|The Bahamas Investor Magazine
January 4, 2007
January 4, 2007
Jessica Robertson and Donn Selhorn
The year 2006 closed out with notable optimism in The Bahamas’ financial services industry. And, as usual, Brian Moree was cited among the major players in offering assistance and supporting legislation that increased the country’s competitiveness. For openers, the Financial Services Consultative Forum, a private sector advocacy group, won praise from the government and had its mandate extended for another 12 months, with Moree continuing on as chairman. He alluded to several activities the Forum had planned such as product-related legislation. This would include the unveiling of the Private Trust Act and amendments to the Purpose Trust Act.
As a senior partner in the Nassau-based law firm of McKinney, Bancroft & Hughes, Moree, 52, is convinced that financial services, which accounts for 15 to 20 per cent of The Bahamas’ gross domestic product, has the potential to grow even more and, to coin a cliché, give other jurisdictions a run for their money. The key to future progress, he says, is the government’s stated commitment to weigh the private sector’s input before policy-making legislation is enacted.
Vincent Peet, Minister of Financial Services and Investments, lauded the Forum’s efforts in the passage of amendments to the Banks and Trust Companies Regulation Act in the House of Assembly. Over the years, Moree has worked closely with both political parties in promoting financial services, a talent that has made him an experienced spokesman for the industry and enhanced his reputation in government circles. He admits to enjoying his role as a consultant and has declined a request to run for political office (although he won’t reveal which party or politician approached him). This non-partisan stance has served him and the country well. Leaders such as former prime minister Hubert Ingraham have long turned to him for advice in advancing the financial services industry.
Despite his influence, Moree spreads the credit for any significant progress. When discussing his involvement as chair of the Financial Services Consultative Forum, he is quick to praise others who have worked hard to identify and create new products and legislation. His role, as he explains it, is simply to review their efforts and report back to the government.
As for his legal work (he is head of litigation at his firm), Moree attributes much of his success to the team around him, noting that one of his strengths is the ability to surround himself with skilled colleagues. He is equally modest when discussing his reputation as a respected lawyer who is also well versed in the financial services industry. “I suppose you don’t often find that combination,” he says. “Usually litigators spend all of their time in court work. Anyway, I’d like to think I’m able to practice in both areas at an acceptable level.”
Interestingly, financial services never figured into Moree’s original career plans. As a child, he set his sights on becoming a lawyer, although today he says he’s not sure why. His parents, Carl and Winifred Moree, were shopkeepers who owned and operated a chain of clothing stores called “Larry’s,” and apart from reading about high-profile cases in local newspapers, Moree doesn’t recall having any significant exposure to the legal profession. He did exhibit a fleeting interest in journalism, however, and even spent a summer as a young man working at The Tribune, but ultimately opted for a career in law.
He attended Queen’s College high school in Nassau and eventually was called to the Bahamas Bar in 1979. His first job was an articled clerk at McKinney, Bancroft & Hughes. “I’ve never worked anywhere else,” he says, leaning back in his chair at his George Street office that is lined with books and other trappings of a veteran attorney. “So I guess I’m at least loyal,” he laughs.
Moree came close to never becoming part of The Bahamas’ legal and financial services community. The “turning point in my life,” he explains, began after he completed his secondary education at King’s College boarding school in Taunton, England and returned home. “Originally I didn’t intend to stay in The Bahamas,” he says. “However, my father became ill and I ended up remaining here. If I had gone back to England, I probably would have taken a different course.” This is how he came to join McKinney, Bancroft & Hughes.
Today, his practice includes commercial and civil litigation, insolvency, corporate and trust structuring and, of course, financial services. His caseloads have taken him around the world—to North America, Europe, the Caribbean, South America, Africa and the Privy Council in London. He has acted as a Stipendiary and Circuit Magistrate and a Judge of the Supreme Court of The Bahamas. Moree has also served as Chairman of the Commercial Law Committee, is a member of the Bench Bar Committee and a lecturer and examiner in Civil Procedure.
Not surprisingly, many of his commercial cases revolve around the financial services industry, relating to banking and trusts, anti-money laundering claims, governance and regulatory issues, fraud claims and asset recovery. Moree has been involved in the country’s second most important industry during its high and low periods. He remembers all too well the events surrounding government’s efforts in 2000 to have the country quickly removed from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) blacklist for their perceived inadequate defenses against money laundering. (The FATF is an inter-government body founded in 1989 by the G8). In addition, The Bahamas was on the OECD list of 35 offshore jurisdictions offering what had been deemed unfair tax competition.
Government’s response was to fast-track eleven new pieces of financial services legislation without much consultation with industry practitioners. At the time, Moree said the government delivered “a massive response to the financial crisis.” Only time will tell if all the moves were the right ones, he predicted. With the benefit of six years hindsight, he now says, “Generally speaking, I think it was more good than bad.”
