Let’s be honest: when most of us think about Jersey the words ‘tax’ and ‘avoidance’ come quickly to mind. Okay, so maybe Bergerac, cows and potatoes first, but financial chicanery certainly isn’t far behind.
That was certainly my association when I got a call from Jersey Finance Limited (JFL), the financial sector’s industry body. They were looking to review how they communicated the Crown Dependency’s financial services offering and wanted a strategic partner to help share these messages.
I have to admit that I knew next-to-nothing about the largest of the Channel Islands, nestled between England and France. A year on, I know a little more about the Bailiwick of Jersey, to give it its proper name. What’s more, I now fully recognise the importance of this International Financial Centre to so much of the City of London’s vital work.
Far from being some backwater fiddle-factory, Jersey is in fact at the vanguard of a fiercely competitive offshore financial services industry; setting itself apart from other centres such as Hong Kong, Luxembourg and Cayman.
This is a niche sector in which regulation has become a badge of honour, rather than the inconvenience of old. Modern clients want to know that they are dealing with leading legal and regulatory frameworks that are robustly underpinned by national and international political safeguards. IFCs have to demonstrate transparency, quality standards and expertise to gain the trust of investors, and Jersey is widely regarded as leading the international pack.
So, what’s with the out-of-date perceptions of Jersey? How come our mainland politicians struggle to see the positive impact of quality centres like Jersey as we set out our national post-Brexit stall? The brief from JFL was simple: 'help us to better understand what people think we do, and then help them to understand what we actually do'. The process we underwent: a phase of audience analysis including focus groups to get a first-hand understanding of the current perceptions and issues. Then a process of strategic repositioning, followed by a final phase of marketing using the refreshed JFL messaging. A standard Strategic Communications project, albeit it for an unusually misunderstood client.
And here’s what we learned. Some of the general public on the island of Jersey viewed the industry as faceless and complex; they lacked an understanding of the value it brought to their community. Concurrently, the organised detractors, whether political or in the form of the media, had been owning the debate with highly effective but often ill-informed projections of Jersey as malevolent and unregulated.
Since rolling out the new campaign I’m proud to say that JFL has seen a considerable increase in their message reach and effect. The various audiences –whether local, mainland or international – are willing to hear what Jersey has to say and reconsider any latent prejudices they may have had. The facts are speaking for themselves (as long as they are communicated uses language that a ‘normal’ person can understand). JFL has been able to create a wider understanding of the benefits of Jersey as an international finance centre, and its vital role in supporting individuals, as well as both local and global economies.
And the moral of the story: perhaps as part of our Brexit conversations we should be discussing which of our collective assets and sectors can be used to spearhead new growth and opportunities? The reality is that Jersey is rated as one of the most successful and well-regulated IFCs in the world, and it is focussed on protecting and developing the industry’s reputation and the opportunities it presents, both in Jersey and internationally.
It cannot fairly be classified with other jurisdictions as a ‘tax haven’. It’s a fully transparent, regulated, best in class financial services offering that attracts billions of pounds of investment from clients from all over the world and positively impacts other economies, including the UK. Did you know for example that activities and jobs generated in the UK by investment through Jersey produces tax revenues for the British exchequer? A recent report calculates that this could be of the order of £5 billion a year and it provides a net benefit to the UK economy of the order of 250,000 jobs and £14 billion of economic activity. It is fast-becoming the envy of other nations and something that we should be leveraging to a far greater extent as part of our post-Brexit offering.
While our parliament in Westminster fights about who we are and what we represent, Jersey continues to quietly set the example of what can and should be done. Other IFCs have a great deal of catching-up to do, and we should be exploiting this competitive advantage for Britain as a whole to a far greater extent.
Sven Hughes is the CEO of Verbalisation