Ian Fair, Chairman
Bahamas Financial Services Board

BFSB Chairman Ian D. Fair last week addressed participants at the Grand Bahama Business Outlook Seminar on the changed environment within the financial services sector, emphasising that out of threats can come opportunities, provided the industry maintains the right mind set. “Change, at a distance, may seem at first to threaten like a tidal wave, but as we gather the energies and resources, which we have in abundance, to face these opportunities, we reemerge with enhanced vigour – rejuvenated, ready to work together as a small yet vibrant field of strength, no less self-determined nor respected than the giant nations.”

Mr. Fair suggested that now at the beginning of the 21st century and at an historic time for The Bahamas in many areas, “we expand our notions of nationality and look upon the triangle on our flag as representative of change, the symbol of our country united in the pursuit of change for the best, a community of visionaries committed to remaining in the flow”. He expressed the hope that The Bahamas will not be content to stand upon the banks and watch the currents flowing past, but remain at one with the rhythm of change, and above or ahead of the tide, not content to ride the main wave “but bound to branch out and create new waves of our own to satisfy our own criteria for prosperity and success”.

Included in the various changes occurring is the rapid evolution in electronic business, with Mr. Fair commenting on how far internet-related services have come in the past five years, and the potential for further growth over the next five years. Pointing out that the early stages of new industry cycles are normally relatively slow in development, but are then followed by rapid advancement, it was noted that this has ramifications for the development of the international financial services industry. An industry which now has before it many more opportunities due to the borderless parameters of this electronic world. The challenges of competition, confidentiality, regulation and technology may be converted into opportunities and strengths with an open attitude and quick thinking to the future.

As the world becomes smaller through technological advances – first telegraph, then the telephone, then the aeroplane, the fax, now the Internet – interdependence between countries, businesses, and individuals is more and more evident and will only intensify in the coming years. “We must work alongside other nations, we must make ourselves compatible with them, but not at the expense of the land, and seas, and the livelihood and individual legitimacy of the people with which we have been blessed and charged to protect”, said Mr. Fair.

Strategic Advantages

The following recommendations were tabled with regard to the development of strategic advantages for the continued success of The Bahamas’ financial services industry:

– We can and should still stress our tax neutrality. Tax competition is at last being recognised as being healthy and desirable, not harmful and destructive as some misguided bureaucrats originally suggested.

– We must have excellent standards and individuals and institutions that project them. In addition to improved standards of education, both basic and technically specific to needs within our country, we need to encourage our young people to not only enhance their education abroad but also to obtain solid work experience elsewhere and then bring home those experiences and contacts.

– We must have good world-class levels of service in all areas of our business. Ultimately, we are only as good as our weakest link; we must not let any element which contributes to our industry let us down.

– We must have world-class communications. Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers has warned that governments and countries that failed to invest in I.T. infrastructure and appropriate education risk their nations’ economic futures.

– We must project our country as an attractive and ideal location for a second home and for residency. In this way we encourage people to legitimately “follow their money”. It must be a safe and pleasant place to live.

– We must attract, hire, develop and retain world class professionals with the skill sets required to develop the business we need to attract. If we are not careful, insularity and xenophobia could be our downfall.

– We must not just be service providers. We must expand and develop real expertise in sales, marketing and specifically required technical skills.

– We must have a government, civil service and related bodies, which embrace change and are willing to move quickly when the need arises. In this context, the public and private sectors should continue a dialogue of cooperation as it is in our collective best interests.

According to Mr. Fair, in promoting strategic advantages, The Bahamas will need to have and develop experts in tax law and accounting to seek out new effective structures and vehicles. It must be innovative, develop new ideas and products, and be in the vanguard of thinking – listening to the marketplace and reacting even more quickly to what they want. “We must learn to listen not to what we want to hear, but what we need to hear, unpalatable as that may be on occasion”, said Mr. Fair.

Wisdom comes not solely from age but from an attitude of confidence, trust, faith, resilience and an acceptance of change. Embracing change and establishing clear strategic advantages will result in the attraction of future business – and success. “A personal and collective commitment to full evolvement of the naturally occurring talent in our country – in tandem with an attitude that is welcoming and adaptive to change – is a combination that cannot be bested”.