Bermuda

Bermuda broker: Bahamas could draw captives


By added on 30/03/2012

The Bahamas could attract between US$5-$10 billion in premium income within five years if it made a concerted effort to re-establish itself as a captive insurance domicile, a Bermudian broker told that country’s “Tribune” newspaper, reports Bernews.

Guilden Gilbert Jr., who now lives and works in the Bahamas, said this would create several hundred high-paying jobs and help “stabilise” the Caribbean nation’s economy.

Mr Gilbert, principal at Chandler Gilbert and a former Bahamas Insurance Brokers Association [BIBA] president, said the island nation needed to build upon its reputation as a quality financial services jurisdiction to “take advantage of the opportunity as it sits on the table”, noting that rival Caribbean jurisdictions were already “aggressively” moving to establish a foothold in the captive industry alongside established giants, such as the Bermuda and the Cayman Islands.

Suggesting that the Bahamas target niches “well below” the thresholds established by Bermuda and Cayman, Mr Gilbert — who has long-standing connections to Bermuda and its international insurance industry — said a statement from the Bahamian finance minister announcing the country was open for captive business was essential to kick-start any move into the sector.

Calling on the Bahamas to provide three-five year work permits for key captive-related personnel if major multinationals wanted to domicile captives there, Mr Gilbert told the “Tribune” that developing the sector here would expand the book of business for many Bahamian accountants and attorneys.

He added that it would also help to diversify the tourism industry, and could create 250-300 direct jobs if the Bahamas was able to create “solid growth” in the captive business over a two-three year period.

“In five years, the Bahamas could be doing US$5-$10 billion a year in captive premium with some effort and direct marketing,” Mr Gilbert said. “It would take a while for employment numbers to grow, but with solid growth, in two-three years you’d be looking at 250-300 jobs.

“When it comes to the trickle down from that, every captive needs to be audited, each captive has to have an attorney, so you would expand the books of business for attorneys and accountants.

“When you look at the associated services that are wanted, the attorneys, the banks are all involved on the periphery, so you create jobs outside the industry itself.”

And, with expatriates in the captive insurance industry renting homes and purchasing cars, “it impacts the entire economy the way through”.

Taking Bermuda as an example, Mr Gilbert said that out of a 38,000-40,000 strong workforce, more than 1,600 Bermuda natives were employed in the international insurance sector. Add in expatriates, and that industry’s workforce grew to 2,300-2,400.

With US$45 billion in annual premium volumes, Bermuda is the world’s third largest captive domicile and the global leader for reinsurance. Mr Gilbert pointed out that the average salary for Bermuda-based executives working in the international insurance/captive business was US$200,000, making the sector especially attractive for the Bahamas, given the high-paying and professionally satisfying jobs involved.

To re-establish itself as a captive jurisdiction, something it has looked at since the late Sir Lynden Pindling’s administration first drove the industry away in the late 1960s/early 1970s, Mr Gilbert said getting the message out to the marketplace was critical.

“In order for the Bahamas to be in the captive business, the captive business needs to know the Bahamas is in the industry,” he said. “It’s not the private sector that needs to make the statement, it’s not the Insurance Commission that needs to make that statement, it’s the minister responsible who needs to say the global press that the Bahamas is a captive domicile and we welcome your business.

“The captive industry is not going to need to look at the Bahamas unless they know it has the full and complete support of the Government.”

And Mr Gilbert added: “It’s definitely an area that can stabilise the Bahamian economy. If captives can be created, it could ultimately create a physical presence international insurance market.

“My desire is to see the Bahamas as a captive domicile. It is a quality jurisdiction, and you have the attorneys and the accountants here.”

Mr Gilbert explained that captive insurance is a means of self-insurance for companies or clients with large, peculiar risks, such as groups of doctors, who face huge premiums due to the nature of their business and potential for negligence/malpractice lawsuits.

But Mr Gilbert warned it would be “foolhardy” for the Bahamas to go head-to-head with Bermuda and Cayman for captive insurance business, given that both had 50-year histories and were dominant in their respective niches.

The Cayman Islands led on medical malpractice captives, while Bermuda specialised in providing captives for Fortune 1,000 size companies.

“The market the Bahamas should target is significantly below that threshold,” Mr Gilbert said. “One of the things I recommend is if large captives look at the Bahamas as a domicile, the Government look to three-five year work permits for key personnel to attract the business.

“We also need to know that if a captive application is submitted fully completed to the Commission and the Government, there should be a turnaround time of three weeks, approved or not approved. There can’t be any wavering one way or another.”

Mr Gilbert praised the Bahamian Insurance Commission for hiring a Channel Islands consultant to advise it on establishing a captive insurance industry, and said the very nature of the business meant it was a stabilising force against external economic shocks.

“The benefit of the international insurance market is employment stability,” he added. “There’s been talk of diversifying the Bahamian economy, and this goes a long way to not only diversifying it, but strengthening stopover tourism, because captive owners like to travel to Bermuda, Cayman for Board meetings and bring their families on vacation.”

Mr Gilbert said he had seen this himself while working in Bermuda, providing captive-related services for the likes of Ford and American Express. And he pointed out that, while tourism was negatively impacted by adverse global economic events, insurance in a perverse way benefited from them.

“After 9/11, the Bermuda insurance market had US$10 billion of inflows of new insurance capital over a three-four month period,” he explained. “This was to domestic insurance companies, but captive insurance jurisdictions can grow in that.”

Arguing that there was “no reason” why the Bahamas could not re-establish itself as a captive insurance domicile, Mr Gilbert said: “The rewards are tremendous, and we need to take advantage of the opportunity as it sits on the table.

“We’ve seen significant growth in BVI, Nevis and Anguilla. They’re fairly aggressive and are growing their captive book of business. It’s something that could happen, it’s something that should happen. It can only benefit the overall economy.”