Trusts across the frontiers

Friday, 01 January 2010
Alexis Medina's review of the STEP Asia Conference 2009

The STEP Asia Conference, ‘Trust across the Frontiers’, was held in Singapore on 20-21 October 2009. Angelo Venardos, Chairman of STEP Singapore Branch, welcomed the conference guests and delegates on behalf of STEP Singapore, and Nick Jacob, Deputy Chairman, STEP, also extended his greetings to all participants.

Mr K. Shanmugam, Singapore´s Minister for Law and Second Minister for Home Affairs, gave the Keynote Address and elaborated on Singapore´s experience regarding the latest economic developments, noting the interest to upgrade and update the industry to maintain high standard trustee and fiduciary services to the region and the world.

Mr Richard Hay, from Stikeman Elliott LLP, London Office, presented an interesting perspective on what is happening worldwide and what to expect next on the issue of tax information exchange, in his presentation entitled ‘Tax and information exchange agreements – the future.’ As usual, Richard delivered an exciting and vibrant presentation.

Geoff Cook from Jersey Finance, Jonathan Hooley, from States of Guernsey, Mark Jackman, and Professor Jason Sharman from the Centre for Governance and Public Policy of Griffith University in Australia, started the first panel discussion on: ‘The new global framework for wealth structuring.’ Panelists provided a recount of current events and the IFCs’ need for a new framework of transparency, disclosure and meeting international standards of co-operation to continue attracting business.

The second round of the panel on the subject included John Riches, Chairman STEP Public Policy Committee, Gurbachan Singh, KhattarWong and Professor Jim Hines, from the University of Michigan. Issues such as the UK – Liechtenstein tax protocol and the USA´s approach were reviewed, while Gurbachan presented a legal perspective on the collision of interests based on the current imposition of change, bound to reach compromises.

Mark Bridges from Farrer & Co LLP, presented the participants with recent trust cases from around the world. Afterwards, Kenny Foo, JP Morgan Hong Kong, presented different ideas on the use of trust to protect assets, enlisting some scenarios requiring asset protection and providing guidelines and recommendations.

After lunch, sponsored by Guernsey Finance, Simon Beck, Baker & Mckenzie LLP, addressed the topic ‘Private Trust Companies – practical use across the jurisdictions’, offering an overview of this tool, as well as the pros and cons to be considered.

Day one breakout sessions offered a wide choice of themes, ranging from letter of wishes, philanthropy, an update on regional jurisdictional trust and a view on the Caribbean’s approach to tax and information exchange agreements by very knowledgeable speakers.

The day concluded with Professor Hines’ talk: ‘Why are the IFCs suffering political attack?’ A presentation which gathered considerable interest and provided a glimpse of the US view on IFCs. True to his academics, the presentation included plenty of statistical data supporting that ‘offshore’ is good for ‘onshore.’

Early in the evening delegates met for a reception at Raffles Hotel, where hosts Labuan IBFC treated participants to cocktails and dinner at Singapore´s landmark hotel.

Day two started with an update on STEP international education by Bill Howarth, from Central Law Training International, UK, Singapore and Middle East.

Yeoh Lian Chuan, from Rajah & Tann, examined the differences between Compliance and Confidentiality, highlighting the complexities one could encounter on jurisdictional requirements. Later in the morning, David Brownbill from QC UK, talked to the participants about legal reciprocity issues across the frontiers as they affect trusts.

Mimi Hutton from Withers Hong Kong and Joseph Fields from Withers Worldwide shared information on current USA regulations, including IRS circulars and legislative initiatives under discussion in Washington.

John Riches, Mark Bridges, Nick Jacobs, Lawrence Graham LLP and James Aitken, HSBC Trustee (Singapore) presented and discussed a case study covering many issues regarding structures and common situations among family members.

The panel session on succession law included Richard Frimston, Russel Cooke LLP, Edmund Leow, Baker and McKenzie LLP and Dr Britta Pfister, Rotschild Trust, offering experiences on dealing with multiple cultural and religious considerations affecting planning solutions for clients.

After the lunch break, sponsored by Rawlinson & Hunter, a panel session focused on contributions by the offshore financial centers to other jurisdictions. Richard Hay, Yeoh Lian Chuan, Gurbachan Singhm, Jonathan Hooley and Professor Jason Sharman offered their views with great clarity.

Breakout sessions again provided the venue for interesting and lively discussions on Succession law cases using trusts; Purpose, STAR and VISTA Trusts; Foundations and Trusts; and finally, issues on Family Business.

The last presentation, billed as a debate on the ‘Death of the Tax Havens’, needed assistance from delegates to resemble a true debate. Nonetheless, it was much enjoyed by all.

Finally, Nick closed the conference calling for greater collaboration between STEP Singapore and Hong Kong. For his part, Angelo thanked all delegates for participating in conferences looking to develop and share knowledge among the practitioners of the industry. Charles Monat provided one last chance to network by hosting dinner at the Raffles Hotel.

It was two intense and rewarding days for STEP Singapore, and we are looking forward to the next opportunity to host the STEP Asia Conference 2011.

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Alexis Medina

Alexis Medina TEP is Executive Director of Morgan & Morgan Group.

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