As a financial journalist, I tread carefully whenever I’m forced to write about financial and economic “uncertainty.” Yes, as we all know, investors hate uncertainty, but it’s hard for the topic not to sound trite. After all, what is certain in life, let alone the economy and markets?
However, we would be remiss not to talk about the potential impact of the Panama Papers, which have had the wealth management world on edge since they were leaked to the world—and tax authorities—earlier this year.
The scope of the revelations into the private lives of the world’s richest people may be unprecedented. Through millions of documents, including private e-mails, bank records and personal account documents, the leak paints a picture of wealthy families across the globe secretly moving their fortunes in an effort to evade taxes. These include 2,400 U.S. clients, for whom Mossack Fonseca, the Panama-based law firm from which the documents were taken, set up more than 2,800 companies in the British Virgin Islands, Panama, the Seychelles and other jurisdictions that specialize in helping hide wealth, according to a The New York Times.
The Times notes that many of the transactions were legal. But that doesn’t mean all these clients are in the clear. The U.S. Justice Department has already said it is scrutinizing the documents for potential prosecutions, while the Times reports that the efforts to hide money were sometimes so transparent that some experts feel legal action is inevitable.
Whatever the outcome, it’s virtually assured that the full impact of the Panama Papers leak has yet to be felt in the wealth management business, where planners have always had to walk a fine line between clients’ legitimate rights to privacy and the law.
As wealth managers, especially those serving the ultra-wealthy, take a hard look at their tax management practices of both the past and future with the Panama Papers in mind, this issue of Private Wealth takes a look at a related matter: How should planners serve foreigners looking to move—and sometimes hide—assets in the U.S.? The story by Carol J. Clouse notes that some states, such as Nevada, Wyoming and South Dakota, have some experts referring to the U.S. as the “New Switzerland” because of the privacy afforded citizens in their banking laws. These laws, in addition to cuts in estate planning taxes and the U.S. quality of life, have made the nation attractive to wealthy foreigners looking to resettle.
In our cover story, Eric L. Reiner checks in on Atlantic Trust Private Wealth Management and how they’ve evolved since being acquired by Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) two years ago. Atlantic Trust’s answer: Very well, thank you. CIBC bought the firm to gain a foothold in the U.S. high-net-worth wealth management market. That foot is now at $27 billion in client assets, up from $24 billion when the deal was consummated.
For our third feature, Thomas M. Kostigen reports on how the Rockefeller Foundation, one of the pioneers of impact investing, is participating in an effort to attack climate change—part of a global effort to close what the United Nations calls a $25 trillion gap in funding for curing the world’s social and environmental ills.