- As Global risk approaches higher levels amid US elections and second-wave pandemic fears, the quest for diversification increases
- Luigi Wewege, SVP and Head of Private Banking at Caye International Bank discusses the latest developments
Offshore banking and investing is a practical way to build and protect a financial portfolio. Belize is more than a beautiful setting for expats; it’s also an investment location that’s worth considering.
Read what Luigi Wewege, Senior Vice President and Head of Private Banking at Caye International Bank, has to say about what the bank and the country offer.
What’s your take on the present economic climate in Belize? And what do you think about the outlook for the future?
Belize offers a certain degree of insulation from global economic upheavals. With the economic foundation grounded in tourism and agriculture, the country can minimize the impact of many types of economic difficulties abroad.
Much of our resources are sustainable, given the land, the ocean, and the reefs. That establishes stability in the present, while positioning Belize to aid in the recovery process in the future.
What would you say to someone who is considering the launch of a new business, or possibly relocating their current business to Belize?
Belize has a history of offering key tax advantages to international investors, including offshore business enterprises. The International Business Companies (IBCs) Act of 1990 is the basis for those and other benefits. IBCs that are set up by non-residents can operate without any tax obligation. The requirements for establishing a business presence is similar for residents and non-residents alike.
We also make the general process of doing business easier than in some other jurisdictions. Establishing financial accounts can be done online rather than in person. Reaching export markets is simple, and the close proximity of Belize to markets like the USA also help.
As in any nation, there are still qualifications that must be met. The fact that Belize has such a streamlined approach to conducting business does make it easy to operate with a more personable approach.
What do you see as the compelling pros and cons of offshore investing in general? How about investing in Belize in particular?
In general, offshore investing is excellent for protecting assets and privacy. The range of investment options is generally broader than in domestic settings. For someone who wants to build wealth for the future, there’s no doubt that international investing is a great resource.
As to Belize, one of our strengths is the stable currency that’s tied to the US dollar. Our strong liquidity rates are another asset; they stand at a minimum of 24%. That’s high compared to other nations, including the USA-four to five times higher. People who like the idea of retiring here and want to be close to their assets will find Belize a true paradise.
On the downside, many still consider Belize to be a third world country. This stems from the perception of a lack of infrastructure in some parts of the nation. That belief also generates the illusion of greater risk than some are willing to take on.
What’s the government currently doing to encourage foreign business ownership as well as international investment in Belize?
The government actively encourages both to increase the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and expand local business capability. Partnership and joint ventures with nationals as well as complete foreign ownership opportunities are plentiful. To aid in this, there are governmental incentives in the areas of agriculture, agro-processing, aquaculture, fisheries, logistics, manufacturing, outsourcing, energy, and tourism-related industries.
Duty-free export processing zones also support the effort and come with multi-decade tax holidays. Belize’s membership in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) sets the stage for commerce and trade throughout the Caribbean region.
In the short term, the government is committed to addressing public debt and reducing the fiscal deficit. Over the long term, the government continues to work on diversifying the economy, while still being dedicated to our current core industries.
How do you envision Caye International Bank’s role in Belize’s continuing economic growth?
An active one. Tourism will remain important to Belize. That means the demand for new businesses and expansion of existing ones will continue. Caye International Bank is here with aggressive solutions for new businesses, expansion of existing ones, and for individuals who will choose to move to the country.
From basic checking and savings accounts to funding for residential construction and industrial expansion, we’re in a position to support the efforts to grow the economy.
What are some of the benefits that international investors bring to the citizens of Belize?
As a small nation, offshore investing is important to continued growth and the quality of life for citizens and other residents. The benefits come in the form of more employment opportunities, revenue generated by exports, and the development of a stronger technological presence within the country.
Real estate development is a mix of local and international efforts. Much of the effort comes from offshore interests that wish to establish a presence in the country. It’s not just retirees; business professionals also see the importance in owning and developing property. With them comes the need for more businesses that supply services ranging from supermarkets to restaurants to retail locations.
