Paradise Papers – Seeing the Wood for the Trees

logoThe now infamous “Paradise Papers” contain personal data obtained from Appleby’s Bermuda office via an illegal hack. This data in part details the utilisation of International Finance Centres (IFC), by high net worth persons and corporates, for tax mitigation purposes. This post makes no comment on the legality or otherwise of using such data. Nor, is it a commentary about tax havens vs IFCs, the ethical considerations of society, and the freedoms for legal persons to engage in trade or invest in or through an IFC. Our focus instead is the failings that Trustees, Foundation Officials, Directors and Employees in Financial Services Businesses (FSB) must learn from in the wake of this saga. We do not purport to be a tax experts and so have not commented on the validity or otherwise of any advice given whether regarding tax or structuring. Our intention is to look at the compliance and “good business practice” considerations at the heart of good corporate governance. With offices in Guernsey, Jersey and having experience of  working in Bermuda we believe analysis of legal and regulatory frameworks by jurisdiction offers a less valuable insight than a clear understanding of the general principles and terms of good corporate governance.

 
Tax Advice
In order for Trustees, Foundation Officials and Directors to fulfil their responsibility and work in the best interest of their clients they must understand and follow the professional tax advice received. They must evidence that they are compliant with this advice and periodically, depending on the type of arrangement they are administering or controlling, ensure that they have up-to-date tax advice on file. They must also evidence that these arrangements remain legal and all tax liabilities are settled when due. The following are instances where those responsible may find that they have failed to attain an appropriate standard:

• Legal arrangements over time becoming tax non-compliant;
• Legal arrangements set up with draft tax advice without the advice ever being formalised;
• Legal arrangements undertaking new activities outside the scope of the original tax advice;
• Failure to follow tax advice fully, e.g. the non-repayment of a commercial loan arrangement;
• Tax advice provided by those who are not appropriately qualified;
• Tax advice held by the client but never shown to the Trustees, Foundation Officials and Directors.

Control
To ensure tax and legal compliance the Trustees, Foundation Officials and Directors must exert control. Here again to fulfil their responsibilities they must clearly document evidence that they have overarching control of the activities of the legal arrangement. The following are instances where those responsible may find that they have failed to attain an appropriate standard:

• Beneficiaries committing the legal arrangement to a business arrangement without due consideration and approval of the Trustees, Foundation Officials and Directors in the first instance;
• Those responsible acting without due consideration;
• Those responsible committing the legal arrangement to business activities which do not accord with the arrangement’s rationale;
• Those responsible lack sufficient independence from the client;
• Those responsible are unable to evidence their control of the assets and/or activities of the arrangement.

Investments
The Paradise Papers have also raised questions regarding the suitability and legality of investments undertaken by legal entities. Trustees, Foundation Officials and Directors must ensure that the investments or business activities undertaken by the entity are in line with its intended purpose. Those responsible must also ensure the legality of any investment or business activity does not breach any international sanctions. Though investments or business activities do not require due diligence to the same standard of beneficial ownership due diligence, sufficient research and evidence must be attained to ensure such activity is in the best interest and in line with the objective of the legal arrangement. At the same time sufficient checks must be undertaken to ensure legal compliance and suitability with its objectives both at initiation and on an on-going basis thereafter. The following are instances where those responsible may find that they have failed to attain an appropriate standard:

• Investing or engaging in a business relationship with legal entities related to a sanction regime or jurisdiction;
• Not undertaking sufficient due diligence to ensure that the investment or business engagement does not involve sanctioned legal persons or sanctions breaches;
• Investing or business relationships that are out of line with the entity’s purpose.

Source of Wealth and Funds
Trustees, Foundation Officials and Directors must ensure that they have sufficient understanding and evidence of their clients’ Source of Wealth and Funds (commensurate with their risk classification) to prevent and detect criminality and terrorist financing. Understanding the origin of assets and their usage assists those responsible in forming a picture of the true beneficial ownership, intention and nature of the relationship. This also allows those responsible to have sufficient transparency and enable effective reporting required by international regulatory and legal bodies.

