REMARKS BY PREMIER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE DR. THE HONOURABLE D. ORLANDO SMITH, OBE
DURING THE STEP BVI BRANCH CONFERENCE
Maria’s by the Sea
7th October, 2015
Good morning! It is a real pleasure to be here today.
STEP has been a long-time collaborator with successive governments of the BVI in the development, promotion and protection of the BVI’s financial services industry.
Successive chairs of the BVI branch of STEP have served on advisory committees and worked in close consultation with the Government on innovative measures to enhance the BVI product.
Let me here acknowledge the fine work of the Founding Branch Chair Chris McKenzie who was instrumental in the introduction of the Virgin Island Special Trust Act that has brought so much recognition– not to mention huge amounts of business -to the BVI.
The STEP partnership with theGovernment of the Virgin Islands is deeply appreciated not only because of the impact of trust practitioners on the business of the BVI, but because STEP is fundamentally about education.
My Government recognises and applauds the individual efforts of your members in pursuing the International Trust Management Diploma.
We also express our gratitude for your contribution to the establishment of the Financial Services Institute that is now the primary institution of tertiary level education equipping BVIslanders for significant roles in the industry.
We look forward to a continued collaborative and mutually beneficial relationship that redounds to the benefit of our people.
I note that this conference represents the delivery of a commitment by STEP to providing opportunities for continuing professional development to its members and to the industry generally.
It is heart-warming to see how many of you have taken full advantage of this opportunity. The theme chosen for the conference is “the new playing field”.
It was STEP Worldwide that back in 2003 helped fund a study designed to protect our industry. That report was called “Towards a level playing field” and it helped us push back very strongly against the attacks of those days.
But the attacks have been relentless and we continue to be under great pressures to maintain the integrity and sustainability of the industry.
As a result of agenda set by various international organisations international finance centres everywhere are constrained to adopt measures that are rapidly changing the landscape in which we operate.
This conference is therefore very timely as it addresses all the issues that are currently impacting the industry.
The imposition of more and more restrictions on the way we can do business has of course negatively impacted us. But it has also given us an opportunity.
By seeking to professionalise our practitioners and by ensuring that we attain the highest standards of learning open to the various strands of practice in the industry we can enhance Brand BVI and secure for the BVI our place as a premier international finance centre.
Only recently my government launched a programme to enhance and promote the industry.
BVI Forward, designed to engage not only the industry but the entire population, is committed to implementing ten of the most strategic goals recommended in the McKinsey Report which I note will be discussed in one of your sessions today.
Again STEP has played a great supporting role in this endeavour with many of your members serving on committees that have helped to develop the strategies that will be rolled out over the next few months as we implement the recommendations of the McKinsey Report.
One of those recommendations has informed the strengthening of the Financial Services Institute which offers key elements of qualifications in Trust Management, Fund Administration, Compliance Management and the Chartered Secretary Certificate.
BVIslanders have already taken advantage of the opportunity offered to professionalise their careers by pursuing these certificates and we hope that many more will do so.
The competitive nature of the financial services industry means that our target markets are seeking not only cost-effective solutions but also highly qualified and expert service.
As a Territory, we need to keep building on our outstanding reputation for good products and good service.
This means we have to continue delivering on our commitment to broadening our range of products and deepening our talent pool.
We can do so by offering opportunities to all Nationals and residents for achieving the qualifications needed to enhance our reputation as a premier financial services jurisdiction.
The financial services industry occupies pride of place on the landscape of the Virgin Islands economy because it provides more than 65 percent of our annual Gross Domestic Product.
Many of you here know this intimately, but research tells us that the average BVIslander does not relate to this fact on any deep level.
In order to ensure our future success as we take BVI Forward – everyone, every person living in these Islands needs to be committed to the enduring success of this Territory as a provider of superior quality financial services.
Conferences such as this will help.
We hope that all of you will go out into the community and be ambassadors for the industry both here at home and abroad.
We have recently won the approval of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (one of our earliest and most vociferous detractors) for having attained desirable standards of compliance with international financial regulations. This is no mean feat.
We have been able to do this not just because we have consistently enacted appropriate legislation, but because we have been able to win the support of the industry in applying and enforcing the laws that prove our compliance.
This co-operation needs to continue as we focus on scaling the heights of the industry globally.
We have to take on our closest rivals for the business boom coming out of China, Singapore and Hong Kong, our gateways to China are also rivals for the business that we have been doing for more than 30 years.
By copying our laws and enticing away top talent from our Islands to their jurisdictions, they impeded or growth, but they also work with us – and so we need to be poised to match their abilities.
I urge us to set our sights on that goal to be more enticing than Singapore and Hong Kong, even as we seek markets closer to home in Latin America.
My Government is committed to pushing ahead with plans that will enhance the sector.
We hope that you will continue to support us in that commitment and we look forward to working with all of you as we continue to take BVI Forward.