STEP Arabia Feature: Leaving on a High

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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.