Why the British Virgin Islands have the ideal work-life balance for Calum McKenzie

Calum McKenzie is a seasoned professional in the financial services sector in the British Virgin Islands (BVI).

Calum says that he landed on the Caribbean Island with limited experience and no long-term plans almost three decades ago. He is now a respected member of the business community. In his role as a Director of Folio Trust Limited, he facilitates the provision of services to a wide range of geographically diverse clients – both small and large – looking to benefit from the products and services available in the BVI.

Folio

Calum is an owner and director of the Folio group of companies, with firms that combine legal, fiduciary, corporate, and fund administration services.

He is proud of his firm’s proven ability to service their clients, but he also points out that he had humble beginnings on the island. It is that level of down-to-earth humility – as well as incisive expertise – that attracts such a kaleidoscopic range of clients.

Calum’s Story

Calum’s story in the BVI began in 1997 when he moved there from the UK, encouraged by his eldest brother who had already been working in BVI for several years as a lawyer. Along with its enviable climate and tropical beaches, the BVI is possibly most famous for its financial services industry – and Calum immersed himself in the world of financial services very quickly.

“I suppose it was nepotism that first brought me here,” Calum laughs. “My brother was already working as a lawyer in BVI, having decided that the Turks and Caicos Islands were not to his liking. He had an opportunity to join a firm in the BVI just as it was taking off and never looked back. He encouraged me to come out here in 1997.”

Early days

Calum recalls his early days on the island: “I was from the rainy northeast of England. When my brother invited me here, I understandably jumped at the chance – if only for a total change of lifestyle.”

When Calum turned up, communications were still very mid-20th century. People were still using mail and faxes to contact clients and there were very few mobile phones: “Everyone was still using normal mail and faxes and it was expensive to make international calls. Email was in its infancy and the Internet was via unreliable dial-up that people used sparingly.”

The BVI business culture

Calum soon found how the BVI has a unique business culture and that despite the small size of even the main island, Tortola, the BVI has a thriving business community. The jurisdiction has a reputation for its professionalism, but also its informality, with a strong emphasis on personal relationships and trust in both business and pleasure.

One myth that Calum is quick to dispel is the idea that the BVI is somehow a home for money laundering and tax evasion. He stresses that, in many ways, it has a stronger commitment to compliance and regulatory standards than most countries around the world. Legislation and regulations are updated all the time, designed to prevent and forestall money laundering and other illicit activities. This is aimed at ensuring that all business conducted in the BVI is for legitimate purposes and above board. Calum says: “I’m not going to say it’s harder than anywhere else in the world, but it is certainly not easy. For example, to set up a company in the UK or the US, you can do it all online in a very short timeframe – minutes. You can’t do that here.”

“We offer a wide range of financial services. In my role as a

Director of Folio Trust Limited, I primarily assist people with establishing companies, trusts, and related structures, for a plethora of reasons. Generally, someone will approach us and say, ‘I want to establish a company to conduct this type of business, or I want to create a trust for my family estate planning’.”

“We then go through a process with them to work out what they want us to do and importantly what they need us to do…whatever is required. Our aim is to add some value to the process and oftentimes propose improvements or even solve problems that clients did not anticipate.”

Learning on the job

Calum attributes much of his success to his on-the-job learning experience. Starting at the bottom, he learned the ropes of the corporate sector, from basic tasks like setting up company files to more complex operations such as incorporating companies and ultimately managing client relationships. Over the years, he believes he has developed a keen sense for spotting potential issues, a skill he refers to as the “sniff test.”

Calum’s rise to directorship was a testament to his hard work, dedication, and deep understanding of the business and culture in the BVI and overseas, particularly with clients’ expectations. As a director, he is responsible for a wide range of tasks, from overseeing administrative duties to handling high-profile structures which vary greatly in scope and complexity. His diverse number of responsibilities has allowed him to become an all-rounder in the sector, capable of handling any challenge that comes his way.

One-stop-shop service

The Folio group is something of a reflection of Calum’s experience and know-how, aiming to provide clients with a one-stop-shop service, “although I dislike that term”, he says. Calum continues the story: “We are a business that runs with what is a relatively small volume of companies; our focus is on value and service, not volume. When clients approach us, the first thing we need to know is what it is that they want to do – and we need that in fine detail; we need to understand the purpose or the aim of the clients.” Calum believes it is essential that, during the onboarding stage, his firm engages in a detailed dialogue with each client. “This allows us to get to know the client better and to understand their needs. Understanding the circumstances of the client and their motivations is what drives positive outcomes.”

Legal on hand

Collaboration with his legal colleagues is a standard practice, ensuring clarity and adherence to protocols in all client dealings. “For many clients, the structures they wish to establish require legal assistance at the outset. Failing to ensure appropriate advice is obtained from the beginning is a recipe for disaster. Plus, many clients require assistance with legal drafting and regulatory submissions.”

He continues: “Our historic foundation as a firm was to set up mutual funds. We do a lot of BVI funds and investment business related structures. BVI has always been well known for mutual funds and investment business because of its pragmatic and industry friendly legislation and regulations.”

BVI funds offer simplicity and cost-efficiency compared to their counterparts, subsequently attracting a distinct investor base. However, “adherence to licencing, approval and regulation remains paramount,” notes Calum. “Everything is done through licenced and regulated institutions.”

The firm’s private wealth clientele typically opts for trust structures, whether this be a typical discretionary trust or a more family office suited structure such as a Private Trust Company. “These individuals tend to possess significant assets, so aim to manage their inheritance strategically rather than through direct bequests.” Calum explains.

IR全球

Folio attracts clients primarily through its industry reputation and word-of-mouth or client referrals. However, like most businesses, they also rely on internet searches and networking activities: “Being a member of IR global has helped Folio promote its business.”

Calum admits he has not been massively active over the years in IR Global. “When I went to my first conference a few years back, Ross pointed out to me that I’d been a member for about six years and never attended anything.”

“After starting to attend events, I realised, 1. how enjoyable they were and 2. how meeting people and doing the face-to-face stuff does help to create business opportunities.”

Challenges and opportunities

Despite his success, Calum’s journey has not been without its challenges. Global and local developments in regulations and compliance requirements have kept him on his toes. But he sees these challenges as opportunities for growth and improvement, underscoring the importance of adaptability in the sector.

“I have learned on the job for 27 years and continue to do so. For instance, crypto has become a new service area for us, and I am involved in a couple of these structures.”

Life outside work

While work is a significant part of Calum’s life, he also values his personal downtime. He spends days away from the office with his wife and children, enjoying the BVI lifestyle of beaches, family life and friends. He played rugby for many years before he “got too old.”

“Almost 20 years ago, I met my now wife again – because we were old school friends. So, I met her again and then she moved to BVI, and now we’re married with two children. You either love it or you leave it here – and we love it.

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