A Manx girl-friend persuaded me to shave it off and I was told that I looked far better without it!
It’s the 2nd of January 2018, and I commenced my financial services career, exactly 30 years ago, when I flew into the Isle of Man (“IOM”), on 2nd of January 1988, accompanied by my late father. I’d like to say I was a fresh-faced 28-year-old, but I was wearing a beard for the second and, so far, last time in my life. (A Manx girl-friend persuaded me to shave it off and I was told that I looked far better without it!). So, 1988 proved to be a momentous year, in that respect, as well as starting my new career, and it was also the year that I met my future wife, Elaine, and later stopped smoking too (thanks to Elaine telling me that if I didn’t “give up” then she’d give up on me!).
I swore, on leaving London, that I would never return, to live there again, which is a promise that I have kept even to this day!
I had spent the previous 18 months, in London, after leaving Bradford University in June 1986. While seeking employment, as a computer programmer, I had been temping as an accounting assistant, rather fortuitously as it turned out, because my Dad was seeking a person, with accounting experience, to be the manager, of his small corporate services company, as the previous manager had retired after suffering a non-fatal heart attack. Although the salary wasn’t great, the job came with free housing and the use of a car, so it was an easy offer to accept, as it meant that I would cease commuting across rush-hour London, which was painful even in the mid-80s. (I swore, on leaving London, that I would never return, to live there again, which is a promise that I have kept even to this day!).
I’m a cynical believer in “ageism” even when technically illegal
Thus, my first financial services career role was as Manager of Rogers Services Limited (RSL), a small corporate services company that was founded in 1979. Not often you start a new career, as a manager, and it also means that I have held senior level positions, without a break, throughout the 30-year career. (I held one non-senior level role, as a trust & company administrator, but was still the part-time Managing Director of RSL during that 18-month period). Although, in truth, if I enjoy senior roles now, in the twilight of my career, they mainly come through being a business owner and CEO/MD, of at least 3 companies, with RSL being one of them. (Although RSL ceased trading, in 2011, and now acts as a passive investment company). I expect, nevertheless, that if I was seeking permanent senior-level employment, currently, there would be a dearth of “plum” roles on offer despite my vast experience. (I’m a cynical believer in “ageism” even when technically illegal).
Although I enjoyed my first years, in the IOM, I always knew that I wanted to see more of the world, so if you had told me that I would still be IOM tax-resident, at the age of 58, then my younger self would have muttered the English equivalent to “no way Jose!”. However, such is the case, even though I departed the IOM, in 1991, and only returned to live there in 2014. In the intervening time, I spent 15 years, on 5 Caribbean islands, and subsequently worked, in many other places, although the only countries that I was tax resident in, (during my post Caribbean career), were Singapore and the UAE. (Nice to be tax resident in a country where there are no personal taxes!). Nevertheless, I was the non-resident director of many trustee and/or corporate service companies, in various other jurisdictions, and usually had the opportunity to work, on site, from time to time. I have also held temporary roles, as a senior wealth planner, or consultant, while living overseas.
It’s good to be back, where I started my career, and to also now own the company that I began with, but I still am not qualified to work, in the IOM, without an employment visa, despite owning a house there since 1991! Although it appears that I can live there, as a business owner, so long as I don’t draw a salary! (Another IOM anachronism is that RSL’s bankers won’t permit that I be a signatory, on RSL’s bank account, so I need to retain directors, provided by an FSC licensed trust company, to fulfill that function). Nevertheless, it is not all sad news, as I would be afflicted by tax, on investment gains, in most other jurisdictions, but the IOM has no “attribution rules” meaning that I am only taxed on dividends received. (I suppose that is one benefit of not being able to draw a salary!).
Finding myself in more than one places!
Truth to be told, I don’t spend all that much time in the IOM, as I also own a house, in Florida, and I have written this article, in a Philippines apartment, which I am currently renting. Plus, I also receive short-term projects, from time to time, where I am required to work on location overseas. Thus, I typically only spend 4 to 5 months a year, in the IOM, and up to 4 months a year in Florida, (but being careful to not to breach the famous “121-day rule” relating to tax residence). That usually means that I am somewhere else, for the remainder of a year, and often in more than one country. (The last time that I lived solely in one country, during a calendar year, was 2005!). I could argue that I don’t even spend enough days, in the IOM, to be truly tax resident, but my personal bankers state that I need to be tax resident somewhere because of automatic exchange of information and CRS!
