The second annual IFC Forum Conference was held in London in November, entitled 'IFCs: playing a part in the global recovery', and I was fortunate to be one of the hundred or so people to attend.
I was particularly keen to see how the agenda had changed since last year's Conference - one of my comments after that event was that 'the argument for IFCs to tackle the key issues together in a credible, positive and collaborative way is getting stronger’.
Despite the current persistent media coverage of IFCs, issues of tax avoidance, transparency and regulation, the issues discussed this year seemed remarkably similar to last And, as I noted last year, it was still mainly a case of preaching to the converted.
There were some interesting points made – that IFCs should be educating the next generation by going into colleges and universities (Philip Booth) and that automatic information exchange is seeing growing interest (see current debate on ‘UK FATCA’). The question was also asked as to whether there is any point in IFCs complying with all regulation if they never get any credit for it.
It was also good to hear the business editor of the Sunday Times Kamal Ahmed pledging that his paper would take a more in-depth and objective look at the ‘tax haven’ and ‘tax avoidance’ issues.
And there was the rather dubious suggestions that ‘tax haven’ could actually be a positive term and that the word ‘finance’ was now so negative in the Western world that IFCs should consider re-branding as ‘International Commercial Centres’.
Overall, though, the debate had not, it seemed, moved on a huge amount from last year. That there is interest from IFCs in organisations like the IFC Forum is positive but the jury is still out as to whether there is real commitment from IFCs to collaborate.
At a time when the European Commission is looking at clamping down on tax avoidance, the UK is seeking to find more ways to exchange information with Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories, and with the UK due to assume presidency of the G8 in 2013 when tackling tax avoidance is clearly on David Cameron’s agenda, IFCs will need to continue to respond robustly and coherently.
As Mark Field MP commented at the IFC Forum Conference, there is ‘still a fundamental misunderstanding about what IFCs do and what their benefit is’, which is worrying. And as distinguished parliamentarian Lord Blencathra, who was appointed Director of the Cayman Islands Government in London last year, warned in concluding the conference, ‘We fail to defend our industry at our peril’. Whether IFCs want to defend and explain what they do together remains up to them.