5 June 2015Bermuda analysis

The road to coordination

It has been something of a long and winding road to reach the point at which the Bermuda Business Development Agency (BDA) finds itself today. Yet the public-private agency is a relative newcomer—created in its current form only two years ago, when the Insurance Development Council (IDC) and the jurisdiction’s former marketing unit, Business Bermuda, were merged.

Ross Webber became the CEO of the BDA in August 2014, having served as an executive committee board member since its inception. Webber is a former permanent secretary in the government of Bermuda. Before that, he was head of global marketing and business development for international law firm Conyers Dill & Pearman, a role that came at the end of an extensive CV that includes positions with ACE, Black & Decker and Starr Excess International (a division of AIG).

Webber says the journey to the BDA’s current mandate can be traced back to when the Bermuda International Business Association (BIBA) was the representative body for service providers to international business in Bermuda.

That organisation’s approach revolved more around jurisdictional marketing—generic branding and raising of awareness. Its ability and remit to specifically focus on the insurance side, never mind captives alone, was limited.

Today’s BDA really started in 2008 at the beginning of the financial crisis. The global economic downturn had a detrimental impact on Bermuda and both the private sector and the government acknowledged that a response was needed.

“There was a desire to look at how we could do better. There was a push towards a different model for the jurisdiction in terms of how its marketing and business development efforts could be better coordinated going forward,” he says.

There are many reasons Bermuda could have benefited from a more streamlined approach to marketing, not least the growing competition from other domiciles, yet Webber says this was not particularly the major motivating factor. “Other jurisdictions have all evolved, but they have also faced the same challenges we have,” he says. “The fact is, we have always been further advanced in terms of our model; it is very difficult to replicate.”

A review by PwC followed, which recommended a change of structure and leadership. The first changes were made in 2012 when Business Bermuda and the IDC were merged into a single business development body. It was then formally created as a company limited by guarantee in 2013 and the Bermuda Business Development Council, which trades as the BDA, was born.

“It was a question of combining different silos into an entity that would pull all that effort in a single direction under a single umbrella, rather than different people and organisations simply looking after their own interests,” Webber says. “In terms of captives, that sector has more prominence and more professional resources working for it as part of a larger whole.”

That said, the BDA still works hand in hand with other sector specific entities. One of these is the Bermuda Insurance Management Association (BIMA); another is the Bermuda Monetary Authority (BMA). All such entities work together closely in the best interests of Bermuda and support each other when needed.

“We have very strong links with government and the regulator and those connections are of great value. We have all the right people around the table. The BDA spearheads the business development plans—we drive the bus as it were—and we rely on other bodies to help us implement.”

He says the BDA also devises specific plans for individual sectors such as captives. It sets short and medium-term goals. These include highly organised delegations to target countries. An example is a spring 2015 trip to Toronto and Calgary, in which a substantial group from Bermuda worked with Canadian officials to complete a roadshow showcasing Bermuda’s captive offering. This kind of proactive, targeted approach illustrates a marked difference to the previous broad-brush generic marketing of Bermuda as a corporate jurisdiction.

“When we travel, we do so as one team,” he says. “Government ministers, regulators, industry representatives and our business development managers are all working together towards a common objective.”

“Bermuda always has a leadership position in the industry, and it is the BDA’s job to build on this and take it to the next level."

This approach is also easier to benchmark. Webber says the success of the BDA is constantly reviewed based on a number of metrics, including statistics around new business formations on the Island and softer measures such as the satisfaction of private sector partners and the level of funding they will commit to the BDA.

Having clear target markets for business development helps this. Specifically in terms of captives, Canada and Latin America are two major target markets in terms of geography, while the healthcare sector in the US remains a big focus in terms of niche industry. “These are areas we have specifically identified as having the potential for growth and we focus our efforts in those areas,” Webber says.

He acknowledges the shift in the past 10 years, since this magazine was first published. “In 2005, the Bermuda market was a very comfortable machine and there was no real urgency to do anything differently,” he explains. “There was no perceived need for targeted business development; generic branding was sufficient.

“The 2008 crisis forced us to re-evaluate things and move in a more focused direction. It took a few years for the big changes to be made, but once they were, we became more integrated and more professional. Things are very strategic and targeted now, with the specific aim of encouraging businesses to form here in Bermuda.”

A very good example of this is the business concierge service the BDA offers. Formed in partnership with the government and the regulator, it is designed to help companies and executives with every element of starting a company or life in Bermuda.

“We provide a one-stop shop in terms of helping them with immigration, the Registrar of Companies, right through to tax matters and finding a place to live,” Webber says.

Other initiatives that illustrate this focus include the BDA’s newly launched alumni programme, BDA Abroad, designed to contact and encourage Bermudians overseas and former Bermuda residents around the world to act as corporate ambassadors. Run as a group on the LinkedIn social network, it connects members to Bermuda from points as far between as Switzerland and Singapore, feeding them news and updates about the Island’s corporate scene, and encouraging them to spread the word about Bermuda’s advantages. It is part of an integrated social media campaign, which allows the BDA to leverage its industry, media and public outreach far beyond Bermuda’s shores via channels on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as well.

Webber believes the future is bright for Bermuda. In the same way the captives sector was born and developed on the Island over 30 years ago, innovation in the risk industry today is being driven by convergence, in the form of insurance-linked securities (ILS) and collateralised reinsurance. “Bermuda always has a leadership position in the industry, and it is the BDA’s job to build on this and take it to the next level,” he says. “We feel we have the structure, offering and intellectual capital in place to do that at an optimum level now, and ensure Bermuda remains at the forefront of innovation and any new business opportunities that emerge.”

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