A few weeks ago, I took my seat in the airplane on a flight back from Monaco. Given that my previous flight had been cancelled, this one was completely full. I was idly wondering who would take the seat next to me when my good friend and business colleague, came up the isle looking for his seat next to mine. He is a CEO and founder of an international trustee company which looks after residents of North and South America.
Ironically, I had written to him only a few weeks back, asking him what the wealthy in S America thought and were doing about the automatic exchange of information due to be introduced in 2017. Having the opportunity to discuss with him what we solutions we could offer clients was a delight which I did not disguise.
As a trust professional with many years of experience he and his team recognise that clients need trust officers who fully know and understand their families, business interests and them. Who better to quiz on what is really in the minds of a wealthy family with CRS on the horizon than their trustee?
As I suspected from my conversation with my dear old friend, wealthy families in these countries are alarmed that their personal financial data held abroad, is due to be exchanged with the Government of the country of their residence in S America. Many of these families did not transfer their monies abroad to duck their obligations at home; the driver was fear; if they had not done so, it would have disappeared.
He directed me to Transparency International which he said gave facts and figures which support the concerns of many wealthy residents in S America.
My personal experience of this organisation had not been good, having been mauled by their Executive Director in an interview live on Radio 4 for my support for law abiding UHNW families. But putting my misgivings aside, I took the time over the following few weeks to look properly into Transparency International and what it was dedicated to fight - corruption.
Helpfully, its website defines corruption as ‘the abuse of entrusted power for private gain’. It goes on to say that it can be classified as grand, petty and political, depending on the amounts of money lost and the sector where it occurs.
‘Grand corruption consists of acts committed at a high level of government that distort policies or the central functioning of the state, enabling leaders to benefit at the expense of the public good. Petty corruption refers to everyday abuse of entrusted power by low-and mid-level public officials in their interactions with ordinary citizens, who often are trying to access basic goods or services in places like hospitals, schools, police departments and other agencies. Political corruption in the allocation of resources and financing by political decision makers, who use their position to sustain their power, status and wealth.’
Transparency International has also developed tools for fighting corruption. In 1995 it published a Corruption Perceptions Index CPI which has since been published annually. This index ranks countries and territories on how corrupt their public sector is perceived to be. It is a composite index – a combination of polls – drawing on corruption-related data collected by a variety of reputable institutions.
Although according to the CPI S America may not be the most corrupt continent, it certainly has its fair share of corruption. Venezuela is ranked 157 out of 168, Paraguay 119, Argentina 83 and Brazil 76.
As my friend said, the wealthy families living in Brazil with whom he works are extremely anxious that financial data automatically exchanged by one country with the Government of Brazil, may find its way into the hands of criminals which could jeopardize their safety and that of their families.
But not all wealthy families living in these counties are corrupt. What Transparency International is fighting has to be applauded, but I would like to make one small point to their Executive Director – whereas all sheep maybe white, not everything white is a sheep! By which I mean whereas all corrupt may be wealthy, not all wealthy are corrupt. With the automatic exchange of information in 2017, financial information about wealth held offshore which may not be there for any illegal, immoral or unethical reason, may find its way into the hands of criminals keen to use this information for bribery and corruption.
Justifying the hardship which CRS could cause by saying ‘they deserve what they get’ is prejudice. But which is supported by the press, and Governments across the world. Like all prejudice the misdeeds of the minority should not be allowed to damage the well-being of the many who have made their money through hard work and decent behaviour.
If you have views either way, or wish to book a meeting with Caroline or any one of her team, please reply to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 3740 7423.