Financial industry is the ‘fifth emergency service’ in BVI
An alliance of UK financial and legal services based in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) was formed in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, which caused widespread devastation when it hit the island two weeks ago, and is still active in the trail of Hurricane Maria.
The Alliance of BVI Professional Services Businesses was founded as an example of corporate social responsibility, and its lead spokesperson is Rachael McDonald (pictured left), managing partner of the BVI office of international law firm Mourant Ozannes.
Thankfully, the British Overseas Territory was spared the worst of Maria’s ire as it barrelled through the Caribbean, obliterating the tiny island of Dominica, with a population of just 720,000 and causing mayhem on BVI’s eastern neighbour Puerto Rico, about the same distance from BVI as it is from London to Bristol.
Lorna Smith, interest executive director of BVI Finance, said in a statement: “The full impact of Hurricane Maria is still emerging, but thankfully we were spared the brunt of it as the eye passed south of our islands. Reconstruction efforts have therefore continued along with ongoing humanitarian support.
“For the international business and finance centre, Hurricane Maria caused minimal disruption with many firms able to continue providing key services to clients throughout. This is thanks to the successful implementation of business continuity plans, which includes many firms partnering with their international networks on an interim basis.”
International Investment caught up with Rachael, who took time out from the relief effort to answer a few questions for us…
Can you give us a little background on the Alliance? When and why was it formed? By whom? Who are the key players?
“The Alliance of BVI Professional Services Businesses was formed in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma and is comprised of a number of professional services firms who practise or have offices in the British Virgin Islands (BVI).
“The founding members include Mourant Ozannes, Appleby, Baker Tilly, Carey Olsen, Forbes Hare, Harneys, Kalo, Maples and Calder, Nerine, Ogier, Pricewaterhouse Cooper, Rawlinson & Hunter, and Walkers. Other firms are still joining.
“The Alliance is committed to doing as much as it is able to rebuild the BVI following the passage of Hurricane Irma on 6 September 2017 and Hurricane Maria. Our priority is the welfare of the Islands and the people who call the BVI their home.”
What has Maria brought with it?
“Reports so far are that the impact of Maria has been minimal and there were many UK troops and support agencies on the ground in the Islands who helped prepare and remain in the BVI. Ahead of Irma, many firms invoked their business continuity/hurricane plans and typically this involved a range of people across operations, communications and HR.
“More broadly, the Department of Disaster Management played a significant role in managing the situation under the leadership of the BVI Governor. You can read more at http://www.bviddm.com”
To what extent have employees of the firms in the Alliance mucked in? Has it been all hands to the pump?
“It has been an incredible and unprecedented time. Put simply, everybody has been affected. We have seen as many as 30 firms jointly work together to support one another on the ground and elsewhere where personnel have been relocated for a period of time while BVI recovers.”
Have any employees seen devastation to their own homes? Have any of their children’s schools been devastated, for instance?
“Irma was the strongest hurricane ever (Cat5 ) to hit the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean. Most properties in BVI have suffered some damage and many buildings will need to be completely rebuilt.
“Professionals who remained on the ground have acted in truly community-minded ways. We saw firms offering safe havens immediately after the storm, people assisting at the hospitals and helping aid agencies, all while balancing their personal needs to repair homes and re-establish essential amenities like electricity, telecoms and water as they’ve become available again.
“The BVI Government is working hard to deliver immediate aid and to formulate a strategy to start to help rebuild. This will take time but the Alliance members are focused on helping as much as they can to assist in this process.
“A significant level of services and operations have continued either on-island or via international networks and this has already provided a great platform for BVI to open for business extremely quickly following Irma.”