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ABIC celebrates 50 years as voice of IB

Representing the engine room of Bermuda’s economy

The Association of Bermuda International Companies marks its 50th anniversary this year, half a century of being the voice of the island’s international business sector. During that time Bermuda has progressed from being a budding captive insurance domicile into a fully-fledged global re/insurance hub and home to thousands of companies from multiple sectors.

ABIC has also evolved to the point that a large part of its remit today is encouraging and assisting Bermudians from diverse backgrounds to pursue opportunities in the IB sector, through a major scholarship programme, awareness campaigns and work experience opportunities with member companies, as well as promoting diversity and inclusion.

In 2017, some 3,800 people were employed in IB, 63 per cent of them Bermudian. ABIC estimates that for every singular new IB job, another 1.33 jobs are created in the local economy in sectors such as law, auditing, hospitality, and taxis.

ABIC began life in 1971 as the International Companies Division of the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce. The late Ernest Stempel, then an executive of American International Group, was the driving force behind the ICD and its first chairman.

Mr Stempel won the support of companies not only in insurance, but also in other industries such as oil and shipping, according to Catherine Duffy’s book, Held Captive: A History of International Insurance in Bermuda.

At that time, the growth of the budding IB sector was gathering momentum, with the island proving an attractive domicile for US corporations to base their captive insurers. In 1970, the Bermuda Government changed the currency from the pound to the Bermuda dollar, establishing financial independence from Britain. In the same year, the island made it easier for international companies to domicile in Bermuda through the passing of the Companies (Incorporation by Registration) Act, which meant new entities no longer required a special Act of Parliament to form.

The birth of the Bermuda International Business Association followed. BIBA was led by local businesspeople in business services sectors such as law, auditing and banking. But Mr Stempel believed that BIBA had its own agenda, according to MS Duffy’s account, and that the ICD was needed to ensure that the voice of international company leaders was heard.

The dramatic growth of the IB sector over the following three decades led to the incorporation of ABIC, an independent organisation designed to better address the needs of its growing membership than the ICD within the Chamber.

Today, ABIC’s membership numbers 113 international enterprises from industries including re/insurance, financial services, shipping and investment companies. The association is managed by a board elected at its annual general meeting. Its responsibilities include collecting and disseminating data regarding member companies and providing advice and assistance to the Government in areas affecting IB. The organisation holds regular meetings with members of government departments on matters such as immigration policies, tax incentives to encourage job creation and responding to external pressures.

ABIC has long recognised that a key to the success of IB in Bermuda is the development of a local talent pool that in turn will ensure that Bermudians participate in the sector’s economic success. That relies on Bermudians of all income levels having opportunities for a top-class education.

ABIC, and the ICD before it, has been providing financial support to local students since 1977. ABIC is also a founding member of Bermudascholarships.com, a website that simplifies the process of applying for scholarships and which ABIC helps to run. Christian Dunleavy, chairman of the ABIC Education Awards Committee and CEO of Aspen Bermuda, said: “We are fortunate that 44 years ago the founders of international business in Bermuda had the foresight to create the ABIC education awards as a needs-based scholarship to ensure broad participation and benefit to Bermudians and the Bermuda community.

“They understood that we must encourage and support our young people’s careers for international business to be sustainable in Bermuda. Since the awards were set up in 1977 more than 700 students have benefitted, in excess of 60 per cent of award recipients are working in international business and support services, many at executive and senior management level.”

In 2018, ABIC launched a drive for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace, aiming to promote “dialogue, collaboration and action” on DEI. CEOs of member companies signed a pledge to implement unconscious bias education, to welcome “difficult conversations” about diversity and to share successful practices. Kirsten Beasley, chairwoman of the ABIC Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee and Head of Healthcare Broking, North America, Willis Towers Watson, said the committee was formed three years ago “to encourage our members’ efforts to increase diversity at all levels of their organisations and to ensure inclusive work environments with equitable treatment, respect and fairness”.

She added: “We provide leaders and HR managers with DEI resources and tools they can adapt for their organisational context and forums to share leading practices.”

Looking ahead, Mr Tannock said a proactive and unified effort was needed to maintain and add to Bermuda’s success over the past 50 years.

“As we look forward, we will continue to work to increase awareness of the value proposition of international business in Bermuda, to continue to support Bermuda’s ability to adapt and respond very quickly to change, to work with the Government to ensure that external threats are managed, and to continue to attract and retain fresh intellectual capital while developing and promoting the very dedicated people that we have,” he said.

“We are all in this together: international business is as critical to Bermuda as Bermuda is to international business and we will continue to be successful by balancing the needs of international business with the values and aspirations of Bermuda’s people.”

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