 
Ethics of Doing Business
Those responsible must ensure that they have given ethical consideration to the activities of any legal arrangement. Ethical considerations must accord with the documented risk appetite and it must be understood that legal arrangements engaged in aggressive tax mitigation or higher risk industries pose a higher reputational risk to the Trustees, Foundation Officials and Directors, their business and those of the jurisdictions in which they are active. As such, these relationships must be properly understood and documented as they may be open to future challenge.

 
The ethics of doing business must also consider whether sufficient knowledge, qualifications and experience are inherent in those responsible. Trustees, Foundation Officials and Directors must document and evidence their consideration of whether a business relation, either new or continuing is within their realm of knowledge, understanding and experience. Where this is not the case they should remove themselves from responsible positions or obtain suitably experienced individuals as their replacement.

 
The integrity and professional actions of those responsible will ultimately be assessed by the authorities to ensure that the best interests of stakeholders have been met at all times. This responsibility includes timely reporting of non-compliance with appropriate authorities.

 
Compliance
While the Trustees, Foundation Officials and Directors remain responsible and accountable for both and their own and the legal arrangements activities, a suitably resourced compliance function is required to assist and advise. Compliance must be a proactive force within a FSB rather than merely a tick box exercise. It must assist in ensuring that the business has attained appropriate tax and legal advice as well as ensuring it is understood and followed. Those responsible must demonstrate the required control and oversight of activities undertaken for and on behalf of the legal arrangement. Findings and recommendations must be reported back to those responsible and any remediation must be tracked to ensure that the business can demonstrate compliance, integrity and appropriate levels of knowledge and understanding of the entity’s activities.

 
Data Security
The Paradise Papers also clearly highlight the importance of implementing suitable and sufficient data security controls to protect stakeholders. These controls are not just IT system-focussed and must include effective staff training to reduce the risk of an unintentional data leak. Data security systems and processes must be monitored, tested and kept up-to-date. It goes without saying that failure to implement an efficient and effective control environment may lead to a catastrophic loss of data with disastrous reputational consequences for all stakeholders. FSB’s must also be aware and ensure that any 3rd parties who hold data do so effectively and have the necessary safeguards and review processes.

 
Conclusion
Compliance monkeyIFCs adhere to international standards and best practice. While recent data hacks have revealed that there are practitioners out there who have not abided by these requirements, the vast majority are conscientious and highly professional.

However, the current political backdrop is unfavourable to offshore jurisdictions and we should expect greater scrutiny in our professional activities for the foreseeable future. Applying the highest standards of corporate governance is our best path to a successful future.
If you have any concerns or would like to know more please either contact myself or Redwood Offshore

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Dear Board, don’t engage me to undertake your outsource compliance requirements until you have read this!

Compliance monkeyGuernsey has an amazing regulatory framework which has become quite a selling point with financial service businesses offering their products and services and those financial service businesses wanting to come and have operations here. Some will utilise outsource compliance professionals to assist them with the cost of set up, on-going costs,  ensuring their business can have knowledgeable and professional persons on-board while it establishes and grows its presence and offerings. Even established firms may need extra compliance support in their business to be able to ensure that they can at all times remain compliant with the Guernsey regulatory framework or ensure that remediation is appropriate and effective.

In the last year the use of outsource compliance professionals has come to the forefront of the regulatory radar, instances of their failure having been identified as contributing to businesses failing to adhere to the regulatory framework. There have been numerous communications from the Commission to the industry on the issues surrounding the requirements for utilising an outsourced compliance professional and failures where this has not been met, showing that the Commission are treating this seriously.

At the end of the day the responsibility for compliance to the regulatory framework is laid firmly at the feet of the Board and they are the first point of call when failings or regulatory deficiencies are identified by the Commission. The need to ensure a Licensee is meeting the regulatory requirements forms at the most basic level with the minimum criteria of licensing as well as being mentioned throughout the regulations, codes instructions, and guidance issued by the Commission.