The Legacy I built is owed to these people;
Thanks to Dad, (and various other employers), I have spent most of my career in the trust and corporate services field. I have been the MD or senior director of many trustee & corporate service companies, but I have never worked for a bank nor even for a family office. In fact, the major part of my career (some 20 years) was spent with just 3 trust groups being the Trident Trust Group, the Intertrust Group and the Amicorp Group. I thank Trident, most of all, for having the confidence, in me, to provide me with my first Caribbean general manager role, and for the training that gave me the skills to operate almost anywhere with success. Intertrust also receive thanks for giving me my longest-ever salaried role at 5 years and 6 months exactly (mostly spent in the BVI). I am also grateful to Amicorp for offering me the opportunity to be the Head of Trust Services, for that multi-office group, which was my most interesting, challenging and stressful role to date. I was trust knowledgeable, when I joined Amicorp, but I am now recognized as being truly trust expert, which is unusual for a non-lawyer.
The Unorthodox Qualified Accounting Expert with no Formal Degree
Despite having no legal qualification, I should state that I am qualified as a TEP, a Chartered Secretary and an Accounting Technician, although I haven’t prepared a set of financial statements since 2004! Nevertheless, a numerical mindset did prove beneficial when checking references, on Trust Deeds, that had been drafted by various trust lawyers! (Consequently, I have been able to pick up trust deed “mistakes” that even more expert trust practitioners have overlooked).
In 1996, while still with Trident, I formed my wealth planning company called Offshore Consulting Services Limited (OCSL) and that company is my major source of income today. OCSL also has an US subsidiary now, called US Trust Advisory Services LLC (UTAS), which was established in November 2016. The business purpose of UTAS is to promote the use of US Trusts and US LLCs, for wealth planning purposes, and we offer technical advice and limited US tax and immigration advice at much cheaper rates than US law firms. (Now that the US appears to be adopting a territorial tax regime, for corporations, the US becomes even more interesting!). UTAS doesn’t deliver legal nor tax opinions, as it is not a law firm, although we are happy to steer you to a US law firm, if that’s what you require. UTAS is still in the “growing pains” phase but I have every confidence, in this new venture, and UTAS is also now a member firm in the rapidly expanding ADAM Global network.
What I really learnt from my Past
So, the future looks good although this is the time to reflect on the past. In so doing, I recognize that I made a lot of mistakes, along the way, but that’s the benefit of hindsight. I truly regret those errors, although I hope that I eventually learnt from them. I am also thankful to note that that I made far more good decisions, than bad ones, and my technical knowledge was always excellent. If I wasn’t always the best people manager, then it is truly gratifying to see how many former colleagues are now my friends today. Some worked with me, and others worked for me, but I truly appreciate them all. Indeed, it seems to be the case, now, that almost anywhere I travel, in the world, there will be someone I can meet up with. I made a few enemies, as well, but they don’t bother me anymore and I try not to bother them! In any case, I recognize that I am a lot more tolerant and forgiving than I was in my younger days. Things that annoyed me, in the past, might not worry me so much now. With age comes wisdom is the saying and it is very much the truth (in my case anyway).
During the 30 years I have met some amazing people. A number were motivating, and inspired me to do well, although I seemed to acquire more sinners, than saints, as my closer companions. Although most were just “bad boys”, (or naughty girls), who liked to party a little too much, as I believe that I have only known a small handful of truly evil people and, thankfully, I am not really acquainted with any of them now. However, I have also known my share of crooks and fraudsters (and even been conned by a few) but most I would classify as “charming rogues”. Nevertheless, there were real criminals, among them, who ripped other people off, (sometimes for millions), and without any apparent regret. (Most avoided jail, or even prosecution, but not all). I have also known a few psychopaths but not the kind who kill (as far as I know). People vary greatly, and I recall young people who were mature and responsible, beyond their years, and older people (usually men) who never seemed to have grown up. (Among friends, and former friends, were guys who would indulge in every vice known including one non-drinker who would experiment with whatever drug he could find!). Many of my former colleagues were great to work with but there were some who were truly depressing and obnoxious. I include those who always gave the impression that they thought they were so good but weren’t in truth. (Did they truly believe they were “hot” or was it a smokescreen to hide the self-doubts?). When considering career choices, I have seen colleagues who worked diligently and conscientiously, to progress, but they often received little recognition. While others climbed the ladder, quickly and efficiently, by stabbing co-workers in the back frequently and often. (I used to think of such people, as the “empty vessels who made the most noise”, but many had more successful careers (financially) than mine own!). However, I am pleased to state that most of my co-workers, over the years, have proved to be genuinely honest, and pleasant, but there’s a “bad apple in (almost) every barrel”.
