In September 2017 the British Virgin Islands, along with several Caribbean jurisdictions fell victim to Hurricanes Irma and Maria, two of the most powerful hurricanes on record. In the immediate aftermath of the hurricanes, many feared that businesses and the financial services sector – which represents over 60% of government revenues and mediates over $1.5 trillion of investment – could have been crippled. Lorna Smith recounts the slow recovery.
A year on from the major destruction to lives and property on our islands, our financial services sector has been able to rebuild, stronger. Last month, after nearly a year of working in temporary offices, BVI Finance relocated to its permanent base after it was severely damaged by Irma.
And we have not been alone – many financial services businesses have spent the last year working from temporary offices. We even had to move the BVI Commercial Court to St. Lucia after our court building was damaged, with several of our on-island firms following suit and having to set up temporary “pop-up offices” in other jurisdictions. The Commercial Court has since returned to the BVI, operating from temporary accommodation while waiting for the completion of the rebuilt facilities thanks to a generous donation of nearly $250,000 raised by the BVI’s financial and professional services firms. (Pictures below show the BVI Finance offices immediately after the hurricane, left, and the new office today.)
Amazingly, our financial services sector did not let temporary workspaces and pop-up offices deter them from continuing to bring in business. According to the 4Q2017 BVI Financial Services Commission’s quarterly statistical bulletin, company incorporations increased by 12% quarter-on-quarter (8,538 vs 7,639) and were up nearly 10% on 4Q2016 (8,538 vs 7,780). The numbers continued to rise in 1Q2018, with a nearly 15% (9,798 vs 8,538) increase in the number of new incorporations when compared to figures in 4Q2017.
We even took the opportunity to enact new financial services legislation. In early 2018, we launched a new Limited Partnership Act (LPA), which allows investment funds all the typical benefits of limiting liability. The LPA was a product of excellent collaboration between lawyers from eight firms based in the BVI, who have worked tirelessly to create this innovative statute – many themselves having to work in less than ideal conditions while their own companies, communities and families rebuilt after the hurricanes.
The launch of Bank of Asia BVI in July was another significant milestone in BVI’s post-hurricane rebuilding efforts. Amid rebuilding projects happening on-island, we were able to open one of the world’s first fully digital, global banks designed to serve cross-border business.
As we saw during our recent Asia Trade Mission, I’m proud to say that against the odds, our jurisdiction – residents, government and private sector alike – have ensured that the BVI’s vital role in the global economy remains strong today.
Immediately after the hurricanes in BVI, I said that the jurisdiction would be back stronger than ever and I am happy to say today that we are on our way to becoming stronger than we have ever been. While there is still much to be done in terms of the recovery effort, our future as a world renowned financial services centre has been cemented, and our ability to be at the cutting edge of innovation remains untouched and as robust as ever.