Transparency of the Regulatory System
Bermuda’s legal, regulatory and accounting systems adhere to high ethical and transparency standards. As noted previously, the legal and regulatory systems are grounded in UK law. Accounting systems and auditing standards typically follow Canadian Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). A Bermudian company may choose to follow the GAAP of any other jurisdiction, subject to full disclosure of its accounts.
Bermuda is a member of regulatory standard-setting bodies for banking (via the Basel Committee on Bank Supervision), insurance (via the International Association of Insurance Supervisors or IAIS), and investment business (via the Financial Services Authority or FSA). In December 2013, Bermuda signed the Foreign Account Transaction Compliance Act (FATCA) Intergovernmental Model 2 Agreement with the U.S. to promote transparency on tax matters, having concluded a FATCA-type agreement with the UK in the previous month. Bermuda financial institutions now automatically transmit FATCA information to the U.S. and UK.
The BMA is Bermuda’s sole regulatory body for financial services, responsible for the licensing, supervision, and regulation of financial institutions conducting deposit-taking, insurance, investment, and trust business on the island. The GOB continues to strengthen its anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism financing (AML/ATF) framework to ensure a high level of compliance with international standards. Amendments to the Proceeds of Crime Act in 2013 created an obligation to report suspicions of money laundering or terrorist financing and to allow civil proceedings before the Supreme Court for the recovery of property obtained through unlawful conduct.
The BMA’s Guidance Notes for AML/ATF Regulated Financial Institutions on Anti-money Laundering and Anti-terrorist Financing outline and interpret the legal and regulatory framework, propose good industry practices, and assist institutions to design and implement systems and controls to limit AML/ATF risks to institutions. In this respect, Bermuda laws and regulations do not distinguish between businesses operating in the local economy and exempt companies operating internationally from within Bermuda. Neither unlicensed nor unregistered entities are permitted to operate in the financial services sector.
Bermuda’s Financial Intelligence Agency is a member of the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units. It shares information with other agencies, within and outside Bermuda. The BMA Amendment (No. 3) Act 2004 clarified the power of the BMA to share information with other overseas authorities. Other laws that authorize the sharing of information with overseas regulators include the Banks and Deposit Companies Act 1999, the Trusts (Regulation of Trust Business) Act 2001, and the Investment Act 2003.
The Investment Business Amendment Act 2012, the Trust (Regulation of Trust Business) Amendment Act 2012, and the Banks and Deposit Companies Amendment Act 2012 regulate investment businesses, trusts, and banks in the areas of civil penalties, public censure, prohibitions against providing certain services, and publication of decisions. The Investment Business Act 2003 granted the BMA stronger intervention powers, including the ability to cooperate with foreign bodies, while the Investment Business Investment Act 2012 brought the Bermuda Stock Exchange (BSX) under the regulation of the BMA. Other provisions provide for criminal penalties, e.g., the Banks and Deposit Companies Amendment Act.
The BMA regulates collective investment schemes (CIS). The 1997 Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) and the 2006 Investment Funds Act (IFA) regulate fund administrators. CIS are also subject to IFA, which clarifies and codifies the current regulation of funds in order to strengthen Bermuda’s position in the international funds market.
For Bermuda laws in general, see www.bermudalaws.bm . The GOB posts new laws and regulations in the Royal Gazette newspaper (the official public record). Draft bills are made available at http://www.parliament.bm . The GOB often consults with organizations prior to introducing proposed legislation.
International Regulatory Considerations
See previous section on transparency of regulatory system.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
Bermuda’s legal system is based on English statutory and common law and principles of equity. The system is generally effective at enforcing property, commercial and contractual rights.
There is no government interference in the court system. Three courts preside in Bermuda; the Magistrates Courts, the Supreme Court, and the Court of Appeal. The Commercial Court, a division of the Supreme Court, in effect since January 2006, was established to provide a forum in which commercial litigation is tried expeditiously by an experienced commercial judge in accordance with the best modern practice. The court of last resort is London’s Privy Council.
Foreign money judgments can be enforced under Bermudian statutory law. Under the 1958 Judgments Reciprocal Enforcement Act (JRE), local courts must recognize and enforce foreign judgments. The JRE follows the same procedure as the UK Foreign Judgments (Reciprocal Enforcement) Act of 1933. Bermuda also has arbitration legislation.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
The Minister of Economic Development has broad discretion to approve privatization applications under the Companies Act 1981. The Ministry of Finance treats foreign and local investors equally when privatization opportunities arise. There is no government interference in the court system that could affect foreign investors.
