By NATARIO McKENZIE
Financial Services Minister Hope Strachan yesterday reiterated the call for international attorneys to be allowed to establish business operations in The Bahamas to facilitate cross border business and arbitral maters, arguing that this would in no way harm the Bahamian legal profession but instead expose local attorneys for employment opportunities abroad.
While addressing the Association of Bank and Trust Companies (AIBT) 2015 Nassau Conference 2015 yesterday, Mrs Strachan stressed that this nation cannot continue to do what it has done for the past 42 years and expect different results.
“There are too many lawyers that are underemployed or that are underutilising their skills and educational capabilities,” said Mrs Strachan. “There is a serious dearth of opportunities for personal development. Our country is the worse off for it. We must continue our efforts to innovate for the future and the growth of the financial services sector in The Bahamas. Diversity and innovation go hand in hand. The idea of allowing international law firms to establish business operations in the Bahamas, for the facilitation of cross border business and arbitral matters, should not at this stage in our country’s development solicit controversy.
“What I am advocating is not to be confused with the fact that international lawyers can come to The Bahamas and engage in litigation in special cases, as with Baha Mar where Queen’s Counsel were allowed to come in to argue the case. We are looking at the bigger picture. Practice can be confined to specific areas of ‘financial services’ restricting and reserving other areas where we have seen how our competitors have a distinct advantage in the transport of business to their jurisdictions.”
Mrs Strachan added: “The idea here is to allow Bahamian lawyers to broaden the depth of their knowledge and experience and increase the opportunities which allow them to contribute their expertise in the international arena. The transfer of knowledge from their international counterparts would be invaluable.
“This can only be done in limited doses by a lawyer coming in to deal with the odd cases here and there. Through a strategic and well thought out policy, our Bahamian Lawyers could be exposed to greater opportunities for employment experiences abroad. No matter how you put it, I cannot see how this can in any way be harmful to the legal profession. It simply takes policy, planning and logistics.”
Mrs Strachan noted that the issue of allowing foreign attorneys to practice in The Bahamas has been a longstanding debate.
“I am of the view that the time has come to resolve it,” she said. “This is one way of securing opportunities for the next decade and I dare say again far beyond. We can create new opportunities but we must change the way we do business. Recognising the need to stay on the cutting edge of developments in the industry, my Ministry is presently being structured and staffed to monitor developments in the sector both regionally and globally. Monitoring market developments assists us in proactively addressing and adjusting to market changes that impact our industry.
“The objective is to allow us to adjust policies, steer the creation and amendment of legislation, for creativity and compliance and to keep pace with the fluid, ever-changing environment that is today’s financial services industry.
“To a great extent, the Global Regulatory Initiatives of recent times dictated a shift in focus from creativity and innovation in market and products to creating and innovating legislation for compliance, regulating compliance, training for compliance and executing compliance. To an extent we are now playing catch up.
“There is a critical need now to be ambidextrous; juggling many obligations all at once.”
Mrs Strachan noted that the competition for market share in the financial services industry is “fierce”.
“Countries across the globe are vying for the business from a limited pool of high net worth and ultra high net worth individuals,” she said. “The dynamic regulatory environment, the so called levelling of the playing field on a global scale and the resulting contraction of offshore business from many countries of the world has increased the competition among jurisdictions. If we all are offering the same services what gives one jurisdiction the competitive edge over another?
“One proven formula is a strong, well-regulated, compliant industry, undergirded by a strong, strategic marketing plan.
“This is why The Ministry of Financial Services along with the Bahamas Financial Services Board has continued it’s intense marketing programme in promoting the sector. In recent times we have expanded our reach to emerging markets such as Latin America, Asia and other European countries. We have participated in numerous promotional activities including, summits, conferences and meetings. Our objective is to highlight the products and services we offer and to promote The Bahamas as a jurisdiction of choice,” said Mrs Strachan.
She noted that promotion is critical to the preservation of The Bahamas’ brand to international markets.