The waters are far from calm in so-called Tax Havens these days. The days of splendid isolation are over.
Talking to a Family Office manager (someone who looks after the financial affairs of wealthy families) based in the Channel Islands, his furrowed brows and restless, drumming fingers told it all.
This man looks after about 120 clients - so he’s not the biggest fish in the pond. And with costs under pressure due to low interest rates and other returns, a bill for half a million ($750,000) is squeezing him.
With the media full of justifiable outrage about the taxes avoided by large multinationals, it’s hard to find a lot of sympathy for those operating in tax havens, but to pretend they are not under pressure is false too.
And Swiss bankers I have talked to in the past have pointed to secrecy laws, tax deals and loopholes a-plenty in places like London and Delaware. In Switzerland they admit, when pressed, that hiding Nazi gold was a boost to its private banking industry in the 30s. But they counter that some Jewish families were able try to protect their futures too.
My Channel Island chum clearly has a sense of mission about his work. His are ordinary families, he says. And he points to announcements like France’s tax rate of 80% for the very rich, or the ability of British tax collectors to go straight into your bank account to seize cash they think you owe, or even the recurring uncertainty about Greece leaving the Eurozone - as reasons for the existence of safe bank accounts, beyond the reach of oppressive or dysfunctional governments.
“Anyway, while I plug into the HMRC Matrix,” he says “There are plenty of managers out there who won’t.
And that’s where the really big clients will go - and the really ruthless.”
I’ll be hosting Incisive Media’s Family Office Investment Summit in March