Norson Harris from ZEDRA: ‘Do More. Achieve More.’
ZEDRA is an independent global specialist in Trust, Corporate and Fund services.
Based in offices across eleven key jurisdictions, the company’s 370–strong team of industry experts is dedicated to creating and delivering bespoke solutions for a diverse client base including high-net-worth individuals and their families, international corporations, institutional investors and entrepreneurs.
Norson Harris is a Director at ZEDRA Trust Company in Jersey. In addition to his duties as a Director of the Company, Norson is responsible for looking after the interest of many of the families the firm has as clients, principally in Asia. This month we spoke to Norson, who told us in more detail about his role and achievements, the hottest trends within Jersey’s fiduciary services sector, ZEDRA’s approach to its clients and what makes the company a game changer.
What are the current hottest topics discussed in the fiduciary services sector?
The industry is looking in detail at the implications of the Common Reporting Standards (CRS) and the potential consequences of the cross-border reporting this will involve. This includes the obvious consequences such as tax transparency, but for some clients, this also includes perceived and apparent threats to security and confidentiality.
In the immediate future, the industry is also digesting the changes to the UK Resident Non- Domiciled Regime and how this impacts on residence and significantly, property ownership in the UK.
What are the most commonly sought after fiduciary services in Jersey?
Traditionally, this has been companies and trusts, but increasingly we are seeing the use of more complex structures such as Private Trust Companies. There is increasing interest in Jersey Foundations and amongst some of the largest families we represent at ZEDRA, we are looking at the use of close ended investment funds to hold their diverse assets.
A lot of focus is given to the existence of private trusts in the Islands, but often overlooked is the significance of the Island to the UK economy and the corporate services provided by companies such as ZEDRA. Jersey Finance, the Island’s promotional agency reports, “Jersey is a ‘jurisdiction of choice’ for listing holding companies on the Main Market of the London Stock Exchange. There are a number of ‘high profile’ FTSE listed Jersey companies and Jersey also has the greatest number of FTSE 100 companies registered outside the UK”. Jersey supports an estimated 250,000 British jobs and is a conduit for almost £500 billion of foreign investment into the country, according to a report into the jurisdiction’s value to the United Kingdom.
What are the primary risks and sensitive considerations you raise with your clients?
Confidentiality remains a sensitive issue. We have all experienced the ever greater need to disclose personal information to comply with International Regulatory Standards, but for some families this is a highly charged subject. It is recognised that there are needs to monitor and identify the financial relationships and funds held in the Island and within a jurisdiction such as Jersey with a politically neutral establishment and independent judiciary; this does not present a concern. However, where this information is then shared under international protocols, such as CRS, there are genuine concerns for some families as to what purpose this shared information is to be used. This is not a taxation concern as all companies in the fiduciary and wider finance industry recognise their responsibilities in this regard. What is of more concern is whether the information will be used to exploit the family in some way, or raise personal security issues, or be used for political advantage?
With over 25 years of experience in the international financial services industry, you are recognised as a fiduciary expert – how are you developing new strategies and ways to help clients?
It is funny, the longer I am in the industry, I realise that the same strategies I used at the very outset of my career remain the same. Personal, discrete, attentive service remains the driver to everything we do. The structuring may change over time, but more often than not, we are asked the same things; how to protect the wealth and interests of the families we represent. When I started my career, we were more concerned with family protection as the tax code was far less defined and my average client would invariably have been a ‘Landed Family’ in the UK or an industrialist, as they would be more likely known then. The industry over time became more focussed on the tax affairs of clients and in line with the political temperature and regulatory landscape in recent years, the fiduciary sector has again refocussed and there has been a return to more traditional structuring and less emphasis on tax structuring. Whilst my career has gone full circle and I still work with entrepreneurs, the Landed Families have been replaced by some of the world’s wealthiest international families.
You joined ZEDRA a year ago – what were your goals in driving change within the company?
I was actually approached the previous year by Barclays Private Bank & Trust Company to help with the positioning of the sale of the Barclays Offshore Fiduciary Group, which ultimately became ZEDRA. My goal then, which continues today, is to ensure the families we look after are supported in the transition from being owned by a global banking giant to an independent fiduciary group, whilst at the same time launching the ZEDRA identity.
This also required providing support and direction to the staff of the Jersey Company and the wider Group as we began not only the rebranding and launch of ZEDRA but helping to define and develop the new culture of the Company.
How would you evaluate your role and its impact over the last year or so?
I suspect my role individually has been quite minor, but I have been supported by an incredible team of industry practitioners and some very creative people. At the beginning of 2016, no one knew the name ZEDRA, but over the last 12 months, the global recognition of the brand and what it represents, has been quite remarkable. We are seeing an enormous amount of interest in the work we do and we are at the moment receiving a lot of attention from industry advisors looking to build relationships with ZERDA.
Regrettably, my global impact has been less complimentary as I believe I have travelled some 250,000 miles in the last two years.
What further goals are you currently working towards with the company and do you have a particular vision for the future of its services?
ZEDRA continues to expand both in our jurisdictional reach, but also in the number of staff globally that we now employ. This allows the Group to develop its brand identity but also its corporate culture, all of which is very exciting. ZEDRA’s credo as a group is ‘Do More. Achieve More.’ and our goal is to provide those services that our families and clients need from us to support their own ambitions. As a consequence, we have deliberately told the teams at ZEDRA that we are happy to explore and consider all sensible prospects and business enquiries, thus creating an intuitive and flexible environment for clients from all around the world and in all sectors.
What challenges would you say you and the firm encounter on a regular basis? How are these resolved?
As with any launch, especially where a number of companies are brought together, trying to develop a corporate culture is critically important. It is essential to communicate with all employees as to what is happening and what the future looks like from a corporate perspective. In all such scenarios, there are early adopters and other members of the company who will be a little more reluctant to embrace the change. This is more so when one considers that for some of the staff at ZEDRA, their entire employment history may have been with Barclays previously.
Staff recruitment is always difficult, especially in the offshore world, but from discussions with a number of the recruitment agencies we employ, we are seeing enormous interest from people wishing to work for ZEDRA. We are doing something exciting and we strive to be the ‘employer of choice’.
What would you say are the company’s top three priorities towards its clients?
Understanding our client’s ambitions and concerns, developing close personal relationships with them and acting professionally and with integrity in everything we do.
What has been your biggest professional reward so far? And how will this help you achieve further for your clients in future?
I think being recognised by my peer group in the industry has been remarkably rewarding. I have been very fortunate to have received a number of awards over the years, but I recognise that these have been as a result of close collaboration with my colleagues and staff without whom it would have been a lot less interesting and rewarding. An exciting part of my role is to ‘pass the baton’ to the next generation of practitioners who will continue to support me in my relationship with my clients, but who in the longer term (I am not quite done yet) will go on to lead their own relationships.
What lies on the horizon for the firm in 2017, and what big changes do you expect in the coming year?
ZEDRA will continue to consolidate our existing business within the Group and grow the offices to support our clients’ needs. We will also look to further jurisdictions to add to our global offering to ensure we meet those very exacting standards we set for ourselves and to meet the expectations of our clients.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
It may seem trite, but it really is a team effort to build and grow a diverse financial services Group like ZEDRA. We have been enormously fortunate to have the support of the Sarikhani and Nielsen families as our new owners. The massive contribution from all of the staff across the Group in this first year has been key in the success of ZEDRA but we must also recognise the patience and loyalty of our clients, without whom, it would not have been possible.