“International jurisdictions need to be cautious in their response to the current demand for transparency,” says the independent financial services group Abacus, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary in business this month.
The Abacus Group, based on the Isle of Man and Malta, provides a range of fiduciary and professional administration services including management of trusts, funds, property, as well as aircraft and yachting registration.
Group Managing Director Stewart Fleming says that while the past four decades have not seen any dramatic changes to its business or client base, there has been a considerable shift in the perception of ‘offshore’.
“This has led to an increasing amount of tax legislation over the years and the continued drive towards more transparency,” he says. “While this is to be applauded on many counts, it is important to recognise there is a great deal of difference between secrecy and privacy, and we need to be careful that jurisdictions can continue to protect the interests of our clients.
“Privacy is an essential element of services such as ours: it is our hallmark, and while we clearly need to ensure we follow all relevant legislation and regulation, we also need to guard against unnecessary intrusion into legitimate financial arrangements.”
Originally the trust business arm of accountants Coopers & Lybrand for many years, Abacus became fully independent in July 1998 following the merger of Coopers & Lybrand and Price Waterhouse. It has continued to thrive and has built a highly respected brand based on its key elements of independence, reputation and longevity.
“For a company of our size we are close to unique in having no private equity ownership and no influence from anyone outside the business,” says Stewart. “We have also always been very particular with regards to not accepting any commission introductory fees and the like so our clients know they are getting unbiased advice with no possible conflict of interest.”
The majority of Abacus clients are private individuals and developing these personal relationships has been vital to the company’s success, says Stewart: “Managing the wealth of individuals requires a very hands-on approach and the ability to work with them to help them achieve their goals. Every individual is different so we have to be able to offer a very personalised service. It’s been extremely rewarding to see those personal relationships develop over the years.”
This longevity in relationships is not confined to Abacus’ clients – many of the staff have also been with the company for decades. Stewart himself has worked there for 23 years and fellow Director Emer Dowling has recently marked her own 25th anniversary. Emer commented: “Abacus has been a great place to work. It has given me many opportunities to develop my career over the years and the way the business is set up, there is an understanding that we need to spend time working on the best outcome for our clients.”
Emer believes the location of Abacus in the Isle of Man and Malta has also contributed to its success. “The Isle of Man Government has been progressive in its outlook and in bringing business to the Isle of Man. The Crown Dependencies have also shown themselves to be adept at developing new structures and Malta has earned an excellent reputation as a centre for yachting and corporate structures.”