01 Dec Showing trust in Bermuda’s ability to persevere
Kevin Taylor, Managing Partner, Walkers (Bermuda) Limited, shares his confidence regarding Bermuda’s post-COVID-19 recovery
As we start this year across the world, managing partners are taking stock of the true impact of COVID-19 and the lockdown to their practices. How optimistic are you about the speed of Bermuda’s recovery as well as the projected economic performance for the firm?
I think our government has done a very laudable job in how they have dealt with protecting the island. They have struck the right balance between ensuring that Bermuda’s residents are safe, but at the same time, having the island open for commercial purposes, wherever that is possible. In terms of how I feel about vaccination, the government again has done a very good job securing an adequate number of doses. When COVID-19 hit a year ago, many of us found this to be a peculiar change of dynamic, not knowing what was going to follow. As a firm, we have been pleased with how our business has fared and how we have responded to ongoing changes and requirements necessary as a result of COVID-19. We have managed to navigate through the pandemic relatively well, led by our government and the measures they have put in place for the country. As an island, we are historically known for being resilient against the challenges that come our way. I am optimistic in our ability to respond and come out of this in a strong position.
Could you give us an insight on Bermuda’s legal space?
The vast majority of practitioners are employed either by private firms or in-house in the financial services industry. Relatively speaking, we have quite a few lawyers here, because of the type of legal work that is required and the clients that want this type of support in the island. We have a very strong sector with a number of very good, clever and experienced lawyers. There is a broad base of very good lawyers here, which is very important. We are now in our fifth anniversary, so we have made some relatively large strides early. The more competition and quality you have on the ground, it tends to be important to clients to have a broader base to be able to go to. I think that the expansion of the sector over the last 5 years has been very good, with clients understanding and appreciating that.
Can you give us an overview into the background of the company and the services that you are currently offering?
Broadly speaking, we have a corporate and transactional practice as well as a disputes practice. In the corporate and transactional practice, we divide our focus into various industry sectors. We have a strong insurance practice, with services ranging from setting up and assisting new capital in Bermuda in relation to licensing, to ongoing advice as structures develop and grow.
In addition, we have a premier banking and finance practice as well as a leading fintech practice with one of our partners being the only Bermudian lawyer recognized in that practice by the top directories for the industry. The fintech team also works very closely with the Bermuda government and Bermuda’s fintech developers. Our corporate and transactional practice also boasts a dedicated regulatory practice as well as a traditional merger and acquisitions practice.
On the disputes’ side, we have a commercially-based practice. We specialize in insurance disputes and we have a world-class insolvency and restructuring team. We also have significant experience in a broad range of commercial disputes. If you are doing business in Bermuda and you have legal needs, we are able to advise across a broad range of sectors and legal areas, acting as a one-stop shop.
As you mentioned, you expanded your fintech capabilities and worked with the government to steer policy and push Bermuda into the centre of the digital assets debate. What are your insights on this developing technological paradigm shift that we are going through? How do you think this is going to affect regulations for these innovations in the market of Bermuda?
Historically there was a time when insurance was relatively new here, decades ago. At the time, Bermuda sought to achieve a balancing act, which requires a strong regulatory environment that is robust. Oftentimes, those that are innovating in the space and those with capital are looking for sensible regulation to be able to present this layer of trust they have with their regulator. I feel like we have done quite a good job in that regard, regulating the space to an appropriate degree, so that such uses and products can have faith that entities and actors are well-regulated, but, at the same time, not making it so difficult that the companies cannot get started up in the appropriate way. The approach is about finding that right balance. I believe that the Premier and the Government ought to be commended for that approach and their ability, not only getting into this space, but also analyzing where it is moving towards and adapting accordingly. Movements in this space happen very quickly. Going forward we have to be attentive, not only meeting the needs of those people using Bermuda to establish themselves, but also the users of the end products and services.
As technical disruption seems to be catching up with every profession imaginable, the legal sphere does not escape that, with many innovations in automating high-volume low-value tasks which subtract more value from lawyers, mainly using A.I. What are your thoughts on the changing face of legal services globally and how it relates to Bermuda?
I think clients in various markets and geographic locations where users of legal services come from can have different views on digitalization of legal services. It is important for Bermuda law firms to remain competitive internationally in the offshore space, while we keep up the speed in terms of advancing technological developments. At the same time, the balance for law firms lies in the fact that not every task will be something that can be commoditized. In many cases, only a lawyer being present can cater to a client’s needs. The key for us will be to be able to offer service and legal products that are more commoditized in appropriate circumstances, but also to be able to have innovative thinkers in our teams, applying those skills in problems in the traditional way. Disputes is an area where commoditization may be not that helpful as in other areas. Across the board for our practice, we will be trying to strike that balance point as we move forward.
What do you think are the main challenges for a jurisdiction like Bermuda and how they can tackle these changing paradigms?
One key challenge we have seen is that there has been some relocation of services elsewhere, particularly in relation to back-office-type support. Ultimately, to tackle this, the island needs to continue to be a place that people wish to be. Bermuda is a wonderful place to live and work, whether as an individual or an entire family. There are many factors rendering Bermuda as a top-tier option for people who wish to balance their working career with quality of life. The key to maintaining our place in the market and continuing to improve it is largely due to having an appropriate regulatory environment.
The advantage we have had over a number of years derives from the afore- mentioned balance of regulatory trust and commercial freedom. Because of that, the regulatory environment manages to cater towards the needs of business, while also maintaining Bermuda’s reputation as a blue-chip financial center. As long as our regulatory environment continues to be fit-for-purpose and evolves on the basis of listening to our stakeholders, Bermuda will be very well positioned.
High net-worth individuals are looking to move into Bermuda, with this new Bermuda Residential Certificate program aiming to increase the number of newcomers a lot. How do you envision the implications of that to the Bermudan economy?
I think these implications will be very positive for the economy. Firstly, the initial feed of people living and working here, who otherwise would not have, will increase, and will create a positive, direct impact to local service providers now catering to the additional mass of newcomers. Secondly, once you have lived in Bermuda, it is difficult to let it go. I envision that there will be a number of newcomers who will have very much enjoyed their time here and love the work-life balance and the warmth of the people of this country. Once they have experienced that for some time, they may explore other reasons to stick around.
What would be your final message for our readers of Newsweek?
Walkers (Bermuda) Limited is a leading international law firm and the commitment to establish in Bermuda speaks highly of the jurisdiction. Most firms and organizations have had their challenges over the last year, in particular. However, from my perspective, I continue to be optimistic that we will continue to meet those challenges and pull through successfully. When this is behind us, we will continue as one of the premium financial jurisdictions in the world.