Ministry of Financial Services, Labour and Trade
Release Date:
Wednesday, 28 June 2023 - 3:14pm

Remarks by Minister for Financial Services, Trade & Labour

Honourable Lorna Smith, OBE

At the Financial Services Solutions Forum

Tuesday 27th June 2023

The mandate of the new Ministry and the Government's vision and plans to support the financial services industry.

As all of you know I have been passionate about driving the growth of the financial services sector for most of my working life. I am thrilled that its importance has been recognized by the Government and that we finally have a Ministry which will give it the weight it needs both around the Cabinet table and in the many international and governmental institutions we deal with.

The Ministry’s vision is of a prosperous and inclusive society, with a robust, sustainable, and future-ready economy, driven by innovation, digital transformation, and global competitiveness.

I am therefore particularly pleased that the key elements of labour and trade form part of my ministerial portfolio as they are both so integral to our success.

In the case of labour, my overriding ambition is to reduce bureaucracy and red tape which I know many of you have experienced directly, and make it easier for people to work and build a business in the BVI.

We must have a system which enables our entrepreneurs to thrive and prosper and create businesses that can provide jobs and services in the BVI and across the world. This requires easy access to the trade licensing and work permit systems and quick decision making by the Government.

You will be pleased to know that we are now in the process of reviewing the work permit structure and the processes by which trade licenses are obtained. You will also have seen that we have announced a new Chair of the Labour Arbitration Tribunal. Yesterday we announced that work permit renewals can be completed and collected by anyone authorized by your offices to do so. These actions are designed to help the financial services and the wider business community.

However, the success of our financial services community depends on a robust and sustainable broader economy and that can only happen if we can ensure that the best and brightest within the BVI community have the chance to fulfil their career ambitions. Yes, if we are to develop and further expand the financial services sector, we must ensure we have the right balance of skills, but we must also ensure that we do our best to attract the outstanding talent from the BVI itself into the sector.

More leadership and mentoring from the financial services sector is required in this regard, particularly to support our young people. For example, one firm has set up a training programme in financial services for 16–18-year-olds. This is exactly the kind of initiative I am talking about. In fact, I would like to see us take a more systemised approach overall and want you all to consider how we might establish an industry-wide programme.

In terms of trade, I have always believed that financial services can offer so much more to the BVI than is often perceived. The expertise you have can help us to attract more investment into the BVI, support innovation in both products and services, and build resilience into our communities. My plan is therefore to take a more integrated approach to trade missions. Yes, financial services will often be the major part, but we must also look to how other sectors of the BVI might also benefit from such outreach.

An early example of this will be the planned trade mission to Guyana in August. However, I want to see a step change in your involvement in our trade engagements as we seek the level of inward investment necessary to improve our infrastructure, grow our economy and enhance our quality of life. I know that all of you want to be a part of that and I look forward to working closely with you.

From the perspective of financial services, the Ministry has been created at a particularly challenging time. I have spoken frequently about global economic headwinds we can do little about – the war in Ukraine, the move away from globalisation and the economic uncertainty so many countries are now facing following the pandemic. We are also facing hurdles peculiar to BVI. The threat of Public Registers of Beneficial Ownership or PARBOs, how we will emerge from the latest FATF examination, governance challenges and the attitudes of international bodies, including the EU and the OECD Global Forum, towards us.

All of these have the potential to adversely impact on the BVI and our industry. I hope and believe that adding the weight of a Ministry to support the industry will enable us to face these challenges successfully. Indeed, I have already held meetings with senior Foreign and Development Office officials on matters which directly impact on us and there will be more to come. We have all always succeeded when we work together, and I have no doubt that this will continue.

The meeting today is the start of that process. But it is just the beginning. Together, I want us to develop a strategic vision and plan for our business and financial services industry, one that takes account of the challenges and helps us to navigate through them, but also one which also looks at the new exciting opportunities ahead.

Part of that will be about refreshing the narrative for BVI financial services. Yes, our core offer will remain, but we must expand and diversify. We cannot afford to have all our eggs in one basket – so to speak - and we must plan accordingly.

Our developing FinTech offer is evidence of this diversification, but we must go further and look for new opportunities to reinforce and expand the BVI’s service economy. For example, financial services is integral to any country with the ambition to be a sustainable climate resilient economy. In our case, we already have much of the necessary expertise already in country. So, let’s use the expertise we already have to make that happen.

For example, we can and must make much more of our position as a large ocean state. If we can quantify our natural assets, we will be in a better place to protect them and restore those we have lost. This will help the BVI to better plan climate change mitigation measures. However, if we can also place a value on those assets, then we can build business on the basis of that value, bringing in potential government revenues as well as establishing new opportunities for the sector. 

As we have seen in other jurisdictions, initiatives around the blue economy are integral to a sustainable future. Given our exposure to climate change, it is essential that our services sector is resilient and sustainable. From financial services to creative services, we will therefore always be looking at how we can further support you. I hope that today we obtain your thoughts on how we might proceed.

And there is an exciting event that I am delighted to share with you today: Fintech on the Seas 2024 is a groundbreaking conference set literally on the breathtaking waters of the British Virgin Islands. It brings together leading fintech innovators, startups, investors, and regulators from around the world for three days of networking, sharing ideas, and fostering partnerships.

The event is designed to attract startups, venture capitalists, banks, financial institutions, regulators, financial technology providers, and anyone interested in the future of fintech, regtech, digital assets, virtual assets, and crypto.

Fintech on the Seas aims to:

  • Highlight and discuss emerging trends and technologies in fintech, regtech, digital assets, virtual assets, and crypto industries.
  • Facilitate in-depth discussions on regulatory trends and challenges in the fintech and related spaces.
  • Provide a platform for startups to showcase their innovative solutions in the fintech and related sectors and attract potential investors.
  • Foster networking and collaboration opportunities among fintech companies, investors, and regulators
  • Promote the British Virgin Islands as a top tier fintech and digital assets hub.

Fintech on the Seas is expected to drive the growth and innovation of the fintech, regtech, and digital assets sectors by fostering connections, inspiring new ideas, and facilitating important regulatory conversations. It will also enhance the recognition of the British Virgin Islands as a burgeoning hub for fintech and digital assets.

However, while we need to plan for the future, it won’t surprise you to know that I would also like to see the sector extend its reach to help us to address the practical issues which are impacting on BVI businesses today. I have already mentioned mentoring and training for our young people but there are many other areas where the engagement of the private sector could assist our community. For example, I recently met with the Banking Association. This will be a quarterly meeting where we will discuss how the Banks can help entrepreneurs in particular. I know that several of you sponsor schools, school bands, and become otherwise involved in the community.

These are the kind of examples which will help make the financial services community a more integral component of the wider BVI economy. I look forward to hearing more ideas on how to put more practical measures into action.

One more final comment before we get on with the morning. I know most of you and you know me. I am nothing If not a doer. It’s why I stood for election in the first place. As I have said I believe the ministry gives the jurisdiction the weight it requires both domestically and in international circles. But we only succeed with your support. Together, I think we can do great things for BVI and in particular, I believe we can set our industry on a new path towards a sustainable future. I look forward to speaking with you over the course of the morning - so let’s get on with it!