According to Ben Lim, the Mauritius IFC is facing a severe shortage of human capital as a large number of Mauritius young professionals and their families emigrate. Ben Lim, the Chief Executive Officer of Intercontinental Trust Ltd, has been active in the Mauritius international financial services sector since its inception in the early 1990s.
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ITL has been in business for over 20 years; what can you tell us about the company’s history?
ITL started operation in 2000 and our focus was to conquer the non-Indian market as the latter was saturated with the substantial presence of our competitors. As a rule of thumb, we can categorize Management Companies (“MC”) into two groups: those incorporated prior to year 2000 being India heavy and those incorporated after as being India light. We were successful in developing the Asian and African markets. Our culture and work ethics enable us to service major multinationals and attract top talent in our team. We were also effective in developing new and tailor made products & services. For example, we were the pioneers in attracting the listing of companies on the Mauritius Stock Exchange with dual listings in another exchange such as the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.
Congratulations on receiving the Individual Decade Award as well as the ITL Corporate Financial Advisor Award. What do these awards mean to you?
ITL has been winning many awards over the years. These regular achievements tell us that winning this year’s award is not due to chance but to hard work and perseverance. And I would like to take this opportunity to thank my team, my board of directors and our clients for their unwavered trust and support. I am eternally grateful to Private Equity Africa to have given me the Individual Decade Award and this achievement would not have been possible without the hard work of my team and the support of my wife Corinne.
The Mauritius IFC celebrated its 30th anniversary this year. How has the industry changed over time?
The growth of the Mauritius IFC has been phenomenal over the past 30 years. We have certainly had our share of problems during that time, be it the unrelenting pressure of the Indian press to criticize the Mauritius-India Double Taxation Treaty or the FATF grey listing and EU blacklisting to name just a few. We started in 1992 with practically no experience in the offshore services. The first offshore certificate was delivered by Ministry of Finance officials even before the Mauritius Offshore Business Activities Authority (“MOBAA”) was set up. Offshore companies used to be taxed at 0% with the option of choosing a rate of up to 35%. Tax avoidance was fully justified then and double taxation treaties were being used to their fullest extent. Nowadays, whilst tax is still an important element in all the factors which an investor will consider, it is certainly not the top one. Clients now consider the ease of doing business, legal system (access to Privy Council), lack of exchange controls, abundance of human resource before selecting an appropriate jurisdiction. Law firms can now be established to provide clients with an array of legal services. We have seen the jurisdiction growing from being used to create only investing holding companies to being a matured financial centre with a wide & diversified arena of licences to accommodate the requirement of global players.
“I also believe that the industry needs some enhanced PR & branding efforts to capitalize and increase our share on the global market…”
Ben Lim | CEO | Intercontinental Trust Ltd
What are some of the issues that the jurisdiction is dealing with?
The biggest challenge facing Mauritius is the brain drain we are currently experiencing. A large number of our young professionals and their families are emigrating and this is creating an acute shortage of human capital.
Additionally, the Mauritius jurisdiction also faces a branding issue as an international financial centre. We are very happy & proud that we are known as a preferred tourist destination but it’s upsetting to note the number of countries & global players that do not even know about the financial services opportunities that are available here.
What are the possibilities?
Whilst I would encourage our young professionals to obtain exposure by working overseas, we need to do more to convince them to return back to Mauritius when they have gained the necessary experience. According to me, the lifestyle Mauritius offers is still very attractive. Moreover, we should also open our jurisdiction to young people from overseas.
I also believe that the industry needs some enhanced PR & branding efforts to capitalize and increase our share on the global market.
What market trends have you noticed in the aftermath of the pandemic and geopolitical tensions?
The pandemic and the geopolitical tensions have contributed to the risks that we will have a global recession. The galloping inflation currently experienced throughout the world has led to a sudden and substantial increase in interest rates. As a result, we expect a sharp contraction in the number of private equity funds being set up in Mauritius.
In the future, how do you see ITL and your industry evolving?
At ITL, we have made it a strategy to diversify and expand our range of services. Today, in addition to the Management Company, our group can provide tax services, corporate finance services, shareholder communication services, stock broking, asset management, ESG consulting and compliance services. And I firmly believe that this is what the industry needs. It is essential that our sector is known and trusted for all the services that our industry & most especially our people can offer.