details and the exclusive discount code, check out the pertinent discussion found HERE.

Taxlinked (TL): What exactly led you and your team to develop The Wealth Forums? How has this initiative been received by the financial services sector?

Richard Moir (RM): The Wealth Forums concept as a suite of international conferences held in different countries is proving increasingly popular. Monaco and London have both hosted conferences. Lugano is next with Malta and Panama in the pipeline. 

The vision of The Wealth Forums is twofold: 1) to provide relevant, critical and timely information, and; 2) to promote the jurisdiction in which the forum is held. 

This combination of international and local enables The Wealth Forums to attract an eclectic, multidisciplinary and multi-sector following.

The Wealth Forums is much more than just another financial services related network. We reach the parts others don't reach, namely principals, private clients and policy and decision makers, in addition to those in government, security, intelligence and law enforcement.

We provide unique insights. For example, the recent launch of The Safe Havens index demonstrates our capacity to innovate. The Wealth Forums Safe Haven index provides an analytic tool to enable prospective decision makers, according to certain objective criteria, to calculate empirically how a jurisdiction is viewed from a safety and security perspective. 

TL: What are some of the main issues concerning high net worth individuals (HNWIs) and ultra high net worth individuals (UHNWIs) these days?

RM: The main issues concerning UHNWIS these days are not new. They have always been around. 

This is why the notion of a Safe Haven is so important for the protection of both individuals and their assets. A Safe Haven is NOT to be conflated or confused with a tax haven or a so-called secrecy jurisdiction. 

UHNWIS with legitimate verifiable assets have always been concerned about the preservation of their assets and succession planning, hence the quest for the best safe haven for their needs. Of course, the criminals of this world are no different!

Panama canal

TL: How has the recent release of the Panama Papers affected HNWIs and UHNWIs and their fiscal planning?

RM: The Panama Papers have certainly had an impact but not in the way people think. The term “Panama Papers” was a marketing ploy to convey a sensationalist all-encompassing impression and to distort the truth. 

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) was responsible for publishing the stolen information, which conveyed the perception that Panama was universally dodgy and indulging in illegal activities.

The truth is rather different. Panama is not a dodgy place nor is it another sunny place for shady people! It is the gateway to the Americas and is strategically important as a multi-modal shipping and transportation hub, as well as an international business centre. The country welcomes investors.

It is unfortunate that the so-called Panama Papers had the effect of collectively damaging the reputation of the whole country. This is a travesty. The problem is more to do with one particular law firm, not the jurisdiction as a whole. The Government of Panama has made this very clear. 

Another issue to be considered is the question of data security. Clients have rights too and the fact that the so-called Panama Papers were the result of an illegal hacking venture against one law firm is more a reflection of the distinct lack of security in that law firm than the jurisdiction as a whole.

In light of the above, perhaps clients should consider enhanced data security and block chain methods when choosing a Safe Haven law firm.

The Government of Panama has launched a damage limitation and reputation enhancement campaign. For those wishing to conduct legitimate activities with verifiable assets, Panama is certainly open for business. The recent celebration of the enlargement of the Panama Canal certainly attests to this fact. 

TL: Given its position as a jurisdiction with rigorous privacy rules, how is Switzerland dealing with all of the ongoing global initiatives pushing for greater transparency and the curtailment of tax avoidance?

RM: The perception of Switzerland as a secrecy jurisdiction is simply wrong. The government and private sector have worked hard to remove this false image. 

It is true that Switzerland went through a bad patch in the last decade, particularly vis-à-vis the United States, and Swiss banks have paid large fines.

This is history. Today there is a renaissance in Swiss banking, particularly in the private banks, finance houses and fund managers. 

Simply put, Switzerland is not an opaque jurisdiction. It has signed a myriad of tax information exchange agreements for example. 

Switzerland is the ultimate safe haven. It is synonymous with stability, rule of law, probity, quality and security. Plus, it is outside of the EU. It is expensive, but being number one means there is a price to pay for those who wish access. 

