New legislations allows financial services to easily relocate abroad in times of crisis. Shown is Harneys headquarters on Main Street shortly after Hurricane Irma in 2017. (File Photo: FREEMAN ROGERS)

A law rushed through the House of Assembly last month and Gazetted last Thursday is designed to help the financial services industry continue to work remotely in exceptional circumstances, such as the coronavirus pandemic now facing the Virgin Islands.

Though the Financial Services Exceptional Circumstances Act 2020 was not made public until last Thursday, it came into force on March 28, according to
the text of the law.

At the HOA sitting on March 27, Premier Andrew Fahie explained that a similar law was passed after hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, but it was a temporary measure.

“A new and all-embracing act is needed to deal with all exceptional circumstances,” Mr. Fahie said at the time. “This would make it unnecessary to enact a specific legislation each an exceptional circumstance arises.”

The act is concerned with the conduct, operation, licensing, regulation, supervision, continuity, administration and transaction of financial services
business in the event of any “exceptional circumstances” that may affect the industry.

One provision permits financial services licensees to shift all or part of their operations from the VI to another jurisdiction for a limited period while at the same time ensuring compliance with the territory’s legislation.

Under the act According to the act, a firm that chooses to relocate can take
all or part of its operations and employees with it. However, it will still be classified as operating in the VI for legal purposes.

It must submit certain details to the FSC within one month of the relocation, including the new location, the anticipated length and circumstances of the relocation, and which part of the business has been relocated.

The licensee also must disclose whether it relocated staff to another jurisdiction, whether it left them behind or laid them off, and whether any layoffs are temporary or permanent.

When a licensee relocates, it must “segregate its Virgin Islands business, including all operations related, … from any other business it may engage in” or continue to comply with VI law while also complying with the laws of the new jurisdiction, the law states.

If a licensee relocates back to the VI to different premises, it “change of registered office,” but it will not be liable for the applicable fees for that change.

More provisions

The act also clarifies matters relating to the filing of documents and the payment of fees in relation to the act, and enabling the FSC to perform  duties.

This includes allowing the chairperson and managing director the power to make decisions in certain situations when the board cannot meet.

Furthermore, the act provides for the setup of a Financial Services Complaints Tribunal, a five-member panel set up to receive and investigate reports from anyone “aggrieved by a decision of a licensee with respect to any claim they have lodged or filed with the licensee.”

The tribunal will mediate and advise licensees and complainants and “ensure that a licensee carries out its business justly and fairly in relation to its clients or customers so that the clients or customers are not taken advantage of,” ultimately submitting a written report to the FSC.