The government has since requested more input from the private sector and Moree has been at the forefront of various groups having their say. He was a founding member of the Bahamas Financial Services Board. In announcing Moree’s return to the Forum, Vincent Peet recognized Moree’s work, saying, “I acknowledge the time he had devoted to this committee and I am confident that he will ensure that the group will continue to make a meaningful contribution to address the important issues.”
Along with offering recommendations, one of the Forum’s major tasks is to submit proposals on the results of the branding survey conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2005. Although they are still in the early stages of fulfilling this particular mandate, Moree feels that the exercise will have been an extremely valuable one if the public and private sectors heed the findings. The Bahamas government commissioned the survey of 220 local and international institutions to better understand the country’s real and perceived strengths and weaknesses as a financial services centre. The results are intended to provide guidance for policy development, identify the best opportunities for new products and assist in designing a marketing brand for the industry.
“This was a very interesting project,” Moree comments. “When you study the results, I confess it was even more provocative than I expected. Sometimes you do a survey and it largely validates your own preconceived views. In my opinion, that didn’t happen here. This survey indicates that many of our views are not actually the case,” he says, adding that with the right response, The Bahamas’ financial services industry can determine where its focus needs to be in order to remain competitive. Moree believes that, to date, the industry has created a solid package of products and services; he would like to see even more innovation, such as the recently enacted SMART funds and foundation legislation, in order for the industry to evolve even further.
Focus or diversify?
One thing he feels the sector needs is to decide exactly what it wants to be. “We don’t want to spread ourselves too thin,” he says. “I’m not suggesting for a moment that we get out of all of the other areas, but we definitely need to define ourselves. We only have so much time, money and resources. We have to try to deploy them in our main areas. I think we should refocus more on private wealth management. It’s our best product and it’s what we’re best known for.” Moree notes that the high-net-worth wealth market, which has been a robust one for The Bahamas, was worth approximately $29 billion in 2005.
“We need to move and respond quickly to the market to maintain our preeminence in that particular area. If we are distracted by many other worthy interests and are not watching our back on our core product, we might find that we’re losing market share.” Once the country decides what its focus should be, Moree says significant time and resources must be spent in marketing the industry to the rest of the world. For this expertise, he says, there is no need to look beyond our own backyard.
“We have to understand that marketing is a very complicated and sophisticated thing… We do it tremendously well with tourism—I’ve often wondered why we don’t simply try to replicate the tourism model to financial services. Of course everything would have to be scaled down somewhat. After all, financial services, while it is our second largest industry, is a smaller industry than tourism. But we know how to do it,” he believes.
The affable Moree has worked well with consecutive governments and feels the government and private sector now enjoy “an excellent relationship.” But if he were running the show, he says, he would push for more innovation and speed in new product development. “Innovation is important. Notwithstanding all the talent and expertise we have in this country, we could be even more imaginative in the products area. We need to get more on the offensive,” is his rallying cry.
The next stage
Now that he’s passed the half-century mark, Moree is allowing himself to look ahead at retirement. Once he decides the time is right, it will likely be a gradual process of pulling back. “I can’t see myself going cold turkey,” he laughs. But retirement for Moree is a far cry from just smelling the roses. He has a shortlist of places he plans to visit, with Russia at the top and skiing in Peru a close second. Moreover, the avid sportsman turned mostly spectator is eager to have more time to follow his favourite teams and play a bit more tennis.
Cutting back on his long hours at the firm also means he will be able to spend more time with his wife, Angela, and their two sons, one of whom is a lawyer at McKinney, Bancroft & Hughes and the other who is nearing college graduation and pursuing a career in financial services. “When all is said and done,” he says, “you are not ultimately remembered for your business contributions. You are really remembered for your family. I think a person’s greatest legacy is not in business or national life. It’s in his or her family—that’s what tells you the true worth of somebody.”
Moree expects that one of these days he will return to journalism and writing. Perhaps, he says, he may pen a novel based loosely on his varied professional experiences and the cases that have kept him interested in the law. Although a career in frontline politics does not appear to be in the cards for him, he does admit to having political aspirations; however, he wants to fulfill them in a more non-traditional manner. “I’m deeply interested in some issues that I think are important for the country,” he says. “And I’d like to think that, going forward, I would be able to discuss at a national level some of these important issues that will affect the future of our country.”
The issues Moree wishes to tackle are varied—some social, some political and some economic. “I don’t want to align myself with any one party. I would prefer to be able to deal with the issues and invite our people to look at these topics based on their pros and cons and realize that they transcend party politics. It’s important for some of us to be able to address issues with credibility across party lines,” he says. Moree applauds the move in political circles towards a more consultative style of government. In the future he looks forward to playing the role of consultant, offering the same degree of time and knowledge on issues of national development beyond financial services.
In retrospect, Moree is glad that he chose to make The Bahamas his permanent home. “The quality of life in The Bahamas is generally very good,” he says. “It offers an unusual combination of [lifestyle] and excellent business opportunities that you would only see in major cities. You can pursue high-quality, sophisticated international work.” And, he adds, “you can drive to your office looking at the ocean.”