I always enjoy hearing, from former colleagues, even if our subsequent careers have gone in different directions. Sadly, there are a number, whom I will never hear from again, either because we have totally lost contact (usually pre-internet) or they have already passed on. There are also a few people who seemed disinclined, to remain in contact, even if they were friends in the past. I sometimes wonder if that’s because my career was more successful then theirs, (when I review their LI profiles in comparison), although it’s possible that they never really liked me anyway.
Despite the regrets, if I was given the chance, to follow my career path again, then I would say “yes please”, as I believe I have had a truly amazing and unique career. In addition, I hope there’s still a few years left, before I “park” my carpet slippers almost permanently in front of the TV. It’s also pleasing that I still enjoy the work I do, so very much, even if I now specialize in wealth planning and don’t work directly for any trustee or corporate service company. Nevertheless, I am retained by such companies, from time to time, but usually on short-term contracts, which I appreciate, because it’s nice to do a month or two “on” then have a month or two “off”, although you are never really “off” if you are self-employed! (OCSL only ever obtained one long-term contract but it lasted nearly 8 years!).
It is truly hard to believe that 30 years have come and gone but it’s been quite a ride! It helped to start my financial services career, in the pre-compliance era, when you didn’t worry about other countries tax laws so long as your client was not committing a tax crime in your jurisdiction. It was very enjoyable being “offshore”, back then, as the “no rules” culture helped make super profits for trust companies. Now “offshore” is such a dirty word that I have reluctantly accepted that I will soon need to change OCSL’s name to retain some respectability. Like many offshore practitioners, of that era, I also adopted the mantra of “work hard and play harder”, and I got to “play” in a lot more places than most of my peers! (I visited 23 countries, in 2010 alone, and it’s a very rare year since that I have visited less than 5).
However, the “no rules” days are long gone and my “play hard” days are also done, as I couldn’t keep up with the party animals even if I was inclined to! It’s also become much tougher to succeed, for all financial services personnel (FSPs) in this compliance era, but we can rest assured that clients still need wealth planning strategies even if the “zero tax” solutions have largely disappeared. Indeed, I find that I am now promoting “onshore” solutions more often than “offshore” solutions, today, if the tax benefits are largely the same, (which they often are). Nevertheless, there are no easy sells, in an era of automatic exchange of transaction information, and it is becoming ever more important to ensure that your client does not breach his home country tax rules, because that can cause tax and criminal issues, even for overseas service providers, due to AML legislation and other anti-tax-avoidance measures.
So, I am grateful that I commenced my career, so long ago, as much of the previous enjoyment has disappeared from the trust business, due to regulation and reporting requirements, which is why I now prefer to deliver largely unregulated wealth planning services (as that is still a relative treat). Despite possessing all the necessary prior experience, I don’t provide registered agent nor trustee services, today, but I advise clients on how to obtain those services and whom to obtain them from, as I am well connected to fiduciaries, in many jurisdictions, who can deliver requisite services when called upon. (I also have strong investment manager, funds, pensions and insurance contacts too and I am on first names terms with many tax lawyers across the world).
“Don’t waste your time, nor your talents”
If I was to go back 30 years, then the mantra that I should have adopted, in retrospect, was “don’t waste your time, nor your talents”, as I did a lot of both, when I was much younger, but without significant long-term career damage (luckily). However, I can’t go back, even if I wish I could, so today’s mantra is “you have had it so good so try to give back!”, which is why OCSL also provides trust training services now and I occasionally mentor younger FSPs and/or try to help them find employment.