|The Bahamas Investor Magazine
January 1, 2009
January 1, 2009
Any investor who thinks their financial services providers aren’t working hard enough for their money should take a few moments to talk to a private trust officer. In the pursuit of client satisfaction, Adrian Crosbie-Jones, managing director of The Private Trust Corporation Ltd (PTC), has been jolted awake by gunfire, had his 4×4 stuck in a sand bank in Malaysia and had 24-hour body guards protecting him in Eastern Europe. “We have a very interesting client base,” says Crosbie-Jones. “We have clients from all over the world and we sometimes have to deal with very unusual requests.” And if that means being caught up in a military coup somewhere in Asia, then so be it.
Based in Nassau, PTC is the largest independent trust company in The Bahamas, employing 34 people and administering over $3-billion worth of assets. A client base of that dollar value would make most asset managers rub their hands together with glee, but for PTC size isn’t everything.
“We are unique in The Bahamas because we are purely a professional trust company and corporate administrator,” says Crosbie-Jones, who took over the company when former managing director and founding shareholder Peter Evans retired in August last year. “We receive a retainer fee and are remunerated according to time. To us it makes no difference if our client has a dollar or a billion dollars, as long as they are prepared to pay the fees, we can put the structure they want in place.”
The advantage of this set-up is that no matter what the request or the client’s circumstances, PTC can usually accommodate it. “Most mainline banks and trust companies are only interested in bankable assets,” says Crosbie-Jones, “but we don’t have any conflict of interests. As long as we are happy with the client and the structure, then we’ll do business with them.” This gives rise to a rich and varied client base as well as quite an unusual list of trust assets—from racehorses and yachts to vintage motor cars and landed estates. “We will act as trustee of anything that we are happy with.”
Being a niche market player that offers a set fee has other advantages too. It makes you very popular with other financial service providers for a start, as PTC advises clients on which providers to use and actively seeks out new business. The relationship is symbiotic. Trust companies and mainstream banks will direct clients towards PTC if they are unable to accommodate their wishes due to profit constraints or other restrictions on the trust side of their operations.
PTC was established in 1983 by Evans, who was a chartered accountant and recognized the need for a client-oriented private trust company not owned by, or affiliated with, any bank or financial institution. He chose The Bahamas because of its political stability, absence of taxes, secrecy laws and excellent professional, banking and communication facilities.
The newly installed managing director has no intention of moving operations. “The Bahamas has tremendous potential,” says Crosbie-Jones. “It is geographically close to the US, which of course is an advantage, but its real strength lies in its large workforce. If you go to the Cayman Islands, for example, 85 per cent of professionals in the financial services sector are expats, here 95 per cent of the workforce is Bahamian.”
Crosbie-Jones joined the company in 1994 and, along with fellow executive directors Bruno Roberts and Charlene Y Storr, has worked hard to maintain close personal relationships with the company’s clients. “This business is all about developing and maintaining strong relationships with people. We are almost part of the family. We become the family’s financial butlers so to speak.”
As with all families, relationships have to be adaptable and some requests can be rather eccentric. “We have dealt with families where the letter of wishes had to be rewritten on a number of occasions depending on whether the son’s latest girlfriend was acceptable to the family or not.”
To sustain such a high level of personalized service limits the size of the company to a degree, as there are only so many clients that can be handled with such personalized care at any one time. However, after several years of consolidation, the company is looking into new markets and exploring alternative avenues.
The trust market has changed quite considerably in the years since Evans set up PTC. Although volume has decreased, the complexity of services has increased ten-fold. Historically, if a client wanted to set up a certain structure but found it more efficient or cheaper to do so in another jurisdiction, the administrator would lose the client. With the range and complexity of structures now available, coupled with the advances in communications technology, this is no longer the case. “Nowadays we can provide a solution anywhere in the world,” says Crosbie-Jones. “We have to remain flexible enough and nimble enough to cater to the needs of all our international clients.”
Although 30-35 per cent of the company’s business comes from North America, Crosbie-Jones and his team have deliberately cultivated a client base that is spread evenly around the planet. “It is important not to have all your clients in one particular area so that when a region booms you are there to capitalize on it, and when it becomes depressed you are positioned to absorb any losses. We can shift our focus around the globe. Asia has a lot of potential and so does South America. If we like a place, we spend more time there to cultivate relationships.”
PTC is also exploring other product markets that have massive growth potential such as the pensions and insurance markets. But no matter what legislation is in place or what products are on offer, in the trust business Crosbie-Jones believes the most important factor remains the quality of service. “There are only very minor differences between jurisdictions and to remain competitive we have to be able to offer the highest level of service. The key is to make every client feel special.”