Photo: Shan Warnock-Smith of ICT Chambers Cayman, left, added a little humour to the panel discussion about the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Cayman’s trusts industry. Also pictured are, from left, Roger Priaulx, CEO of Genesis Trust & Corporate Services Ltd. and Dart Vice President Business Development Chris Duggan. Photo: Rhian Campbell
By Alan Markoff
The annual STEP Cayman conference presented by the local chapter of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners usually takes place in January and attracts top trust industry professionals from all over the world. However, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic restricted travel and prevented the conference from happening this year. That didn’t stop STEP Cayman from forging ahead with a series of in-person and online events that could benefit both its local members and, through Zoom video communications, its international audience.
“We couldn’t host the conference in 2021, but we refuse to fade away,” said STEP Cayman Chair Maxine Bodden.
Branded “Cayman Wealth Structuring Week 2021,” the events began with a webinar on 13 January and then ended with another webinar on 21 January. In between, another webinar and two local events occurred at which members of STEP could mingle and learn from their industry colleagues.
One of those local events on 15 January at Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa served four purposes: firstly, as a launch of the 2021 edition of STEP Cayman’s magazine, “Trust Cayman”; secondly, to hear from Minster of Financial Services Tara Rivers about developments in the trusts industry and wider financial services industry; thirdly, to host a panel discussion about the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the local trusts industry; and finally, to offer a chance for STEP Cayman members to enjoy each other’s company during a cocktail reception under the stars.
In her address, Minister Rivers spoke about the legislative amendments made in 2020 to bolster the Cayman Islands’ financial services regulatory environment, many made to comply with international standards.
Some of the legislation, like The Trusts (Amendment) Act, 2020 and The Banks and Trust Companies (Amendment) Act, 2020, were specifically related to the trusts industry.
Other legislative actions in 2020 continued efforts over the past few years to increase tax transparency, enhance cooperation with the European Union and implement evolving international standards and to increase oversight on all types of investment funds, Rivers said. However, she added that even though the Cayman Islands was successfully removed from the EU’s non-cooperative list in October, challenges will continue.
Rivers said that throughout the COVID-19 crisis in 2020, the government “took bold steps and decisive action to protect the health and safety of our citizens and residents alike, along with protecting the health of our entire financial services industry, including the estate and trust planning sector.”
She said the government helped sustain the financial services industry activity last year through deferring fee payments, extending deadlines and encouraging the use of technological advances to complete transactions.
“As a result, the Cayman Islands is one of the few jurisdictions to have weathered the upheaval caused by the pandemic relatively well, striking a balance between the safety of our people and the continuation of our domestic economy.”
Moderated by Shan Warnock-Smith of ICT Chambers Cayman, the panel discussion looked at the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Cayman’s trusts industry.
In speaking about how well the Cayman Islands trust industry coped with the COVID-19 lockdown, Ogier Partner Jennifer Fox said she was impressed at how well Cayman’s courts did in holding hearings, adapting technology to host virtual hearings within a week of lockdown.
“Other places struggled, but in Cayman, it was relatively seamless,” she said. “It really demonstrated the ‘can-do’ attitude our jurisdiction has.”
Warnock-Smith agreed that the court and litigators rose to the challenge, and that the ability to get things done through the courts by virtual means during that time was greatly appreciated by people outside of Cayman.
“Some things were dealt with more swiftly than they might have been otherwise,” she said, noting that in some cases, given the circumstances, judges were willing to make orders based on verbal submissions.
Bedell Cristin Partner Andrew Miller said the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t negatively affected the volume of trust business he’s seeing.
“At first, we sputtered a bit, but now we’re just as busy or busier than we were before,” he said.
Speaking on behalf of the real estate sector, Dart’s Chris Duggan said the company’s business development team held 36 webinars to promote the Cayman Islands, which helped lead to some people buying property here without having seen it in person.
“Real estate sales in 2020 were actually more than they were in 2019,” he said.
Although all of the panel members agreed that increasing administration requirements to comply with various international measures being implemented in Cayman were a challenge to the trust industry, they all were optimistic about the future, despite the instability of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and other geopolitical problems throughout the world.
“I think instability is our friend,” said Miller. “Cayman is very clearly an oasis of stability right now and I think that’s an opportunity for us.”
This article will also appear in February’s print issue of Camana Bay Times.
About the author
Alan Markoff has worked with Dart as the editor for Camana Bay Times for four years and has been writing professionally since 1997. Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Alan graduated from the State University of New York at Albany with a degree in English, and first moved to the Cayman Islands in 1982. He has 17 years of experience in the real estate industry and previously worked as a journalist for the Cayman Compass before joining Dart to relaunch the Camana Bay Times monthly newspaper. Alan is passionate about food and wine and he loves to write about both those subjects. He is also the leader of Grand Cayman’s Slow Food Chapter.