How do you envision Brexit affecting European wealth?

TL: How do you envision Brexit affecting European wealth?

RM: Brexit is an aberration for the UK. It is simply too early to forecast what will transpire when the UK eventually invokes Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which will trigger the divorce process perhaps by 2020.

I don't have a crystal ball, however, I can safely say the following based on current trends:

Brexit will probably be a fudge. It will not be as draconian or definitive as hardcore recalcitrant advocates would like it to be.

The UK cannot change its address. The UK is in Europe. This geographical determinism explains everything past, present and future. This is the immutable reality that will ultimately lead to the formation of a new semi-detached special relationship between the UK and the EU along the lines of Norway and Switzerland. 

It is clear that concessions will have to be made on both sides by rational pragmatists who realise that the illusions of grandeur propagated by the Brexit lobby are simply unworkable. 

In the interim, there are three government departments—two new and one old—to deal with the management of Brexit. This extrication process will literally impact every aspect of life.  Already there are new job opportunities for trade negotiators and market access specialists.

Abrogating treaties on this scale is clearly an unprecedented and momentous occurrence. Similar to when King Henry VIII broke with The Roman Catholic Church in 1534. Of course, there was no popular referendum then.

So what might happen?

The UK is clearly not ready to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty yet, which is why indecision and being in limbo are accurate ways to describe the situation. 

Brexit may lead to increased tax competition between the UK and the EU in order to attract inward investment. UK Non-Dom status and Investor Visas could also be made more attractive in order to appeal to the mobile wealthy that have a choice about where they can invest and what passport provides the best protection and freedom of movement.  

Clearly, Brexit has some implications for the UK as a safe haven. These will be considered at the next London Wealth Forum/Safe Haven conference in early October. 

So far we can say that the decline in the value of the British Pound and real estate prices has made the country attractive for both investors and speculators, the Chinese in particular.

The lack of clarity and certainty has created instability about the future leading to an economic slow down, lack of confidence and the possibility of another recession. 

Will there still be a United Kingdom? Could there be a Sexit?

The possibility of Scotland leaving the UK is increasingly likely, however, again geographical determinism will predominate, so I foresee more self-determination rather than complete independence.

Gibraltar like Scotland voted to remain in the EU. This has interesting implications not just for the passporting of financial services within the EU, which is vital too for the City of London, but it will also force a re-evaluation of Britain's relationships with the remaining overseas dependent territories and even the Commonwealth, particularly CARICOM countries. 

Based on current short-term trends, the Republic of Ireland seems to be a net beneficiary of the insecurity caused by the Brexit vote. UK companies and individuals are hedging their bets by establishing Irish companies and applying for Irish citizenship/passports. Portugal and Switzerland also stand to gain.

Brexit is both an opportunity and a misfortune. It all depends on your perspective. There is a silver lining. As an optimist, I believe the UK will remain intact and there will be a greater degree of devolution instead of complete independence. Brexit will be diluted and, in exchange for open market access, the UK will have to accept the free movement of people.

The UK could turn itself into the best Safe Haven by offering all manner of incentives and negotiating new international trade deals but it is simply too early to say. As always, the devil is in the detail.

Suffice to say, I can reasonably foresee the UK being more competitive, EU relations will be recalibrated, the Commonwealth will be rediscovered and bilateral relations will be enhanced with strategic partners instead of via multilateral groupings.

In light of the above, new sources of funding will need to be developed to replace the contributions from the EU and to fund individual initiatives that were previously shared by EU partners. There are clear tax implications that have yet to be clarified and, who knows, they may prove impossible to meet. 

TL: Are there any additional thoughts you would like to share with our community?

RM: So, by way of conclusion, The Wealth Forums and The Safe Havens concept and index are registered and protected. As I have tried to demonstrate above, The Wealth Forums provide a unique platform to discuss contemporary issues and provide early warning and analysis of trends. We try to offer value for money and avoid groupthink and fashionable thought.

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