Laurence Black’s final conference as STEP Arabia Chair showcases the branch’s successful history
As Reviewed by Andrew Rogerson TEP, a Barrister and Solicitor in Toronto
Laurence Black’s final conference as STEP Arabia Chair showcases the branch’s successful history STEP Arabia has acquired a reputation for extremely well-planned and executed conferences, and this year was no exception. Nearly 100 delegates from Canada, Cyprus, Guernsey, the Isle of Man, Jersey, the Netherlands, Singapore, Switzerland and the UK, as well as STEP members resident in the UAE, attended the March event at the splendid Address Hotel, next to the newly completed Dubai Mall. In every way, this had the trimmings of a regional conference, rather than just one of the STEP Arabia branch.
These annual events are testament to STEP Arabia’s short but successful history, which then Branch Chair Laurence Black TEP discussed in his welcome address. In 2003, two STEP members met in Dubai and the following year STEP Arabia launched with handful of members. Now there are more than 90 members located in the UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, including 20 student members working towards STEP’s International Foundation Certificate and International Diploma. It was especially interesting to learn that STEP Arabia members have been involved in the development of the Dubai, Bahrain and Qatar trust laws and the family office framework in the Dubai International Finance Centre.
Marios Maratheftis, Head of Research at Standard Chartered Bank, opened the first day, reminding us that the Middle East economic malaise we hear so much of is not the norm, but rather is confined to countries that have mismanaged their economies and continue to do so. He described the opposite occurring in countries such as Qatar, which last year had 20 per cent growth in GDP. Despite the improvement in global market sentiment, it would be premature to be optimistic about immediate prospects for the global economy. The impact of events in the Middle East on oil prices is one of the main risks to the global economy.
Next up was Naomi Rive TEP from Appleby in Jersey. Her well-received presentation focused on the relatively new Jersey foundation laws. To date, the Island has registered more than 150 foundations and the vehicle is continuing to gain acceptance among professional advisors who are faced with situations that cannot easily be accommodated by trusts. Naomi stressed that the separate legal personality made the vehicle more resilient to allegations of sham.
Andrew Young TEP, formerly with Lawrence Graham and now Group Director of Opus Private, provided a lucid and interesting exposition of the issues of family governance and dynastic planning. With typical examples from the large number of highly successful and affluent family businesses in the region, Andrew charted a way through the issues of succession in such a way that most businesses may be maintained intact for future generations of family and employees to enjoy, while providing retiring founders with appropriate financial rewards.
Yann Mrazek TEP of Cramer-Salamian neatly followed Andrew’s wisdom with his presentation titled ‘Connecting the dots: multi-jurisdictional succession planning involving UAE assets’. Yann used a case study involving a UAE bank account, a property on one of the reclaimed Palm Islands and participation in a UAE corporate vehicle to illustrate the specific issues relating to settlement of assets into a trust, taking into account the latest trends and offering practical solutions.
One of the most intriguing presentations was by Stijn Jansen of Loyens & Loeff, who spoke about where tax information exchange is leading us in the trust world. Stijn made a rather technical and potentially dry topic into one that was easily understandable and very well received.
Tim Cartwright TEP of Hawksford, joint sponsor with Jersey Finance, rounded off the day. Tim provided a thought-provoking analysis of issues that could affect nominee agreements executed in favour of offshore trustees, so far as they relate to tangible and intangible properties in various jurisdictions.
The afternoon session began with a lively and constructive panel discussion involving local bank senior officials and corporate service providers, titled ‘What do we want from our banks and, more importantly, what do they want from us?’ Many challenges were identified and some helpful solutions were offered by the banking sector. I think it left most delegates with a better understanding of the issues facing both sides in the quest for greater efficiency. The session concluded that STEP Arabia would establish a special working party to act as liaison between the trust industry and UAE banks on how best to tackle the issues identified.
In a very well-received lecture, comprising a clear academic framework and many practical suggestions, Lawrence Graham’s Angela Calnan dealt with the particularly vexing situation of expatriates’ probate issues in the UAE, with particular reference to the roles of Shari’a law and the laws of the expatriates’ home jurisdictions. This was Angela’s final appearance in STEP Arabia as a UAE resident, as she is soon to commence practice in Singapore and thereafter Guernsey – although going by the reception she received, it seems likely she will be invited back to conferences here.
In the next presentation, about life insurance in estate planning, Odd Haavik TEP of Charles Monat Associates explained the practical applications of the whole life, universal life and other insurance products.
To round off the technical content, I joined Michael Evans TEP of Burges Salmon (UK), Phil Hodgen TEP of Hodgen Law Group (US), Sophie Jouniaux of Baker & McKenzie (France) and Naomi Rive TEP of Appleby (Jersey) for a panel discussion about our respective tax regimes. It was then over to Laurence Black TEP to close the meeting before delegates transferred to the Palace Hotel for a spectacular water-jet and firework display followed by an excellent supper. It was a fitting end to a superb event – certainly one of the best conferences I have attended.