So what needs to be considered by Boards? Here are some questions to be asked but at all times refer to the legislation regulations, rules,instruction and codes that pertain to your business and licence.

Prior to any engagement consider these points.

You wouldn’t employ anyone to undertake the role in a full-time capacity so why would you chose anyone to do your outsource function?

Prior to any engagement do your due diligence on the outsource company/ person, the person who will be your appointed compliance representative and the people who will be doing the work. At the very minimum the person who will be undertaking the work needs to be suitably qualified and knowledgeable of the area your business operates in and the regulatory rules that pertain to your licence.  You will need to ensure that you can evidence that they have been appropriately screened as you will be expected to have been as diligent with your provider as with your own staff!

You wouldn’t employ anyone who doesn’t have the time for your business?

Prior to any engagement you need to work out how much time will be required. This will change from the role that compliance professional will undertake, as an example an outsourced MLRO will have different time requirements to a compliance professional assisting with licensing.

When you actually look at it, if you have a compliance professional for two hours a week it would take them eighteen weeks to achieve one thirty-six hour working week in your business! Obviously cost is a major factor in this assessment and knowledge and experience never come cheap. The time any compliance professional spends on your business must be commensurate to the size, complexity and nature of your business and the role undertaken.

You need to be aware that a compliance professional will also be working for other firms, there is obviously a risk regarding resources. If their clients require more time or the outsource provider or person undertaking the role has issues with resources will you be affected? You need to ensure that there are controls in place or a plan B to mitigate these risk.

You wouldn’t have any old agreement?

You need to ensure that the outsource agreement meets the requirement of the Guernsey regulatory framework and is legally binding. The Board cannot discharge its responsibilities only delegate the work, it is often a good idea to have a Guernsey Advocate firm look over any agreement, especially if the Board are not familiar with Guernsey Law or this area.

During any engagement consider these points.

You wouldn’t want to be assessed by any old criteria, what criteria is the business or business area being assessed to?

Again this depends on the role you are utilising the outsourced compliance professional for, but you need to know how they are monitoring you and to what standard.  The Board must make sure that it can evidence and satisfy itself and the Commission that the Guernsey regulatory framework requirements have been met.

You wouldn’t want any report, do the reports provided give the full picture of the work being undertaken?

The reports that are provided to the Board must be meaningful and contain accurate management information. This allow the Board to see the whole picture of their business or the area that the outsourced provided has been contracted to service and assess the level of compliance to the regulatory framework. If areas or remediation work have been identified are the Board kept appropriately up to date?

You wouldn’t want to keep on anyone who isn’t performing, is the outsource provider performing to the required standards?

Throughout any engagement the Board must consistently monitor and evidence its monitoring of the outsource provider and/or those undertaking the work for the Licensee. Is the Board satisfied with the work undertaken, is the monitoring of the business meeting the requirements of the Guernsey regulatory framework, has the business changed in its complexity, nature or size and is the person doing the role still suitable?

The most important aspect to any outsource relationship is that you have the right person/firm, they add something to your business, provide you with the accurate management information, they get on with you and are honest to you regarding their business and yours. By hopefully considering and evidencing these requirements a Board will be able to show that they have acted to ensure that their business meets the requirements of the Guernsey regulatory framework. In the unfortunate case where things have not worked out the Board will be able to evidence that they were aware of the issues at the earliest opportunity and have acted to mitigate any non-compliance and remediate the situation.

Introducer Certificates the Pro’s and Con’s

Does anyone else find it so frustrating to constantly provide client due diligence when accessing financial services products or even when accessing legal services?  Is this constant due diligence treadmill stopping us and potentially our clients from accessing products and services?  I personally feel that this is unfortunately the case and in some cases I am aware that this has caused clients to utilise other jurisdictions or miss out on investment or business opportunities.  I believe that there is a solution to this which could add to the attraction of Guernsey as a place to do business as well as allowing clients greater access to the products and services that can be offered.

