Public Registers May Not Cause Major Loss Of Revenue


Managing Partner of Harneys BVI, Mr. Colin Riegels

Managing Partner of Harneys BVI, Mr. Colin Riegels announced that there is a public notion that the announced United Kingdom legislated Public Registers for beneficial ownership might not occur. Riegels made the comment while he was a guest on Claude Skelton-Cline’s show Honestly Speaking on 21 August.

While noting the state of the BVI financial services industry Harneys Managing Partner said that there have been industry discussions on the United Kingdom call for the BVI and other Overseas Territories to institute Public Registers of beneficial ownership by December 2020, or face the implementation of the registers via an Order in Council.

As it relates to the fallout from the implementation of the registers of beneficial ownership by the end of 2020, Harneys Managing Partner suggested that the situation will not be dire. “A more likely level of contraction in the financial services sector [will be]between 10 to 15 percent and do not get me wrong that might still be a painful contraction, but I think that it would be far more manageable,” he said.

Mr. Riegels also pointed that he has had conversations with other industry practitioners who opined that the Registry of Beneficial Ownership is a positive thing for the Territory. In noting a recent conversation along this line he said, “That is not an opinion I have heard before, now I am not saying he [the person who said it]is right or everyone else is right. I think there is a big spread of opinions on what the public impact of this Public Registers of Beneficial Ownership will be if it did actually come to pass,” he said.  

“In the broad way we are still speculating about something that is potentially two and a half years away. There is certainly a school of thought which says that the registers of public beneficial ownership may in fact never happen. There is obviously the possibility of legal challenges, and we cannot speak too much about that,” he pointed out.

He said that the call for the Registers from the UK has expedited a UK/ Overseas Territories constitutional conversation. “Even if you leave aside the possibility of legal challenges obviously we are entering a period of formal/informal constitution review with the United Kingdom and I think one of the things that is almost certain to come up in that review process is essentially some sort of dialogue,” Mr. Riegels added.

On the broader note Harneys Managing Partner also spoke on the overall health of the financial services industry noting that it has been particularly buoyant, and a mainstay for  government revenues. Mr. Riegels said that this economic pillar is not in a safe place: “I think that buoyancy hides a number of problems that we are working around. Even before hurricanes Irma and Maria struck us there was no shortage of challenges facing the financial services sector,” Mr. Riegels explained.

“If we think back, in August 2017 we were still digesting things like the McKinsey Report the BVI Forward program…While it is true to say that the financial services sector do very well,” he noted.

In emphasizing that all is not well with the financial services sector Mr. Riegels said: “I think financial services has been buoyant but I think it would be misleading to imply that it’s an area we can cling to. We are still in some very stormy waters at the moment and there are plenty of challenges to try and meet each day.”

In addition to his role as Managing Partner of the BVI office, Colin Riegels serves as the Global Head of our Banking and Finance practice and advises on a wide range of credit and security issues. His client base largely consists of leading financial institutions. 

Before joining Harneys, Colin Riegels practised as a barrister in London. He served as a judicial assistant to Lord Woolf MR in the English Court of Appeal, and taught law at Oxford University. Currently, his practice primarily revolves around insolvency and distressed debt, credit and security issues and derivatives. Additionally, Mr. Riegels advises clients on offshore structuring and offshore premium corporate transactions. He has worked on some of the largest financing transactions involving BVI vehicles, including a number of multi-billion US dollar debt financing transactions and joint ventures. 

Mr. Riegels also serves as general editor of British Virgin Islands Commercial Law. He regularly writes for textbooks and periodicals and is a notary public of the British Virgin Islands.