The founder and chief executive of the deVere Group advisory firm told a Hong Kong audience on Wednesday that his company takes “legitimate complaints from clients seriously” and that it works “swiftly for, and with, [such clients] to resolve them”.
“Scrutiny is part of being a leader, and the price of being high profile and successful,” deVere Group CEO Nigel Green said, in response to questions put to him by Yonden Lhatoo, the senior editor of the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s English-language daily which was recently acquired by the Alibaba Group. The SCMP sponsored the event at which Green was being interviewed.
Lhatoo phrased his question by noting that Green had “previously had a ‘run in’ with this newspaper [the SCMP], when we published a negative story on deVere”, and observing that there was also “some criticism” to be found online of deVere Group, based on a Google search, in addition to “your fair share of very positive PR”.
“How,” Lhatoo asked, “do you respond to this [criticism]?”
“The important thing is to be upfront,” Green replied.
“To be open and transparent. To deal with things as they come along. You’ve got to deal with the press – and to understand that the press prefer the negative to the positive, as this gets them more hits on their websites.
“My approach, as you can see as I’m here on stage, is to be open. But you’ve also got to keep it in perspective – we have, after all, 80,000 clients, who trust us to advise them on their money, and money is a very personal thing.
“The world has changed significantly in recent years due to social media, meaning that everyone with a smart phone is now a ‘consumer journalist’, so any issues are potentially much bigger and in the public domain almost immediately.
“The negatives cannot distract you from your primary aim, of helping clients achieve their long-term financial goals.”
The event at which Green was interviewed was called “Game Changers”, and was, according to the SCMP, designed to bring high-profile business leaders together to share their ideas. It was the latest in a series of such events that the newspaper sponsors.
Other speakers included executives from new SCMP owner Alibaba; United Parcel Service; and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. It took place at the JW Marriott Hotel, in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong Island.
Towards the end of his on-stage interview, Green was asked by the SCMP’s Lhatoo for his opinion – as one with “many wealthy clients” – of the recent “Panama Papers” document leak, and subsequent reaction.
“I’m one of those who believe that privacy – not secrecy – is OK in certain circumstances,” Green replied.
“We mustn’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Just because someone has something in Panama doesn’t make it necessarily wrong by default. In fact, it is most likely legal.
“I know that you have had some government-funded public institutions here in Hong Kong that have put their money into the British Virgin Islands and Panama. Is that wrong? No, if it is not illegal, it is not wrong. They are taking advantage of the established rules to lawfully mitigate their tax. Why shouldn’t they mitigate their tax, if it is legal?
“If it is illegal, that’s a different matter. That is completely different.
“Being legally tax-efficient is sensible. For example, here in Hong Kong, there are some advantages for investing into a pension. Is that being immoral? Or is it being sensible with your money?”
The world, Green concluded, needed “to regain some perspective on the Panama Papers issue.
“Those who criticise should not criticise individuals, organisations, institutions and companies that use rules to their advantage, but should, I suggest, criticise the rules themselves. It is for governments to make the rules.”