The Changing Face of ‘Offshore’
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
It's interesting talking to firms in different 'international finance centres'. Whether they are lawyers, bankers, funds professionals, accountants or wealth management experts, everyone seems to react slightly differently to the utterance of the term 'offshore'.
For some, the term is a dirty word. I know of a number of high profile financial institutions and jurisdictions, for example, who are keen to disassociate themselves from the term in their branding and corporate literature - sensing perhaps that it leaves them open to attack from the 'offshore critics', opting instead for the 'IFC' umbrella.
But what does it mean to be 'offshore' these days? And what jurisdictions are 'offshore'?
As far as the media is concerned, there are some interesting divisions emerging. For example, some nvestment and wealth management publications remain quite happy to include European centres like Malta and Luxembourg within their 'offshore' remit, whilst legal publications like The Lawyer and Legal Week make a point of having separate reports for jurisdictions such as Malta.
Many offshore law firms are still keen to be featured in these legal magazines' offshore reports too. But with more and more of them establishing presences in 'onshore' locations, how long can we go on referring to them as offshore firms?
It's interesting too that many onshore jurisdictions market themselves in very similar ways to the more traditional offshore centres. A recent briefing from law firm Clifford Chance, for example, trumpeted the Netherlands as one of the world's best holding jurisdictions due to its 'full exemption on income and capital gains derived from subsidiaries, its extensive tax treaty and investment treaty network, its flexible corporate laws and high quality of corporate service providers'. Concepts that might well be familiar to the Crown Dependencies, for example.
There is definitely a debate to be had here - indeed, it's been going on in meeting rooms across IFCs for some time. In a world where the dynamics of international finance are constantly changing, is the distinction between on and offshore becoming increasingly vague? Is the term outdated?
Or, as is my view, is there still a relevant space for 'offshore' where, if used in its strictest sense, there is a chance for it to re-assume genuinely positive connotations. A lot of that will depend on how the true values of 'offshore' are communicated.