Law firm Hassans have been providing offshore company management services since 1969, and in 1995 decided to consolidate their operations under the Line Management Services brand in 1995. Ian Felice, who is a partner of Hassans’ corporate and commercial team, serves as CEO of Line Group Limited, its affiliated trust and corporate services provider. He spoke to The Report Company about the services on offer and what makes Gibraltar so attractive to international business.
The Report Company: You were an international basketball referee from 2003 to 2010. Are there any similarities between refereeing basketball and legal work?
Ian Felice: The referee is the arbiter of two warring factions, whereas the lawyer has to take one side, so you have to be one of the warring factions yourself, particularly in litigation, which I did at the beginning of my career. Even in areas such as the negotiation of an international deal or the structuring of a transaction, you have got to take one side. My specialisation is in corporate work.
TRC: You led the Hassans team in the companies act. In what sense did this act lay the ground for the shift in Gibraltar’s economic model?
IF: I think this sea change lies in the transition of Gibraltar as a finance centre. It’s gone from something that was typically offshore in its nature, where there was a lot of work done with non-residents, to a very modern and vibrant international finance centre within the EU, with obvious benefits.
Gibraltar has a British background; it’s British-based, it’s a common-law legal system, which is very helpful because clients like the British way of doing things. The recognition that we have the same type of court system, the same type of parliament system, the Anglo-Saxon foundation for the jurisdiction, gives clients a lot of comfort. We are also the only British overseas territory that is in the EU, so we also have the EU angle.
TRC: What has been the outcome of this change from offshore to onshore?
IF: I think that the culmination of that sea change is that business now becomes more localised in Gibraltar. You see more businesses coming and setting up here within Gibraltar with a presence, as opposed to the brass plate type of operation, which is what it was perhaps 20 years ago.
Today, if you want to see the headquarters of the biggest gaming companies in the world, you come here and you see them. They are here. Their CEOs are here, and their management executive teams are all here. With that comes this buzz. You see the opening of new restaurants, hotels and accommodation. There are the other little things like little Gibraltar winning Miss World or qualifying for the football tournaments. That lifts the profile of Gibraltar. It also accentuates the notion that a lot of people hold very strongly in Gibraltar, that for such a little place we punch very much above our weight.
There are only 30,000 of us, and one of us happened to win the Miss World contest, 11 of us played against world champions Germany in football and kept them to one-nil at half-time. There is a buzz about the place and you can certainly feel it.
TRC: What is the rationale behind Line Group, and how does it operate with Hassans?
IF: Hassans is a law firm. It provides legal advice, so if a client comes in, we give them legal advice about what it takes to set up a trust or what it takes to set up a company. Line Group provides the additional service offering of actually being able to set these things up for the clients as well. It is a good tag team in many ways. We are very much part of the Hassans family; we have 71 people working at Line Group, which is roughly a third of the total Hassans group. We are facilitating the entry of companies and individuals in Gibraltar.
It is not just companies; there are tax and lifestyle benefits to coming to Gibraltar for individuals. There are a lot of advantages of moving out here, and with that often comes the formation of trust structures and pension schemes. It’s a raft of different services that we can offer the Hassans client, be that a corporate or commercial client, be that a business or be that an individual.
“Gibraltar has gone from something that was typically offshore in its nature, where there was a lot of work done with non-residents, to a very modern and vibrant international finance centre within the EU, with obvious benefits”Tweet This
TRC: How important is the new stock exchange in the development of the financial services sector?
IF: It’s another important spoke in the wheel. A centre, like Gibraltar, needs to have a listing facility. And while currently it is limited to certain types of funds and there is no trading, it is important to have a European place where you can list and you can say that you are listed on a European stock exchange.
TRC: Do you see Gibraltar growing to become on a par with Luxembourg?
IF: No, and there is no need for us to become Luxembourg. It’s just an added facility, and in many ways the disadvantages of Luxembourg are what is attractive about the Gibraltar proposition. Luxembourg is so well known for its product that it is expensive, it’s difficult, it’s time-consuming, and it’s lengthy process. We offer completely the opposite: a fast, dynamic, cheap service, with the same net benefit which is a European listing.
TRC: Where do you see further growth in Gibraltar’s economy?
IF: I think there is still a lot of room in the other fields that Gibraltar has a reputation in, other than financial services. The tourism product can be improved upon and grown and exploited. Bunkering is a big source of revenue for Gibraltar. In financial services, we have become very much an onshore jurisdiction. We are interested in companies who are interested in coming and setting up in Gibraltar, not just brass plates. We want quality not quantity. There is more to do and we have only scratched the surface in many ways in terms of where we are what we have achieved so far. There is still a lot of work to do to take this even further.
TRC: What factors could determine this growth and what factors could scupper this growth?
IF: I think the first factor continues to be the marketing of the jurisdiction, in getting the name of the jurisdiction out there. The EU position is a sensitive one for Gibraltar, and that is something that perhaps has wider implications for the 30,000 British citizens that live in Gibraltar than for the 30,000 British citizens that live in Hertfordshire. The European angle is important in our offering.
TRC: What would be the impact on Gibraltar in the event of a British pull-out from the European Union?
IF: It would definitely be a very important setback. Gibraltar and Gibraltarians tend to have the ability to reinvent themselves quite nicely, so I wouldn’t say that it would be disastrous and I wouldn’t say would be the end of the world as we know it, because the psyche here will find a way to do it.
Jersey and Guernsey, for example, are not in the EU, but they have managed to make a living and a name for themselves in this type of industry. I think it would be very important setback, but it wouldn’t be disastrous. That’s purely from a business perspective; not to mention politically and how Spain and the Spanish government might use it against Gibraltar. However, the EU is part of our selling point. One of the USPs of Gibraltar is that it is the only British overseas territory that is part of the European Union, which is within continental Europe. It’s not an island, and it’s the only common-law jurisdiction within continental Europe.
TRC: What can Line Group offer that its rivals can’t?
IF: I think where we distinguish ourselves is in service offering. Anything you can do, we can do better, cheaper, faster, more efficiently, and bring a bigger smile to your face. That is the essence of it. Gibraltar is what we sell. Gibraltar is our product, but we can do structures for you in 30 other jurisdictions. If you need a Luxembourg company, we can do that for you; if you need a Cayman company, we can do that for you. We are the guys that you know as our clients; you have worked with Hassans, which is a name that has a reputation, and we will look after what you need.
“We distinguish ourselves in our service offering. Anything you can do, we can do better, cheaper, faster, more efficiently, and bring a bigger smile to your face”Tweet This