What do citizens offer in the way of skills and knowledge to business owners and investors who are considering a presence in Belize?
Easy communication is one vital asset. English is the official language of Belize. This helps to eliminate a number of language barriers and makes it easier for citizens to interact with international clients. Over 70% of the country’s residents have completed secondary education.
Experience in service and professional capacities are also common among our workforce. Add in the experience found from working in agriculture, the supporting businesses, and in tourism and you have a workforce that brings a lot to the table.
That does still leave some room for skill sets not utilized in the prevailing sectors of the work force. To that end, the use of international developmental training programs augments the ability and experience Belize residents already offer and helps equip them for just about any type of working environment.
Digitalisation and fintech are on the minds of many business professionals today. Startups as well as companies looking to expand would do well to consider these aspects. Can Belize respond effectively on these fronts?
We’ve done more than develop a basic strategy. Over the last decade, we’ve implemented an up to date fiber-optic network for superior connectivity.
According to our Prime Minister, Dean Barrow, Belize’s core data infrastructure compares favorably with that of London, Singapore, New York, and even Seoul. In fact, the expansion of that infrastructure is one of the reasons for our current rate of GDP growth.
There is a perception of offshore locations, including Belize, being areas for criminal activities like money laundering. Should offshore investors be concerned about this?
Activity of this nature is found everywhere, not just in offshore locations. For example, the Money Laundering Act of 1986 is testament to this type of criminal action taking place in the United States.
For our part, Belize’s 2008 Money Laundering and Terrorism (Prevention) Act is indicative of our dedication to fighting criminal activities. The additional legislation passed in 2013 and 2018 is more proof of how seriously Belize takes the effort.
We have undergone national risk assessments and even now are preparing a national plan of action to deal with ongoing risks. Those efforts are not going unnoticed. In fact, the March 2020 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report on Money Laundering from the US State Department cites the aggressive measures taken in Belize.
Our government is dedicated to ending criminal activity with the use of proactive measures, something that business owners can appreciate.
How does Caye International Bank partner with potential offshore investors?
Our bank accounts are designed to provide support in building wealth and provide support with everyday activities. We offer competitive interest rates with many of our accounts. The fact that they are also protected from events occurring in the depositor’s home country is also an attractive benefit. That includes legal issues, political shifts, and negative changes in the home country’s economy.
Balances in offshore accounts, including investment accounts, provide a foundation for rebuilding after financial setbacks at home. They also deliver a basis for saving for the future.
The fact that it’s possible to take advantage of investment opportunities that are not available at home makes us even more valuable to our clients. You might say we can serve as both facilitator and caretaker when it comes to our client’s financial assets.
Your strong history in the financial services industry has undoubtedly helped you develop insights into what constitutes leadership. What do you believe the financial sector needs from senior managers to thrive in today’s economic environment?
Change is rapid today, and there are multiple ways to handle it. One approach is to function reactively. In other words, you try to prevent further damage once a change is forced on you. That may involve restructuring polices that lead to a reduction in costs. Offsetting the losses can allow the entity to continue operating at a modest profit.
Another method of dealing with change is to take a proactive approach. By understanding that changes are often not for the short term, long-range planning makes it possible to minimize the impact before the projected changes occur. That helps maintain stability and positions the financial entity for growth in the new order of things.
Leaders must be open to both adaptive and proactive solutions. It’s essential to accurately assess what’s happening now and what’s likely to happen in the short and long term. Doing so improves the odds of effectively leveraging disruptive change and helping employees develop the skills needed to meet that change. Addressing the “what” and the “why” when any change is imminent is key to understanding what strategy to take.
Along with serving as the Senior Vice President and Head of Private Banking at Caye International Bank, Luigi Wewege is the author of The Digital Banking Revolution, currently in its third edition. Wewege is also an instructor at the FinTech School, an institution that provides online training courses on the latest technological and innovation developments within the financial services industry.
This interview has been updated. To see the original version, click here.