The recent announcement by the Ministry of Financial Services & Investments (“MFSI”) that the government has engaged PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in London to complete a branding study and analysis of The Bahamas as an international finance centre is an important step in our continuing development as a leading financial services jurisdiction.

The research survey will be sent to a wide range of organisations within and outside The Bahamas in order to collect and analyse information that will assist in policy development, identify our best opportunities for developing financial services and determine how we present “The Bahamas Brand” for financial services going forward. As such, the survey has been aptly coined, “The Bahamas Strategy & Branding Survey”.

The need for market research, identified by BFSB as critical in developing a forward-looking comprehensive strategy for the jurisdiction, has been a key discussion point in our communication with government over the past year. We are therefore pleased to work closely with MFSI on the study.

The active engagement of the private sector at all phases of this project is essential to its success. The contribution of the private sector will begin with the private sector expressing its views on the sector and securing the commitment of its international contacts to complete the survey. At the conclusion, the private sector will be an integral part of the dialogue regarding the results of the survey and formulation of possible steps to be taken by The Bahamas and the private sector. MFSI has indicated that it will utilise the Bahamas Financial Services Retreat 2006 to present the results of the survey to the private sector and to begin the process of active engagement of the public and private sectors’ review and analysis. The conclusions arising from this dialogue will be integral to the review and revision of the five year strategic plan for financial services.

Market research is fundamental to any business today. For the financial services industry in The Bahamas, the survey will help us determine whether we are providing the products and services that are relevant today and prepare us for the future. It will also provide us with a benchmark on how we are perceived as a jurisdiction for financial services and will allow industry stakeholders to better determine how we should position the jurisdiction over the next five years and beyond.

This is not to suggest that we have operated in an information vacuum to date. All of our recent new products, such as foundations, were based on direct market input through interaction with international intermediaries and advice provided by financial institutions in The Bahamas. It is useful to note that a number of the approaches adopted in The Bahamas have been introduced subsequently by competing jurisdictions. The Bahamas’ model of an unrestricted fund administrator, introduced in 1995 has been introduced under the nomenclature of “expert funds” in Jersey in recent years. Features introduced in The Bahamas 1998 Trustee Act can now be found in the trust law of any number of international financial centres. The recently introduced foundations legislation is now under active consideration by Jersey and Guernsey.

Additionally our discussions with market participants have provided anecdotal reinforcement for the view that The Bahamas is a leader in private wealth management services in the Americas but not in other areas.

From a branding perspective, we have traditionally focused on our many areas of strength as a jurisdiction to position The Bahamas in a favourable light and to create a playing field that tilts in our favour. These strengths are varied and include:

• our large cadre of skilled practitioners;

• our sovereignty;

• respect for personal privacy and the rule of law;

• the absence of direct taxation including stamp duty on securities transactions;

• a modern and progressive legal framework;

• attractive lifestyles and residency; and

• location.

While our message has been generally well received, it is also clear that the playing field is levelling out – the competition is more aggressive, better funded and more visible, and other jurisdictions which are far less developed and sophisticated are perceived to be more developed and sophisticated. Bad or poor experiences with any aspect of our jurisdiction burden us with perceptions that are difficult to dispel.

The market research will enable all stakeholders to assess where we sit on the brand landscape with respect to the products and services offered from The Bahamas, our comparative advantages and how we can better position “The Bahamas Brand” to ensure that financial services remain a viable and growing element of our economy.

We encourage all stakeholders in the industry to complete the survey by contacting BFSB, and to encourage international contacts in the financial services community to do likewise.

*(BFSB introduced a column in The Nassau Guardian in September. This is the latest article appearing under **Financial Services Updates: A BFSB Column**. See Media Centre for other columns produced since September)*