When The Banker, an FT publication, recognized The Bahamas with The Banker Award as **Best International Financial Centre in the Western Hemisphere** in late 2005, it confirmed a long held belief by many: The Bahamas is The Better Choice for financial services.
The Financial Times Group publication engaged in a “high level research” to identify leading International Financial Centres (IFCs) across the world. Stephen Timewell, Editor-in-Chief of The Banker said they identified IFCs *“that offer banks and financial intitutions the best locations and infrastructure to carry out their business and serve their clients.”*
Financial services have been an important part of the Bahamas landscape since the 1930s. The Award not only reflects this historic and long term commitment, but also recognises the many progressive developments in the jurisdiction as it continues to meet the requirements of an increasingly sophisticated financial services marketplace.
A highly engaged private sector has been instrumental in creating a jurisdiction that is responsive to evolving global requirements. More than 150 financial and support institutions belong to the Bahamas Financial Services Board (BFSB), a private sector-led joint venture with the government with the mandate to promote a greater awareness of The Bahamas’ strengths as an international financial centre. For example, at the most recent annual Bahamas Financial Services Retreat more than 100 industry and government representatives took part in strategy and branding sessions to help ensure the jurisdiction continues to direct its efforts in the most responsive and effective manner.
The involvement of senior government officials reflects the close public and private sector dialogue that exists in the country. Policy makers and regulators are committed to creating an environment designed to encourage the continued growth of the sector through ongoing regulatory refinements, market sensitive legislation and efficient service such as the fast track approval process by the Securities Commission of the Bahamas for investment funds that target accredited or high net worth investors, and a 24 hour turnaround time on the establishment of IBCs by the Registrar General’s Department.
Innovation and market responsiveness have in fact become the hallmark of financial services in The Bahamas. The recently enacted Foundations Act positions The Bahamas as the first premier Common Law jurisdiction to introduce foundations and the launch of SMART funds typifies the emphasis on market-driven legislation.
Still foundations and Smart funds represent only a portion of the comprehensive services available in The Bahamas which has emerged as a complete international centre with trust and private banking services as the cornerstones of an industry that also includes investment funds, asset management, insurance, corporate registry, legal and accounting services, and capital markets.
The Bahamas’ leading position as an IFC is not just rooted in its sovereignty, political stability, legal structure, progressive regulatory and legislative framework, and tax environment but in the many features that complement and support the financial services sector. These include a robust information communication framework, a wide variety of Class A office facilities and business support services, excellent flight connections and compelling lifestyle choices including world re-known residential communities, premier hotels and restaurants. Most important is the jurisdiction’s capacity for growth through the availability of qualified professionals and land in an ideal location.
Credit Rating agency Standard & Poor’s recently described The Bahamas as being in “a league by itself”, when compared to other Caribbean nations in terms of per capita GDP, and reaffirmed its investment grade category ratings for the country.
The country’s attraction as an investment location has not gone unnoticed. A recent issue of Barron’s on the emerging retiring spots identified the Out Islands of The Bahamas as number 3 on its list. The Out Islands are also leading the way in the number of new resort development projects taking place throughout The Bahamas which includes a joint venture between Boston-based I-Group and the government of The Bahamas for a 5,825 resort complex with the world’s longest airport on the island of Mayaguana. A $3.7 billion Ginn Resort in West End, Grand Bahama – the largest investment in the Caribbean — is also expected to stimulate other investment in Grand Bahama, where Julian Francis the former Governor of the Central Bank, now oversees the Grand Bahama Port Authority.
The BFSB website is an information rich resource which includes legislation summaries, an index of financial service providers and information guides covering private wealth management, investment funds, foundations, E-commerce and maritime services.