The British Virgin Islands (BVI) has a reputation for resilience and is banking on this to see it through this latest challenge, says Elise Donovan
The covid-19 pandemic is having a significant impact on all of our daily lives as we observe social distance protocols and lockdowns in order to stem the spread of the virus. One area where the curfews are most keenly felt is in our professional life, with remote working the order of the day as offices are closed and we all become intimately familiar with video-conferencing software to conduct important business meetings. Indeed, the descriptive terminology no longer seems appropriate; we are not working from home, but rather at home, during a crisis, trying to work.
That said, technology is making the task much easier than it could have been and in the BVI our financial services industry has the in-built infrastructure to allow people to do business with us from anywhere in the world, via the most advanced technologies.
The world’s leading corporate firms, trust companies, law firms and accounting firms can rest assured that the BVI’s global business is still very much open."
Open for business
We are already firmly in the digital era - something the pandemic has only served to bring into sharper focus - and the world's leading corporate firms, trust companies, law firms and accounting firms can rest assured that the BVI's global business is still very much open.
At the heart of this continuity is the Virtual Integrated Registry and Regulatory General Information Network (VIRRGIN); the online heartbeat of industry in the BVI. This means that even during the current conditions, existing businesses can still file - and new companies be incorporated - minimising disruption and ensuring all corporate requirements can be met.
We are mindful of maintaining the usual online safety and security procedures and recently hosted a forum with representatives of the Information Systems Security Association to remind firms of their responsibilities around firewalls, privacy settings and domain policies, especially with new technology platforms being utilised. Additionally, a wider range of certificates have been made available via electronic delivery to meet the needs of clients globally.
Ahead of the curve
Our Government has been quick to react to the unfolding crisis, particularly with regards to safeguarding our economy and our valuable financial services community at the heart of that. The Cabinet recently approved a Financial Services (Exceptional Circumstances) Bill which was introduced into the House of Assembly and, now passed, is a legislative mechanism that can make special and urgent provisions to limit any impact on the sector.
The same law will also modify the application of certain regulatory obligations if exceptional circumstances have been declared, meaning businesses can continue to operate in trying conditions without the fear of penalty.
During uncertain times, stability is more important than ever and BVI Finance has issued its own covid-19 Business Continuity Guide to help businesses transition to this new phase. These are always documents you hope you'll never have to use, but they do provide a valuable resource during periods of change.
In the BVI we pride ourselves on our resilience in the face of adversity and the manner in which we recovered from Hurricane Irma in 2017 gives us recent experience to call on in that regard.
Communicate and collaborate
This is a global pandemic that has reached all corners of the world, but different markets find themselves at varying stages of the cycle. As a truly international finance centre, the BVI is proud to have a robust network of experienced professionals who remain available to do BVI business from locations in Asia, North America, Europe, South America, the Middle East, Africa and around the world.
Keeping digitally connected has never been easier, but it is important that we continue to communicate in the right way and ensure all stakeholders are kept involved and engaged.
There are a number of key attributes we will all need to display in the coming months to give external and internal stakeholders a sense of our priorities. Flexibility will be key as we shift away from usual patterns of working and deal with higher market volatility than before.
Innovation is a valued concept at the best of times, but will be of particular note now traditional procedures are no longer practical. Resilience is another essential trait we will all have to tap into if we are to emerge from this challenge as unscathed as possible.
Maintaining service levels is another important tenet, both in terms of keeping facilities running where possible and ensuring that standards are upheld to the highest possible level. Last, but by no means least, is the value of teamwork, as we all need to communicate and collaborate to navigate safely through these uncharted waters.
This means staying in touch with colleagues, industry peers and international stakeholders to constantly remind them that whatever further challenges are thrown at us during this period, the BVI remains very much open for business and ready to serve its global client base.
Elise Donovan is CEO of BVI Finance. Subscribe to International Investment's free, twice-daily, newsletter
Rising incomes in Asia will probably be the most important investment story of the 2020s. Asia is home to 60% of the world's population, with both China and India each accounting for about 18% of the global total.