Bahamas: Redefining The Art Of Offshore Investment

Last Updated: 21 February 2000

During 1990 to 1993, Owen Bethel, was the executive director of The Bahamas Financial Services Secretariat and The Bahamas Investment Authority. He was to chart the course of the country's financial services sector and Facilitate inward investment. In the early 1990s, significant legislation, such as the International Business Companies Act, the Trusts (Choice of Governing Law) Act, the Fraudulent Dispositions Act (Asset Protection Trusts Enabling Legislation) were enacted. Draft legislation was also prepared on the Limited Liability Corporation and the Investment Promotion Programme aimed at attracting direct investment.

At this time, Bethel undertook an aggressive global marketing campaign, travelling with leading players from the Bahamian private sector to North and South America, the Far East, the UK and Europe to promote the features and benefits of the Bahamas.

He also saw an opportunity for The Bahamas to establish an offshore securities marker. It war obvious that the offshore sector could justify the existence of an exchange while allowing The Bahamas to develop its domestic market and explore the possibility of creating a Stock Exchange.

In 1992, Bethel war asked to establish a private-sector based Securities Market Task Force to assess the viability of the establishment of a securities market. The Task Force was responsible for the development and drafting of the Mutual Funds Act and the Securities Industry Act Bill, under review, is expected to be enacted towards the end of this year.

In January 1994, Bethel took another bold step when he established the first Bahamian-owned securities firm, Montaque Securities International (MSI), which now boasts more than 200 clients.

At the same time, he pioneered the first publicly-quoted mutual fund in The Bahamas, the MSI-Preferred Investment Fund, whose rates have consistently out-performed those of comparable financial institutions. By mid-1997, after a steady climbing rate of return that averaged 9.8 per cent over three years, the MSI-Preferred Investment Fund had attracted more than 80 subscribers. This was a major accomplishment in a market not previously exposed to such financial innovation.

By this time, having developed the first successful mix to satisfy the stringent requirements of offshore and local markets, Montaque Securities International was managing assets of more than $77 million, for a variety of offshore clients.

The firm is about to launch a group of proprietary mutual funds for offshore clients and continuing to handle public share offerings of Bahamian companies and private placements for start-up or growing businesses. In the offshore market, through a joint-venture, Montaque Securities International, will again be at the vanguard with the launch of an Internet offshore trading facility.

Bethel is also involved in the management of a fully licensed offshore bank and trust company, Surety Bank and Trust, enabling Montaque Securities International clients to create and protect their wealth through both investments and vehicles such as asset protection trusts.

Bethel's entrepreneurial abilities were recognised in 1996 when he received the coveted CIBC/Ernst & Young Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Last year, he was selected to chair the Advisory Council of The Bahamas' first Centre for Entrepreneurship.

Bethel’s business philosophy is clear: "What worked yesterday has to be reviewed today renewed tomorrow, tossed our when necessary and revised the day after," he says. "lf you stand still, you go nowhere. Even the expression, 'thinking outside the box', which seemed revolutionary only a few years ago, is now passé. Just as NASDAQ and mutual funds changed the way people invested, the Internet is changing the way we do business, it will have more of an impact on the world of enterprise in the next decade, than we can even begin to appreciate now This will be particularly evident in the offshore financial services sector," he says.

However, some things must nor change, says the investment firm founder, who holds a Masters degree in law and who served as assistant to the executive director of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in Washington, DC, before returning to his homeland in 1990.

He predicts that. "The easier it is to operate electronically, the more important it will become to renew our commitment to our fellow human brings. When fund and investment vehicle analysis is easier for greater numbers of people to understand, when it becomes easier for individuals to manage their own affairs via the Internet, the successful firms of the future will be the ones who remember the value of individual clients and who operate with irreproachable care and moral integrity."

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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