The Bermuda Monetary Authority (BMA) at www.bma.bm , regulates the financial services sector in Bermuda, providing rigorous vetting, supervision, and inspection of all financial institutions operating in or from within Bermuda. It also assists other authorities in Bermuda to detect and prevent financial crime and develops risk-based financial regulations that it applies to the supervision of Bermuda’s banks, trust companies, investment businesses, and insurance companies. The Companies Act 1981 as amended is the principal statute governing the formation and operation of Bermuda companies and foreign investment.
Most international business (IB) companies are classified as exempt, a term that addresses ownership, not taxation. Bermuda’s tax system applies equally to local and exempt companies. An exempt company may be 100 percent owned by non-Bermudians. For information about local companies, see below. Being exempt does not relieve exempt companies of the supervisory, regulatory, or fiscal rules governing local, non-exempt companies (more about non-exempt companies below).
An exempt company may not do business within the local economy, except to the extent that it is so authorized by its constitutional documents and has been granted a license by the Minister of Finance, who decides if the granting of such a license is in the best interest of Bermuda. Certain activities are expressly excluded from the requirement for a license, including doing business with other exempted undertakings; dealing in securities of exempted undertakings, local companies or partnerships; carrying on business as manager or agent for, or consultant or advisor to, any exempted company or permit company which is affiliated (whether or not incorporated in Bermuda) with the exempted company or an exempted partnership in which the exempted company is a partner or, in the case of mutual funds, selling or distributing their shares in Bermuda. An exempt company may buy its locally-needed supplies or services from local companies, such as accounting, banking, legal, management and office supply services.
An exempt company is exempt from the ownership regulations – otherwise known as the 60/40 Rule – governing local, non-exempt companies, which are permitted to do business within the local economy. To be classified as a local or non-exempt company, Bermudians must be beneficial owners of at least 60 percent of the shares in the company; exercise at least 60 percent of the total voting rights in the company; and make up at least 60 percent of the directors of the company.
In July 2012, in an effort to ease foreign ownership restrictions and boost the economy, Bermuda amended the Companies Act to allow companies listed on the BSX to apply for a license to seek foreign investment over and above the 40 percent maximum foreign ownership. Previously, foreign investors interested in doing business in Bermuda had to adhere to the 60/40 Rule. Many hotels and telecommunications companies fall into this category, as do Bermuda’s four banks.
Compliance with Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) guidelines that seek to eliminate separate regulatory regimes for local and international companies may have been a factor contributing to the decision to ease ownership restrictions. Some local businesses support relaxing the 60/40 rule to encourage FDI, increase liquidity in the local market, and boost the economy. Other businesses oppose it out of concern that they might not be able to compete with majority foreign-owned businesses. The current government is exploring relaxing this rule, with the Premier announcing this intent in the fall of 2017.
Overseas and resident investors may form partnerships under the Partnership Act 1902, which may be local or exempted and general or limited. A local partnership is composed of Bermudian partners only and is permitted to conduct business locally and abroad. If one or more of the partners is not Bermudian, the partnership is considered an exempted partnership and may only conduct business outside Bermuda from a principal place of business within Bermuda. An overseas partnership formed outside Bermuda may, through the BMA, apply to the Minister of Finance for a permit to operate in Bermuda or outside Bermuda from a place of business in Bermuda. These partnerships must appoint and maintain a resident representative on the island.
Bermuda strives to be innovative with new financial services and products. For example, in an effort to make Bermuda more competitive in the hedge fund management arena, the Investment Fund Amendment Act 2013 exempts certain hedge funds from authorization and supervision requirements, provides two new classes of exempt funds, and grandfathers currently-exempt funds. Exempt class A funds, which must be regulated by a recognized authority or have at least USD 1000 million in assets under management, are eligible for expedited registration. To encourage improvements in telecommunication, the Customs Tariff Amendment (No 2) Act 2013 gives full customs duty relief on the importation of goods, apparatus, and machinery imported by holders of integrated communications operating licenses to be used to build or maintain telecommunications network infrastructure.
Bermuda generally prohibits the establishment of foreign franchises, with the exception of franchise hotels. The Companies Act gives the Ministry of Economic Development the authority to grant investors special permission to establish a franchise on the island.
