Mention the Caribbean to almost anyone and immediately images of white beaches, coconut palms and cocktails at sunset come to mind. Who would not want to live there for six months of the year and on top of that get paid for it. That's what I got offered and experienced as a secondment to the BVI became a rare opportunity which needed to be taken advantage of.
Financial services regulation is a very small world in itself. Add to that the complexities and intricacies of small jurisdictions and the world becomes even smaller. When you experience such a narrow field of vision it is amazing how similar a jurisdiction like the BVI and Gibraltar actually are and how we both face the same challenges and issues.
For a start the financial services community in the BVI is a very important part of the social scene. Whereas we might spend Friday evenings at Corks in Irish Town the BVI spends it at the Dove on the Main Street (yes even that is shared between us). Same faces week in, week out. The occasional newbie makes an appearance and is soon overwhelmed by the amount of lawyers in this place (nothing different to Gib!). Perhaps the only marked difference is that it is February, you are standing in a outside terrace and perspiring in your shorts, flip flops and wrinkled t-shirt and these drinks are in US$. The business lunch scene is no different from Gibraltar, same faces, different clients rotating around a select number of restaurants.
We thought we had the highest number of lawyers per capita but somehow the BVI overshadows us. Every other person you meet is linked to a law firm. Most of the work here revolves around litigation or insolvency work dealing with one of the hundreds of thousands of BVI companies (BVI being the largest offshore centre for company incorporations having an estimated 40% of the world's market). Other lawyers do some form of financial services work or another.
Amongst the throngs of cruise ship passengers in their gawdy t-shirts (some barely dressed) souvenir hunting on the Main Street are trust companies, insurance managers and professional fund managers feeding an ever increasing demand for financial services. The hustle and bustle of the midday rush-hour in Road Town soon turns into a sleepy town once the sun goes down as the island is left to breathe and recover for another day's onslaught. An overnight shower washes away the heat of the day and prepares Nature's Little Secret for its next working day.
A day in which the jurisdiction faces the same challenges that we do. Financial Action Task Force evaluation just completed, an upcoming IMF review, concerns by the Financial Stability Forum as to offshore centres and the same issues I had just left behind in Gibraltar. A report gets published on Finance Centres and the BVI is listed just behind Gibraltar.
Meet new people and there will always be a Gibraltar connection somewhere along the line. People here are amazed how I can complete the surname when they have only given me their contact's first name and line of business. Regulators are all seeing, or Gibraltar is even smaller than the BVI.
For a place of such outstanding natural beauty looking after the environment does appear to feature high amongst the residents of the island. Large 4X4s (or SUVs are they are called in this part of the world), Hummers and 4.0 Litre Jags are the flavour of the day. When you consider the fuel consumption rates of these vehicles going up some very steep hills for most of the day it makes you wonder. I have still to see a solar energy panel.
It is not surprising that you need a car for almost anything here. Once the sun makes it over the horizon it gets too warm to even attempt the smallest of walks so the car is the defacto mode of transport, public transport being non-existent. And all this happens with air conditioners set at Arctic conditions, whilst still leaving doors and windows open.
As you drive into work there are frequent stops as people gesture to one another about arranging a for lunch, promise to give them a phone call etc. All the stuff one would do when walking down Main Street in Gib but here it is done by car. Unfortunately there is no equivalent to the Irish Town route when you don't want to meet that many people.
Weekends provide an opportunity to escape to one of the many gorgeous beaches which stand deserted. The water is a balmy 26C and the locals think it's still too cold.... it is not until it gets to 30C that people think it is nice enough to spend the day at the beach. They should try bathing at Camp Bay in our summer when 18C is a warm sea.
Weekends not spent on the beach are spent diving either at one of the wreck sites or the many reefs. Turtles, sharks and every colour imaginable that could appear on a fish is there waiting to be discovered amongst corrals and deep blue clear water. If there is something that the BVI is well known for it is sailing. Prevailing winds, coastal waterways and a fleet selection that makes any sailor's mouth water is just to tempting to resist.
The politics are very similar. Both jurisdictions facing similar issues (albeit the BVI does not have a sovereignty claim). The local newspapers cover similar stories and crime here reads much like it does back home. Schools get burgled, the occassional traffic accident (too few if you ask me), the stabbing here and there. One major difference being that gun crime is high for such a small place.
So it is the start of another working week. Time to don a long sleeve shirt and tie, polish off those shoes and make it back into the office for another day in paradise.