When he became president of Economic Development at the end of 2020, Deputy Neil Inder didn’t hold back on publicly stating his wholehearted support for the island’s finance industry, pledging more funding for its promotional agency Guernsey Finance.
As 2021 begins, with Guernsey – freshly sanitised fingers crossed for now – still in the extremely enviable position of no lockdown, but a virus mutating and raging all around us, it looks like travelling to spread the word of Guernsey as a great place to do business will continue to be on hold for the foreseeable future.
However, the virus couldn’t hold Guernsey Finance back last year and judging by the optimism displayed by chief executive Rupert Pleasant, whatever 2021 has to throw at us won’t stop it either.
Plans for the year
There are three main areas where Rupert wants to make progress this year, aimed at cementing Guernsey’s position as a force to be reckoned with on the international finance stage.
“The first is on the research side and on the academic side by developing some first-class research papers that really delve into the Guernsey financial services industry, whether that’s funds, private equity, family office. We really want to look at the strengths that Guernsey provides in those areas,” he says.
The second aim is to have a louder, more focused PR machine that can take the results of the aforementioned academic research and use it as solid evidence for Guernsey’s chosen target markets.
“And that comes on to the third thing, which is then having skilled business development people on the ground in those target markets who can use that content as part of our messaging, exactly where we want it to be heard.
Security, stability, substance
This data will be a mix of qualitative and quantitative, and, together with Guernsey’s key messaging, is intended to promote the island’s core strengths of security, stability and substance… “helping them understand that Guernsey is a quality jurisdiction with a strong reputation”.
This naturally begs the question – which markets does he think Guernsey should be expanding into?
Rupert says when he took on the role of Chief Executive last year, one of the first things he did was to carry out an audit of where the organisation is with the aim of discovering if Guernsey Finance was where he thinks it should be and if its message is reaching the right people in the right markets.
One of those destinations is Hong Kong, where Guernsey is already known but where ‘there’s a real opportunity’.
“They’re looking at Guernsey saying ‘well hold on a second, the way you’ve come through Covid, the way you operate your regulatory regime, you’ve been stable for 800 years, etc’. That’s a place that we can do business with.”
South Africa is also seen as a land of opportunity.
“There’s always been a very good relationship between South Africa and Guernsey and we’re looking to bolster that.”
Rupert is keen also to foster greater ties in the Middle East.
“We’re debating at the moment whether that should be in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, or somewhere completely different like Bahrain, Bahrain being the gateway to Saudi.”
Let’s not forget the world’s biggest market, the United States. Guernsey already has a foothold there but it’s a place Rupert’s keen to develop even closer ties.
“The latest Frontier Capital report that came out… shows evidence that there is a great deal of capital flow through Guernsey from the US and back to the US again. So that’s an area that I really do want to develop. We’re looking at whether that’s New York, which is the hub, or Miami for the South American market.”
Closer to home, there’s also post-Brexit UK, which Rupert says is ‘pivotal’.
For a lay person who is unfamiliar with how the financial services industry operates it’s easy enough to understand why Guernsey would want to forge closer ties with the Middle East and America, which are enormously wealthy regions with well-established industries in family wealth and private equity, but what’s attractive about South Africa?
Rupert says Guernsey already has a good relationship with the country’s funds and trust sectors, with respected South African firms such as Investec, FNB and Nedbank having a longstanding presence in the island.
“We have some very big players here. They have put fund work through Guernsey for many, many years and there’s further opportunities there.”
Traditionally South Africa’s main centre for that work has been Mauritius which isn’t viewed favourably regarding international standards on substance and anti-money laundering.
“For South Africa, which is a very developed first world market, that really matters. You have clients who are looking and saying, well hold on a second. Why do I want my money invested through a jurisdiction doesn’t meet certain criteria? So a key attraction of ours is being able to address that.”
There’s also family office and a potential pensions market which local providers are working on, he adds.
In the second and final part of the interview, Rupert discusses the agency’s plans for keeping Guernsey in the global financial services spotlight for all the right reasons in 2021.
Guernsey Finance is holding its industry update on Thursday 21st January. For further information, click here.