As an overseas UK territory, Bermuda does not receive separate mention in many third-party data information sources, such as the World Bank or Transparency International. Because it is not a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), International Monetary Fund (IMF) or World Bank, it does not participate in any of those organizations’ routine reviews. Bermuda is part of the OECD’s Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes (see http://www.oecd.org/tax/transparency/ ), so it is reviewed under this initiative. Neither the World Trade Organization nor the UN Committee on Trade and Development has reviewed Bermuda’s investment policy.
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
Bermuda has some traditional state-owned enterprises (SOEs) that compete with the private sector, including public transit, waste management, and the postal service. Governance of SOEs is led by a politically-appointed Cabinet Minister. SOEs must provide financial information to the Minister, who submits the information annually to the Auditor General. Most SOEs are prohibited from having a board of directors but may have an advisory board.
Bermuda also has quasi-autonomous, non-governmental organizations (QUANGOs)/Public Authorities, established under their respective legislative incorporation acts. The GOB controls several other organizations either through the possession of shares or voting rights or by some other means. These organizations include the National Sports Center, Port Royal Golf Course, Ocean View Golf Course, Bermuda College, Bermuda Housing Trust, Bermuda Housing Corporation, Bermuda Land Development Corporation, West End Development Corporation, Bermuda Hospitals Board, Bermuda Health Council, the Regulatory Authority (telecommunications), Bermuda Tourism Authority, Bermuda Economic Development Corporation, Pension Commission, and parish councils.
Bermuda is not a party to the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) within the framework of the World Trade Organization.
Expropriation and Compensation
The Housing Loan Insurance (Mortgage) Regulations 1984 and the Municipalities Act 1923 regulate expropriations. There is no history of expropriation in Bermuda without proper compensation and no expropriator acts against foreign investors.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
Through the United Kingdom, Bermuda has ratified the convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention). Under the convention, foreign arbitral awards are enforceable within Bermuda’s domestic courts. Likewise under the United Kingdom, Bermuda is also a member state to the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID Convention).
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
Mexico Infrastructure Finance, LLC (MIF), a U.S. company, loaned money to a Bermuda company to enable it to source financing for a hotel development in Hamilton, Bermuda. The Corporation of Hamilton (“the Corporation” a statutory municipal corporation) guaranteed the loan. The local company defaulted on the loan and on 31st December 2014 MIF issued a demand to the Corporation, in its capacity as guarantor, to pay the entire outstanding balance of USD 18 million plus interest. When payment was not forthcoming, MIF brought an action against the Corporation in the Supreme Court to enforce the Guarantee. The Corporation consented to judgment but then petitioned the court to withdraw its consent and argue that it did not have the statutory authority to give the guarantee in the first place. In a decision dated November 2016, the Bermuda Supreme Court (Hellman, J) ruled that the municipality did not have the authority in its statute to give a guarantee for the proposed purpose of a hotel development, and nullified the consent judgment: see Corporation of Hamilton v. Mexico Infrastructure  SC (Bda) 94 Com (18 November 2016). The appeal by MIF of that case was heard, but a judgment is pending. MIF’s insurers have filed a civil case in New York against a Bermudian law firm for failing “to exercise the care and skill to be expected of reasonably competent attorneys.”
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
The growth in commercial arbitration is directly linked to the presence of international companies, which operate primarily in the insurance and reinsurance industry. Arbitration within Bermuda has become increasingly popular and it is often named as the seat for arbitration. The GOB has considered promoting Bermuda as a global center for international arbitration.
Bermuda has its own arbitration legislation. The Bermuda International Conciliation and Arbitration Act of 1993 adopted the UN Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL model law) as their rules for governing arbitration procedures. Under the umbrella of the United Kingdom, the ratification of the convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York convention) was extended to Bermuda who became a member state in 1980.
Under Bermuda law, arbitrators and foreign legal counsel traveling to Bermuda for the purposes of participating in arbitration do not need to be locally licensed. The Department of Immigration does however require advance notice of their presence in the jurisdiction.
The judicial system handles investment disputes unless the parties have agreed to submit their disputes to arbitration.
The Bankruptcy Act 1989, the Companies Act 1981, and the Companies (Winding Up) Rules 1982 govern bankruptcy and the winding-up of companies. The Supreme Court (the first instance court of general jurisdiction) administers the bankruptcy process. A foreign creditor may apply for the bankruptcy of an individual or for the winding-up of a company provided the creditor follows the procedures set out in the aforementioned statutes.