The current solution is that the regulated or registered business can if the introducer meets the requirements of an Appendix C business, utilise the introducer regime as stipulated by the Guernsey Financial Services Commissions (GFSC).  This allows the registered or regulated business to rely on a certificate confirming identity while promising that the due diligence they hold and maintain meets the Guernsey requirements and will be provided when requested from the regulated or registered business.  The regulated or registered business then has to test the introducer throughout the life of the business relationship, to ensure that the introducer can meet the obligations of the introducer certificate and that the due diligence does meets the Guernsey standards. The unfortunate downfall of this system is that sometimes an introducer won’t adhere to the obligations of the introducer certificate or requirements of the rules governing due diligence in Guernsey leaving the regulated or registered business with quite a headache, and remedial work to undertake.

Where an introducer provides clients to regulated or registered business by the use of introducer certificate, for example an IFA providing 300 clients to invest in various Funds at a Guernsey Fund provider, the introducer can become disillusioned with Guernsey and the regulated or registered business when year on year they receive requests to provide the copies of due diligence for a selection of these clients introduced by them.  This is a burdensome process for the introducer, taking them away from their business, only to provide documentation for which they can not necessarily recover the cost from their client.  Unfortunately some will not want to or be willing to keep their obligations, leading to problems for the regulated or registered business.  The solution to this problem is to undertake a 100% testing programme where copies are provided to the receiving regulated or registered business with the introducer form.  There is only the need to periodically on a risk based approach go back to the introducer to confirm that the clients details have not changed during the life of the business relationship, such as the address, and if the details have changed that the copies of the updated due diligence are provided.  Undertaking this approach allows the regulated or registered business potentially less risk as the due diligence will already have been assessed and deemed suitable at the start of the business relationship and less risk of the introducer not subsequently meeting or adhering to their obligations by not providing the required due diligence. This allows for beneficial relationships to develop between the regulated or registered business and the enhancement of Guernsey as a place to do business.

Where clients have a business relationship with a regulated or registered business that is over a period of years, rather than a one off legal transaction where the business relationship is only for a matter of days or weeks.  If the introducer sells these clients during the course of the business relationship to another provider or is taken over, new introducer certificates will have to be obtained by the registered or regulated business or the clients will need to provide due diligence in order that the rules of the GFSC can be met.  Therefore I would always recommend for these longer term business relationships that due diligence is obtained rather than relying on the introducer certificate.

The rules issued by the GFSC state that clients who are introduced cannot then be introduced again by the regulated or registered business e.g. no introducer chains.  This can lead to the issues of a regulated or registered business unknowingly becoming involved in an introducer chain and having then to obtain the client due diligence, which can have an adverse effect on the business relationship with the client and the relationship with the introducer.  This also has the potential for higher cost to the client or loss of earnings by not being able to access an investment product to take advantage of price and in the worst case scenario the client may miss the investment opportunity altogether.

But what if Guernsey could offer a due diligence depository overseen by a regulating authority subject to stringent audits? Just think if clients provided their due diligence to this depository who then ensured that it met the regulatory standards, could this avoid altogether the need to obtain copies of due diligence or have a testing programme?  This depository could then provide registered or regulated businesses with an introducer certificate which would be more reliable and there would be less potential of unknowingly becoming part of an introducer chain or finding out the introducer was unable to meet its obligations. Could this reduce compliance cost to a regulated business and make Guernsey more competitive, the Jurisdiction of choice? Clients would be able to access products and services offered by other regulated or registered business with ease and certainty without suffering from the due diligence treadmill. Why stop at just offering this service to local registered and regulated businesses why not take an international approach and service other jurisdictions.  This could then lead to an enhancing of our economy while diversifying it at the same time.  We have all the right ingredients in Guernsey to undertake this opportunity we just need the political want to do this. But until my utopia happens please think carefully about the use of introducer certificates, sometimes it is actually easier and more beneficial for a registered or regulated business to get original due diligence and can save time money and cost in man hours to undertake the monitoring and any remedial work.

