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There is no doubt that the twin recurring themes for 2015 at a global level in private wealth planning are those of transparency and regulation. The zeal of policy makers in imposing ever more complex and potentially confusing sets of rules on disclosure of beneficial ownership information seems unabated.
The centrepiece of cross-border automatic information exchange is the Common Reporting Standard (CRS). This FATCA equivalent for the rest of the developed world is set to come into effect from 1 January 2016. At the last count just over 90 countries had committed to CRS. What is interesting about CRS is that the OECD has taken a central role in producing coordinated guidance on its interpretation. The draft guidance initially published in July 2014 was somewhat sketchy in nature and we can expect, as we move towards the beginning of next year, revised and more detailed guidance on a number of key issues.
On 20 May 2015, the EU published the final version of its fourth anti-money laundering directive. This commits the EU Member States to providing a public register of beneficial ownership within the next two years. What is noteworthy about the terms of the regulation is the fundamental distinction that has been drawn between ownership information about ‘legal persons’ (including companies and foundations) on the one hand, and ‘legal arrangements’ (including trusts) on the other. There is an obligation for information on legal persons to be placed in the public domain while information relating to trusts and equivalent arrangements will be restricted so that it is only made available to competent authorities. It should not, however, be assumed that the emphasis on privacy that underpinned this particular distinction will necessarily be a permanent one. There is a very strong constituency within the EU that still argues that a public register of trusts should be introduced at some stage in the future.
The challenges of keeping abreast of changes in the regulatory and transparency arena are significant. These issues look set to be a significant driver in wealth strategy in the next three to five years. Navigating these issues will increasingly become a required skill set for professional advisers.