Interview: Nitin Collappen & Nikhel Chung Sam Wan

An increasing amount of investors are looking at Mauritius as an investment opportunity and using the island as a platform to invest in Africa. Nitin Collappen, Managing Director and Nikhel Chung Sam Wan, Team Leader & MLRO, shares why they believe Mauritius’ niche market for doing business attracts investors.
‘We see a lot of Mauritius domiciled structuring solutions for outbound investments into Africa and Asia and we accompany them from the initial thinking process, setting up and ongoing management of these structures.’

FDI Spotlight: Can you tell our readers about the origins of Sunibel Corporate Services in Mauritius?

Nitin Collappen: Sunibel Corporate Services Ltd originates from the needs and requirements of a network of partners which has existed for over 35 years in one of the top financial centres in Europe. Sunibel is a service provider which operates in the Corporate, Trust, & Fiduciary environment.

10 years ago the Mauritius adventure started because of the business friendly platform the country could provide in terms of managing clients, infrastructure and providing value added services. The investment advisory, fund management and private wealth management lines of business were the first ones to see the light followed by the provision of Corporate, Trust & Fiduciary services which came afterwards due to increasing demand for Mauritius based solutions but with international perspective, standard and comfort.

Mauritius has over the years created its own niche market for doing business compared, for example, to other jurisdictions which some investors might find overwhelming with expats as opposed to Mauritius where you deal mainly with locals on solid ground. It all comes down what the investor is looking for in terms of value add services and stable jurisdiction for his personal or business situation. Presently we see a lot of Mauritius domiciled structuring solutions for outbound investments into Africa and Asia and we accompany them from the initial thinking process, setting up and ongoing management of these structures.

Nikhel Chung Sam Wan: We believe Mauritius has more to offer than the traditional corporate work that a lot of service providers offer. When people think about Mauritius they aren’t aware of the full potential to do business, like setting up headquarters and providing specialized services. Mauritians are bilingual in the sense that they are conversant in both French and English. Therefore, if a company wants to invest in Africa, be it western (French speaking) or eastern (English speaking) part, we have a pool of professionals here who can easily facilitate business for those investing in English and French speaking countries.

We have already seen multinationals wanting to invest in Africa using Mauritius as a platform. Multinationals wanting to do business in Africa, will need a platform to do their investments in and outside Africa and Mauritius can position itself ideally in that respect. We have also the advantage of being in a good geographical location linking not only services but also trade between Asia and Africa. In terms of time zone, we are not that far off from the main markets.

Nitin Collappen: We have very good laws and regulations here which are in line with international standards for example we are compliant with US FATCA, OECD CRS and we have agreements for exchange of information between countries etc. In Mauritius the regulator expects everyone to know their customer and perform full due diligence on them. It is a requirement as per the law to drill up to the ultimate beneficial owner and have documentary evidence on file whilst observing the strictest conditions of client confidentiality. If you are not able to pass the compliance test, then Mauritius is not a jurisdiction for you either to set up a company or open a bank account.

FDI Spotlight: Work and residence permits can be an important concern for investors. How efficient is this process in Mauritius?

Nitin Collappen: The Board of Investment has a very efficient system of issuing various types of permits where a pre-check is done online confirming that everything is in order followed by a face to face meeting approval. Generally we suggest investors from Europe to check if they have a requirement in terms of exit tax or other personal considerations with their personal adviser when changing residency from their country of origin to Mauritius,

In Mauritius you have different types of permits: residency permits for property acquired under special schemes, investor permits with a minimum investment of US $100,000 in the bank account of a Mauritius company and other conditions to be met subsequently; self-employed permits; occupational permits for an employee of a company who has to draw a minimum salary as prescribed. For an investor it will of course be an investor permit. Once the application is filed with the Board of Investment, usually it will take two weeks to get a response. At this level it is not complicated, it is business friendly. Mauritius consistently features well in international rankings for doing business, corporate governance and changing lifestyle.

Nikhel Chung Sam Wan: True, there have been cases where it was difficult, but the reason may simply have been that they didn’t have a proper business plan. Obviously the Government of Mauritius won’t let just anybody come here. Will it create employment? Create additional value to Mauritius?, those are simple but very important questions which the investor has to consider.

Nitin Collappen: This is also important for the occupational permits. What are your specific skills? Are you a normal accountant? We have quite a large pool of accountants in Mauritius already. There is a filtering process, which has to be the case naturally. The country is encouraging people with high end skills to come to Mauritius in the financial sector and other sectors alike.

Nikhel Chung Sam Wan: There are certain competencies which we are not able to find locally and this is where our international connection helps compared to other service providers.

FDI Spotlight: Do you see Mauritius as an international financial centre already?

Nitin Collappen: I think that we are not there yet, but we don’t need a lot to be there, we need to build up on our existing capabilities to generate more added value services. We started our financial services industry more focused on India. This was definitely a great idea, as we have developed a variety of competencies and created some very nice job opportunities for finance professionals locally. The global business sector has been gathering experience & expertise by dealing with international investors, lawyers and other service providers from all over the world for so many years now. Now that we have certainty on the DTA between Mauritius and India, it really gives us a good transition period and the momentum is there. This is where the government has to come in to sustain the marketing effort to put us on the world map for the competence acquired and developed over the years.

We are all private companies and each one of us have our own visions and strategies. The vision of the government is of a more long-term and sustainable nature, looking towards its vision for the year 2030. Under that there’s a part for financial services among other things, and the FSPA specifically working to promote our sector locally through the setting up of a Financial Services Institute and internationally through road shows and various agreements.

FDI Spotlight: What is your approach to human capacity building and professional development?

Nikhel Chung Sam Wan: We really believe in human capacity and human resources. We believe in investing in the training of our staffs. Each month there are external-internal training sessions for employees relating to changes in laws and other factors (local & international) that affects our industry. We also believe in soft-skills training for our top executives and members of staffs.

Since we have a strong international connection, we have staff exchange programs which are mutually beneficial to employees as this enables them to get the exposure of different financial centres.

Nitin Collappen: There’s a really good exchange and we make sure that the standard of office infrastructure is of the same quality and the experience based learning is achieved. This really makes the difference because our level of IT, client management software and confidentiality are of international standard. This is one of the reasons why we are able to get the trust of clients as they know what to expect in terms of service delivery.

Nikhel Chung Sam Wan: We also encourage people to go beyond their comfort zones by taking up new responsibilities and moving in different clusters to learn new skills and experience.

Nitin Collappen: To give an example, we have a team of professionals, consisting mostly of university graduates having or going for professional qualifications like Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) & Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (ICSA) amongst others and they are able to complement their qualifications through real experience based learning locally and internationally through our international connection. So ultimately all these people are experienced and trained with an international mindset. In the end this exchange of information and skills becomes really helpful to the client. We see things differently and we see the bigger picture about what is relevant to the situation and relevant to the client specific needs. We have not only the local knowledge but also the international expertise which goes with it, that is our value proposition.

Source: FDI Spotlight