Interview John Blake – MD Sovereign

in Business Insight

In a New Year special and to launch their sponsorship of Business Insight, we caught up with Sovereign’s new MD, John Blake, and asked him about the company, Gibraltar and future plans…

Could you give us a brief introduction of Sovereign?

Sovereign was founded in Gibraltar in 1987 and has since grown into one of the largest independent financial services providers in the world. With 450 employees in 26 offices spanning 20 jurisdictions we provide innovative solutions for a wide variety of corporates, entrepreneurs, private investors and high net worth individuals.

What’s the latest in Gibraltar?

These are interesting times for Gibraltar, the transformation has been underway for a number of years but in recent times it has pushed forward to position itself as a serious and mature player on the world stage. Gibraltar continues to punch well above its weight. For the first time in its history Gibraltar has effectively been recognised by Spain and has also entered into its first Double Taxation Agreement, with more likely to follow.

Whilst Gibraltar’s tax regime is competitive like most small jurisdictions that need to survive in the world it may come as a surprise that Gibraltar is preceded by a number of other jurisdictions on the 2019 Corporate Tax Haven Index. These include the BVI, Cayman Islands, Switzerland, Jersey, Singapore, Bahamas, Hong Kong, UAE, UK, Mauritius, Guernsey, Isle of Man, Cyprus, China, Malta and the USA.

It is positive that the Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party won the recent election retaining power for a third term. It reflects a politically stable environment, one where the economy is thriving and the relationship with the UK is becoming ever closer.

Sovereign is certainly optimistic about the future. So much so that we are moving to a new property. This shows our commitment to Gibraltar. After all Gibraltar is Sovereign’s home.    

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your role in Sovereign

I started my career in Financial Services in the Isle of Man roughly 15 years ago. Having moved to London 5 years ago where my journey began with Sovereign an opportunity subsequently arose in our Gibraltar office which has recently led to me taking on the Managing Director role for Sovereign Trust (Gibraltar) Limited.   

How has Sovereign responded to an evolving and mature market place?

The regulatory landscape that we operate in is becoming ever more challenging. Initiatives such as FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act), CRS (Common Reporting Standard) and DAC6 reflects a new age of transparency and substance which individuals and firms such as ours can either embrace or ignore at their peril.

Sovereign supports such initiatives. For some time we have been providing the support to create substance. Whether it’s merely setting up a business or structuring employee benefit packages and incentive plans for attracting and retaining key staff, accounting services, payroll, bespoke insurance packages, corporate and personal pension plans, obtaining local licences & permits, plus executive relocation. Sovereign has developed a compelling suite of corporate services to assist the entry, growth and sustainability of businesses in all major international finance centres.      

How has the new double tax agreement legislation changed things?

There was time in Gibraltar when it was not beneficial to engage in double taxation agreements. As mentioned above the jurisdiction has been undergoing a transformation. The Gibraltar-UK DTA is an incredible milestone which reflects how serious Gibraltar is in trading with mature jurisdictions. Gibraltar truly will be the the place for European (and non-European) business to establish in order to access UK markets.

Gibraltar is a well-regulated, transparent jurisdiction where financial services are supported by a modern environment with high-quality infrastructure. Gibraltar welcomes businesses who bring economic substance.

Implications of the tax agreement between Spain and the UK regarding Gibraltar?

The UK and Spain have signed a tax Agreement regarding Gibraltar and whilst it awaits ratification in Spain it is another important milestone as it means Spain finally recognises Gibraltar, a contentious point since 1713.

The tax agreement provides clarity for businesses and individuals who straddle the two jurisdictions.

Has the threat of Brexit affected the execution of business in Gibraltar?

The major issue affecting business in Gibraltar regarding Brexit is uncertainty. Once the UK parliament finds closure on Brexit, on way or the other, Gibraltar will be able to respond to business accordingly.

Despite the gloomy tone in Gibraltar following the Brexit referendum the attitude is now extremely positive. We expect business to increase post Brexit. Gibraltar is a perfect jurisdiction for European (and non-European) business to establish themselves to access UK markets. Think Gibraltar – Gateway to the UK

Why is Sovereign different to other providers in Gibraltar?

Unlike the vast majority of providers in Gibraltar we have a global footprint. This enables us to service globally mobile multi-nationals and individuals. It is important to note that our offices across Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East do not act as separate silos. We are united in our approach and recognise that the service clients receive is paramount in setting us apart from others.

Are you involved in the FinTech space?

Yes indeed. We offer solutions to across the group of Sovereign companies but most importantly in Gibraltar.

On 1 January 2018 Gibraltar became the first jurisdiction in the world to legislate on Distributed Ledger Technology (akin to the blockchain) becoming a hub for responsible FinTech and Virtual Assets (crypto) businesses.

There are 13 FinTech businesses operating as licensed DLT Providers in Gibraltar to date with numerous applications in process. It doesn’t sound a lot but it’s all relative. DLT providers equal that of investment manager licensees, auditors, banks and exceeds that of E-Money institutions. It truly is a success story with a bright future.

Sovereign offers a range of services to assist FinTech business establish in Gibraltar. From initial and ongoing consultation regarding the regulatory process, forming legal entities, introductions to key stakeholders, provision of bespoke corporate insurance, bank account applications, payroll services, company secretarial, assistance obtaining work permits, locating office space as well as the  provision of non-executive directors

Any extra-curricular activities? 

I enjoy interviewing local business owners, professionals and government departments on Business Matters, a monthly magazine programme allowing viewers an insight into the unique and eclectic business world of Gibraltar. 

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