The Government of the BVI has confirmed that it will join the other Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies in introducing publicly accessible registers of beneficial ownership within a timeframe that aligns with UK Government and EU policy, whilst maintaining a position which is appropriate for the BVI and those who use its services.
The EU will be conducting a review in 2022 to consider the impact that these public registers will have on the privacy and rights of its member states. The establishment of an international standard will be dependent on the outcome of this review. This provides the Government of the BVI with sufficient time to refine its approach and to implement a system which meets the principles of the Fifth Anti Money Laundering Directive, while avoiding the potential disruption that would be caused by a more immediate implementation. This is far from a one-way direction of travel and it is clear from the UK’s programme for reform of its own Companies House (published this month) that availability to the public is not a sufficient replacement for professional verification.
While it is likely that there will be no material changes to the UK Government’s position on publicly accessible beneficial ownership registers until 2023, there may be a requirement to introduce an Order of Council before then, which is a procedural step imposed by Parliament.
The view at Harneys is that the EU and the UK will recognise the significant contribution that the Overseas Territories have made to developing global standards of accessibility and transparency and that they will take time to consider carefully the impact that further regulations might have on each of the EU members ahead of the introduction of an international standard in 2023.
Of utmost importance to Harneys is protecting the interests of its clients and the firm does not believe that the solution to the introduction of publicly accessible registers is simply to make private data available to all. During the consultations, which will likely be held next year, Harneys will make the case strongly that whilst BOSSs has proved a useful system for both analysis of beneficial ownership information and the collation of Economic Substance data, the very depth and nuance of information contained within it makes it inappropriate for any more publicly accessible information. Harneys believes that this view is likely to be shared by other sophisticated market participants and that the BVI Government will understand those concerns. Many principles of BOSSs, such as the threshold of 25 per cent or more for beneficial ownership, are aligned with the developing international standard and are expected to remain.
Until details of the consultations begin to emerge, the potential impact on individual clients and the consequent advice on compliance will continue to evolve. In the meantime, Harneys will of course use its insight into developments in this area to continue to keep clients updated and informed and to guide them through the best course of action according to their situation.