08 Apr The island at the center of the world
Jimmy Wong Yuen Tien, CEO, DTOS Group, speaks to Mauritius’ unique advantages as it positions itself to be a leading finance hub in Africa.
DTOS is one of the leading financial services providers in Mauritius and today the company boasts a client base that includes Fortune 500 multinationals, global banking institutions, and finance powerhouses. With more than 25 years of experience in the financial sector, your role as CEO has been vital to the company’s success. How would you describe your management style and strategic vision for the company as CEO?
I have been CEO of this organization for the past 17 years, a period over which we have grown significantly, in many avenues, both geographically and in terms of the services we offer. As CEO, I have been privileged to be surrounded by a team of tremendous people. A number of our top management team has been with us for the past 20 years also, so we have grown DTOS together. I have always adopted a collaborative management style in terms of leadership. My colleagues and I have accomplished a great deal together. Of course, I am tough when necessary, but I always try to keep in mind each person’s needs. I am fortunate to have known them personally for quite a long time. I know what drives and motivates them, which makes my life much easier.
We have just finalized our strategic plan for the group for the next three years, taking into account our history while being very much forward looking. As you know, we have been removed from the EU’s blacklist, which was quite a weight on our shoulders as a jurisdiction for several years. My vision for the organization as CEO is that we have very ambitious plans together with the board and management. We want to grow significantly, and we strongly believe in the capabilities of not only our people but of the island as a jurisdiction. We started in the financial services field not that long ago in the sphere of international finance, and we have been able to grow largely thanks to the dedication of the people which is our main asset and strength. My vision is to take the organization to the next level, both geographically as well as in terms of the range of services we want to offer to our clients. Specifically, we are positioning ourselves as a one-stop-shop for investors, multinationals, wealth managers and bankers who want to utilize Mauritius not only as a destination but also as a platform for investment in Africa.
Would you like to outline the strategic plan you just mentioned?
We started as a management company in Mauritius many years ago by offering principally global business services to our clients and to foreign investors using Mauritius as an international financial center to invest overseas. Over the years we have diversified, going into finance and accounting outsourcing. We have also recently gone into the share registry space, and we are moving toward this one-stop-shop model because we realize that this is what our clients want. They want to go to one place and not have to run around for all their needs. We have also opened up offices in Kenya, Uganda, and Dubai, and we are looking at other places, such as Rwanda and South Africa. We are growing significantly in the region.
You have also been involved in the development of the Mauritius IFC. Apart from these new offices you just mentioned, are there any other attractive markets in your vision for growth in the coming years?
If we go back to the start, investors were looking at Mauritius to set up their structures for investments mainly in India. Mauritius was very well-known. India remains today a promising market for us. The Chinese market is also a big market for us, especially for Chinese investments in Africa. In fact, we have a China-Africa corridor in which we are extremely active. Closer to home is the African market, which is huge and has tremendous potential. Obviously, it is a complicated market, but we feel we are very well placed to be able to accompany investors and anyone who would like to enter it. This justifies our vision to have boots on the ground in a number of East African countries. Then, the Middle East market has huge potential, and our office in Dubai is one of our fastest-growing offices.
Mauritius has made great strides since its independence and has one of the strongest economies in Africa today. The country ranked 30th on the Index of Economic Freedom in 2022 and is widely regarded as the top African country to conduct business with. What are your views on the evolution of Mauritius as an international financial center and springboard to Africa?
Again, when we started looking at Mauritius as an international financial center 30 years ago, there was a Euromoney conference, and in fact, the conclusion of the many days of brainstorming and discussions with many people was that Mauritius was well-placed to be positioned as the financial services hub, not on mainland Africa but to serve Africa. This was identified very early on as our natural role. As it turns out, we were more focused on India and other jurisdictions. However, the core of our natural strength and reason for being a financial center is to serve the African market. Today, effectively, we have gone full circle and we are seeing the vision of 30 years ago, at last, being brought to fruition. The beauty of it all is that we have built up 30 years of professional experience to serve the continent a lot better today than we may have done back then. We have all the legal framework, the professionals, the infrastructure, and great relationships with the whole continent. We are well-perceived and there is a lot of interest from our clients. There is a lot of excitement among our organization to be able to assist investors in making the most of the huge potential that Africa represents.
There is a lot of competition as far as different regions wanting to offer the same services. What would you say your competitive advantages are in terms of institutional and financial infrastructure? What differentiates you?
As far as competitors go for the African market, some of them are in the region and some are further away. However, we are the only African nation that can service the continent. The privileged relationship we have with Africa—being a member of all the African regional organizations, COMESA, SADC, being a founding member of the African Union, and being very active all these years in Africa—puts us in a privileged position. Coupling that with the sheer number of well-qualified, bilingual English and French professionals that we have on the island, allows us to serve East and West Africa. On top of that, our excellent legal framework, tried and tested jurisdiction, and the faith we have built with the institutions through real experiences puts us in a unique vantage point and gives us a clear advantage.
The country’s social infrastructure, stable democracy, hybrid legal system, and attractive tax system present many advantages that corroborate its esteemed position as a destination to live, work and invest in. The country also has an especially thriving real estate market. What investments are there in this sector, and other assets for people looking to work from anywhere?
