Mr Finance: Geoff Cook

Geoff Cook is leaving Jersey Finance in February 2019 after almost a dozen years at the helm. After a tumultuous time in global financial markets, Gwyn Garfield-Bennett went to meet him to find out what state he feels he’s leaving the Island’s main economic sector in.

Anyone who has met or dealt with Geoff Cook is left with no doubt that he passionately believes in the finance industry and in Jersey. He has travelled the world sharing the Jersey Finance message and indeed has helped transform the focus of the industry, something he is proud of: ‘In its essence, I along with a number of other people, have made a contribution to transforming Jersey from a principally European to a global centre and I think that will stand it in good stead long into the future because we’ve both grown and removed risk at the same time.

‘Our vulnerabilities of being very reliant on London and Britain have largely been dealt with, we are a much more diverse centre now and that took some doing because when I first started suggesting we open offices in the Middle East and Asia people said “you’re mad, think about the cost, we can get this business from London why do we need to go there?” But we could see even then that as these developing economies emerged and started becoming more sophisticated they would start making their own decisions and wouldn’t be so reliant on London and New York.  That early move has now paid back enormously with more than half our business coming from outside Europe.’

 

The Jersey finance industry has not just diversified geographically, but it’s also invested in new products and services. When they started going into the Middle East they discovered that clients didn’t like totally passing over control of their wealth via the existing trusts structure so the Foundation was devised. There are now around 350 of those set up with billions of pounds under management. There has been company merger and de-merger legislation, Jersey Private Funds and more recently the new Limited Liability Companies structure aimed at the USA – all market related initiatives where our finance industry is responding to client needs.

 

Geoff is also hoping to have a new innovation out by the end of the year for the Middle East retirement market. Expats are needed there but are only being offered short or medium term contracts and so that they don’t then fall back on the local economy, they are looking for an end of service gratuity scheme, a kind of short term pension plan with a cash lump sum: ‘ The governments out there are going to make these compulsory but because they don’t have the sophistication and provision in their own market place they are looking for external providers and so we are trying to position ourselves as one of those providers. It needs a small change to our income tax law in the aspect that affects retirement planning.

We think that market could be worth about £16 billion in its totality so if we can get a reasonable slice of it that’s worth going for.’

 

Jersey’s government is generally supportive of the finance industry – not surprising considering it provides the largest slice of its income, but there is room for improvement and it’s in this area of innovation that pinch points occur. It has meant Jersey has lost out on business in the past, missing the boat on pensions for example.

‘I don’t say that in any sort of blame way,’ qualifies Geoff, who says government has to balance a lot of competing interests, but:  ‘We don’t get everything we want, speed to market is still a frustration so although we have innovated sometimes it takes us quite a long time between putting a proposal to government to say we think there’s a market opportunity here but it needs a legislative change.’

 

While all the Brexit legislation has and could still slow things down further, it’s still a source of frustration which sees other jurisdictions stealing the march on opportunities Jersey could have benefitted from. Geoff would like to see more resource in the law drafting area to solve the bottle necks and ensure Jersey stays innovating: ‘If you don’t keep working constantly at success the minute you take your shoulder away from the wheel is the minute you start rolling backwards. You’ve got to anticipate opportunities and try to be there first. We’ve got Business Development people around the world and they are visiting advisory firms all the time trying to find what it is their clients need and want.’

 

You can read the full article in the November issue of Business Brief