Webber: Real businesses coming here
Ross Webber, the chief executive officer of the Bermuda Business Development Agency (BDA), has reported on progress in the agency’s “four pillars” of business, during his first year in charge.
He said that in collaboration with the risk solutions’ focus groups the BDA has concentrated more of its attention on Latin America, notably Mexico and Colombia, and Canada. It has attended conferences, held roadshows targeted at chief financial officers, and made direct approaches to companies and advisory firms in those jurisdictions.
“We are not preaching to the converted [about the Bermuda brand], we are protecting what we have got and growing more. That is what it has been about. We are talking about real businesses coming here and opening up,” said Mr Webber.
Making the Island more attractive to outside investors was the reason the BDA was involved in a collaborative effort to amend the Investment Business Act, aiding the Island in meeting the criteria to be considered for “third party” non-European Union passport rights for alternative fund managers.
“That would not have happened if we had not lobbied.”
The BDA’s trust law reform committee team reviews the Island’s laws with an eye on keeping them as competitive as possible.
“This is something that we are proud of,” said Mr Webber, explaining that the agency collaborates with trust lawyers, chambers, its trust focus group and others to prioritise suggested legislation changes.
The “pillar” of international commerce is overseen by Mr Webber. He has been looking at Canadian commerce, particularly companies with international sales that could set up a physical presence in Bermuda.
“It’s a niche we do not think anyone else is exploring. We have a couple of prospects in the pipeline.”
Explaining part of the methodology he uses when seeking opportunities of the Island, Mr Webber said: “It’s important to know where not to spend time and effort.”
Following analysis a number of suggested avenues have been eliminated as impractical for the Island. The BDA is now focusing on the most promising prospects, such as biotech and life sciences.
The agency helped biopharmaceutical company Roivant Sciences establish its presence in Bermuda, and soon after the privately-held company’s Bermuda-based spin-off Axovant Science raised $315 million from its initial public offering in June.
The BDA is looking to see if it can assist more companies to go public from the Bermuda platform.
A number of internationally known law firms have decided to set up operations in Bermuda, most recently Walkers and Harneys, with the latter now advertising to fill on-Island vacancies.
“Expanding the number of law firms in Bermuda is something that the stakeholders, by and large, see as positive,” said Mr Webber.
Other areas the BDA has identified as offering business expansion opportunities for Bermuda are banking operations and shipping management companies, including more ships being listed on the Bermuda Ship Registry.
Mr Webber said the agency is also researching the feasibility of bringing international arbitration work to the Island.
“It would attract a lot of high-spending individuals, which will have spin offs, for example to investment and law firms.”
And the BDA has its eye on the Far East. “We are looking at China to see what opportunities we have to bring more investment here,” said Mr Webber.
“We have done the sensible thing by waiting. We can home in and find the sweet spot. One of our local service providers is working to bring us a feasibility study.”