These two years of lockdown and pandemic have taught us that we can work from anywhere. We were forced into this situation, and while it was not something that was top of mind before, it has certainly accelerated the process and has made people realize that it is possible. Videoconferencing has made this easy. Having said this, nothing replaces the human element and the need to interact physically with clients and people. However, I believe we can find a happy medium where we mix remote work with in-person meetings, and Mauritius’s weather, infrastructure and the quality of people make it an ideal location. Our people are what makes us so successful in tourism. We are friendly by nature, and we like welcoming new people to our island, and this goes for tourists and investors alike.
Naturally one would like a beautiful home, but if they cannot enjoy themselves in the country, the benefits decline. Here we provide a high quality of life and a great atmosphere. The environment and population are essential factors, as well as the schemes and incentives offered by the authorities. The properties available under the PDS and IRS are in fantastic locations and are very attractive opportunities for investors. This is a service that we provide to our clients through a dedicated team under the business solutions and private clients division. They specialize in assisting high-net-worth individuals with their investment opportunities in Mauritius. We are in a privileged position to be able to interact with both the buyer and the seller, and very often these HNWIs structure their investments with a Mauritian vehicle which we are pleased to be able to offer, looking at all the various aspects including tax regulations and effectively running this vehicle for them.
Some of them are not here very long or very often, so they need people on the ground to be able to manage their properties effectively, which we offer as a service. This is a huge potential and the next growth area for the island. We have all the ingredients to attract HNWIs, even if the competition from Portugal is quite present. In fact, Portugal is marketing in Mauritius for Mauritians and in South Africa for South Africans to move to Portugal. This means that we are competing against serious competitors, but we have a unique value proposition here. The quality of life is high on the list. People I have interacted with not only buy just to come on holiday, but to relocate here. We help them find the home of their dreams. We are a full-service company in every aspect. We have had families for whom we have located the right home, found their children’s schools, the perfect area, the actual move, the permits, relocation, their investments, their structuring, you name it.
Let us also not forget that our time zone is ideal. We are right in the middle of Asia and Europe so we can work with Asia in the morning, Europe in the afternoon, and even the U.S. in the late afternoon. From a work from home concept, in a pleasant friendly environment covering all the time zones, we do have a lot to offer.
Rural GDP is expected to grow here by 6.1 percent in 2022 in the post-COVID global economy. How do you think COVID fallout can be used as an opportunity to reinvent the country’s financial sector? What lessons can be learned from COVID, and what can be done to boost the international perception of Mauritius as a reliable and transparent investment destination?
The main lesson we have learned from COVID is how fragile situations can be and how unpredictable things can happen that have such far-reaching consequences. Unless economies are resilient, there are potentialities than can cripple any economy. We have been extremely prudent with our protocols here. The country was shut down for 18 months, something which had a massive impact on the tourism sector and the economy. In the financial sector, to a certain extent we have not been as affected, but we had to take alternative measures, working from home for a long period of time with no interactions with colleagues. There, of course, were difficulties liaising with clients who were also working from home. Banks were also operating from home, which created a whole new set of challenges that have made us think about the way we interact and work with people.
What I would say is that it accelerated what was probably coming. Even before COVID, we had started discussions about how we could have more of a life-work balanced culture for our people, allowing them to spend more time with family. One of the consequences of the economic success we have had over many years has been rapid development, and even though infrastructure has followed, traffic is quite bad. We have people living all over the island and some travel for two to two and a half hours morning and evening to get to the office. We are located in the center of the island, and our people who live in villages in the south have to take three buses to get here. We had been thinking about how to ease that. COVID accelerated that. Even now, it is part of our thought process to develop an operational model which enables a mixture of work from home and office. That is on the logistics side.
The COVID situation has also put a lot of things in perspective in investors’ minds as to their priorities. Mauritius is a favorite destination for French retirees and South African families especially. There are also some English families, but predominantly French who are nearing retirement and some who have sold their business, and then young families from South Africa and people who want to run their businesses here. Most of them are looking at Africa, and Mauritius is an ideal platform to be a hub in the region. Many have shifted their perspective, and that has brought both advantages and challenges, but we see it more as an opportunity going forward as we have passed the worst of it.
What is your final message for the readers of Newsweek?
We are extremely happy and privileged to be considered by the readers of Newsweek as an organization that occupies a leadership position on the island. We have a responsibility that goes with that toward our clients and our beautiful island, and we intend to play our role fully to be a leader, not only in assisting clients in structuring their investments here but also in sustainable development and ESG initiatives. In fact, one of our key visions is to be a sustainable organization, not only running after financial growth but also as a sustainable growing organization through specific initiatives.
Mauritius offers a great deal of advantages and opportunities for international investors and for those who want to relocate, work and live here. We have one of the best climates in the world year-round, friendly people, excellent infrastructure and we have extremely close connections to Africa. We are privileged to be in a position where we can assist people who are looking at Mauritius as a final destination to come and do business and live, but also as a platform for investors in Africa, as a bridge between Asia and Africa, as well as for interesting opportunities through our presence in both the Middle East and in East Africa.