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Doing Business in the BVI

Contributed by Appleby

Business Environment

The British Virgin Islands (BVI) is a UK overseas territory with a population of approximately 32,000. Its economy, considered one of the most stable and prosperous in the Caribbean, is dependent on tourism and the offshore financial sector. The BVI is a well-established, sophisticated financial centre offering accounting, banking, legal services, captive insurance, insolvency practitioners, company incorporations, mutual funds administration, investment management and advisory services, trust formation and administration, and marine vessel and aircraft registration.

A 2017 report by Capital Economics examining the BVI’s contribution to the world economy noted that the assets held by BVI business companies had an estimated worldwide value of USD1.5 trillion.

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Legal market overview

Despite the devastating impact of Hurricane Irma in September 2017, which caused several law firms to close down their offices for lengthy periods, international businesses continued to seek out the British Virgin Islands (BVI) for the offshore registration of companies. In addition to the jurisdiction's tax benefits, the BVI boasts a user-friendly legal framework, which facilitates cross-border transactions, and the islands have made great strides towards increasing transparency and information sharing.

During 2017, a number of firms experienced an uptick in M&A involving BVI-licensed entities, as well as demand for advice on both the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, which requires foreign financial institutions to report on US account holders' foreign assets, and the Common Reporting Standard (CRS); the CRS is an information standard for the automatic exchange of bank account information on a global level between tax authorities.

Key legislative developments in the BVI include new 2017 BVI Probate Rules, which replaced longstanding rules that did not keep pace with the BVI’s status as a major financial centre; state-of-the-art provisions were also introduced in relation to new applications for grants of probate and letters of administration. In addition, a new Limited Partnership Act (LPA) was enacted, which applies to all newly formed BVI limited partnerships; the LPA has adapted existing basic statutory positions to be more commensurate with actual market practice.

New entrants to the jurisdiction's legal market saw Jersey corporate and private client law firm The Hatstone Group open up a BVI office that is focused on corporate, investment funds and private client advice. Notable moves at partner level include Walkers BVI hiring finance, corporate and funds expert Patrick Ormond from Carey Olsen, and Ashley Davies joining Campbells' Hong Kong corporate and finance group.

Campbells itself experienced change in the BVI: Mo Haque QC joined the litigation, insolvency and restructuring group from Crown Office Chambers but former litigation partner Callum McNeil left for Walkers' own Hong Kong office. Elsewhere, Harneys' Russell Willings relocated to the firm’s London office and former counsel Hamish Masson left for Blackfinch Investments.

Meanwhile, with the BVI being the second-largest offshore jurisdiction for hedge funds globally, The Legal 500 this year introduces an investment funds section to its BVI coverage to reflect the jurisdiction's significant market presence.

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