Why Guernsey is an Obvious Choice for Pension Schemes

Rob Shipman has 20 years of experience in the international financial services sector, beginning his career in Gibraltar. Rob decided early on to learn more about how pension structures could be utilised and what opportunities existed in the personal international financial planning area. During 2006 he developed one of the first Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Schemes, which led him to Guernsey to open an office for his then-employer.

In 2020, Guernsey was the jurisdiction chosen to establish my own employee benefit and private client group, with three other like-minded individuals, called The UAP Group. Subsequently, we completed our first acquisition, Concept Group, a well-respected Guernsey-based international pension and private client company, in October 2021. The Group currently has offices in London and Guernsey with plans to open in Spain, South Africa, and the US later this year.

Through my role, I support the local industry group and sit on the technical ESG and marketing panels of the Guernsey Association of Pension Providers alongside being a member of the main committee.

Having a personal interest, and being exposed to the US tax system myself, I recently developed a retirement plan that is more suited to US nationals working overseas and US-connected individuals.  This pension plan is innovative and came about after several years of research working with key tax people in the US and overseas. The plan allows individuals to save for retirement and at the same time be free to change their country of residence and ultimately retire in the US or overseas. Clients can get all of this with the benefit of freedom of investment choice, which is often not available for this group of individuals.

Often I get asked, why did we choose to base the UAP Group in Guernsey? The decision was an easy one. After spending the last 12 years living in the island, it’s a pleasant and safe place to live and it has excellent links to both the United Kingdom and Europe, giving us easy access to the rest of the world. From a business perspective, for a group which specialises predominantly in international pensions, Guernsey is the obvious choice. The island has a long-standing and excellent reputation internationally for its regulation, stability and expertise in financial services, especially pensions.

As a jurisdiction, Guernsey is committed to maintaining its international and domestic reputation as a leading centre of substance for financial services. As such, it is whitelisted by the OECD and the EU. It meets the tax transparency requirements of the OECD and US and is branded as a co-operative jurisdiction by the OECD.

The island’s pension legislation dates back to 1975, giving it almost 50 years of pension experience. Its law is well established and understood, and there are many licensed and regulated firms involved in international pensions in Guernsey with more than 90 offering either trustee, administration or both services. Add to this a wide range of experienced investment, banking, actuarial and accounting firms providing support, and this gives consumers a wide variety of choice. It also leads to a competitive market and the probable cause for the island being the pioneer of many innovative pension solutions for consumers.

Guernsey is a very well-regulated jurisdiction and consumers of its pension products can enjoy regulation of the pension providers and also regulation at scheme level. In addition, consumers have access to an impartial ombudsman to resolve complaints. Guernsey also prides itself on being a member of the International Organisation of Pension Supervisors (IOPS).

Guernsey is committed to promoting and facilitating sustainable finance and was one of the first international finance centres to create the green funds regime. It is also signed up to the UN charter on sustainable finance.

As a pension industry, we are currently taking this commitment from the jurisdiction and developing an ESG code for pension providers that will help to assist them when considering climate change and other sustainability issues.

Consumers have a choice in Guernsey of how they have their retirement plans structured. This is because Guernsey is one of a few jurisdictions that can offer pensions arrangements through the traditional trust-based solution and through a contract pension solution. The domestic pension legislation enables providers of both corporate and personal pensions to use contract law or trust law when establishing local or international arrangements. This is increasingly an important factor for the consumer, given that Guernsey operates in the international space. Civil law jurisdictions can often get confused by pensions written under trust, which can have unforeseen consequences for members. This is easily avoided when plans are written under contract as they understand the contract law framework, whereas trust law can cause difficulties such as adverse taxation to members, which often is avoided when written under contract.

We have, as a result, developed several very popular employer-based pension solutions that meet the compulsory criteria while giving employers and employees the flexibility that has proved popular over the years.

When people look to establish a pension plan for either themselves (personal arrangement) or a company it is important to consider several factors. These include:

  • Where you live and the countries in which you pay tax, as this can influence the type of structure you should use – for example trust or contract.
  • Is the jurisdiction politically and financially stable? In other words, when you retire will your funds still be there?
  • Is there a good system of regulation and a system for independent review of a pension provider’s behaviour? For example, Guernsey has a financial services ombudsman that covers pension arrangements.
  • Has the jurisdiction got a choice of service providers and a long history of providing pension arrangements both domestically and internationally?
  • Do you want a formal regulated pension arrangement or a more flexible non-regulated arrangement? Guernsey offers both types of solutions under its tax law.

All the above factors are important for people wishing to establish a pension arrangement. Unlike other financial planning needs, a pension is a long-term arrangement. You want the arrangement to be flexible enough to be with you in the early years, as you accumulate the funds in the plan, but also in the retirement years, as your goals and often the location of where you live will change. It can be costly to have to keep changing product or provider as fees inevitably will apply. This is one of the reasons Guernsey is often chosen. Guernsey plans are flexible to allow you to move around the world and live in different places while keeping the same arrangement.

UAP & Concept Group are well placed to provide these pension services. Concept Group was established in 2003 and has more than 50 professionals. We have pension arrangements for employers and individuals that are portable and frequently written under contract, although trust arrangements do work well in certain circumstances.

Concept has extensive multi-jurisdictional experience in pensions and other financial service areas. The company has a diverse Board of Directors who have more than 40 years of international pension and finance experience.

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