The Compliance Conundrum

A topic of conversation that often comes up is about “how compliance has become a monster”, sapping the dynamism of a business while slowly choking the new business streams by making the business over compliant. Has the compliance function gone too far and are they now holding Boards and Directors to a compliance and regulatory ransom leading to a loss in commerciality of the Guernsey Finance Sector?

Directors constantly berate me about having board packs that have compliance reports running to some 40 pages or more, how they spend more resources on compliance matters then on the direction of the business and that the compliance function does not assist them in achieving their business objectives. To my mind there is a balance that needs redressing in order that businesses can achieve high standards of compliance, while also achieving the businesses purpose and providing products and services to their clients that are competitive in cost with other jurisdictions.

The relationship between the Board and the compliance function must be one that is symbiotic, both assisting and nurturing one another. The compliance function must undertake suitable and sufficient monitoring of its business and report its findings effectively and efficiently to the Board. This is normally done by either an exception report or in a traditional report style over 40 pages and both have their own benefits and problems.

While using an exception reporting format this allows for immediate notifications of compliance and regulatory issues to the Board. The exception report though can fail to provide the assurance to the Board that the compliance function is suitable or sufficient due to its lack of content and oversight of the business.

The traditional compliance report of 40 pages or more will ensure that the Board can assess the suitability of its monitoring programme and compliance function. The problem with the traditional Compliance report is that its size may lead to regulatory or compliance issues being lost in the pages of the document. I am also aware that in some cases the traditional report format provided so much content but actually lacked the substance required to be provided to the Board in assessing the compliance status and function, a failing for the compliance function and a regulatory failing for the Board.

The compliance function must ensure that it has a suitable and sufficient Compliance Monitoring Programme and the Board must review this document annually to ensure that they are satisfied that it meets the Business and the regulatory requirements for the risks of the business being undertaken. The Compliance Monitoring Programme is the working paper of the compliance function, it shows the testing and findings of the compliance function and allows for suitable and informative compliance reports to be generated for the Board. The compliance report’s to the Board need to be a hybrid version of the traditional report and the exception report becoming more a précis of the Compliance Monitoring Programme, allowing the Board to see the matters of concern while also being assured of the compliance status of the Business.

The compliance function is the adviser to the Board in respect of the regulatory framework, providing advice and solutions to the Board in order that they can achieve the chosen business direction. This is where the business can become choked and the dynamism and competitiveness lost due to the gold plating of a business’s policies and procedures. The compliance function must always remember that it is the Board who decide the level of risk that they are satisfied to work with and that the compliance function is there to mitigate the risk by insuring that suitable and sufficient policies are in place. The compliance function must assess the regulatory requirements applicable to the business being undertaken and ensure that the Business is meeting these minimum requirements. The compliance function must never seek to direct the Board or the Business but to inform the Board what is required and expected of them in respect of the risks that the Board have deemed as acceptable.

I do believe that in some cases the compliance function has gone too far and seeks to control the business due to their own personal views or prejudices. It must always be remembered by all stakeholders in the finance industry in Guernsey that without the business there is no compliance function and without a compliance function there can be no business. It is vital that the compliance function is able to provide the required regulatory information to the Board in a succinct and effective manner in order that the Board can discharge their regulatory duties effectively and efficiently.

It is important that the compliance function provide the Board with first class regulatory advice that is free from their own personal prejudices. This is required in order that the Board can ascertain what the minimum regulatory requirements are and how best they can meet these requirements and make business decisions that will not endanger the Business or its clients. The Board must assess on an annual basis the suitability of its compliance function, if it is not providing the Board with the required information or are making the business lack commerciality by over compliance of the policies and procedures the Board must address these matters as they are ultimately responsible for the compliance function and its suitability and effectiveness.