HNWs looking for the best tax lawyers and accountants to help them negotiate labyrinthine revenue regimes and cross-border issues, or to set up sensible structures, need look no further than the Spear’s Tax & Trust Advisers Index
The 2020 edition of our guide to the finest tax advisers for private clients arrives at an interesting time, as governments strive to balance two necessities: funding a response to the coronavirus pandemic, and creating an environment that allows businesses and entrepreneurs to power an economic recovery.
The Spear’s view of that dilemma is below, along with analysis of the news and moves that have shaped this year’s index and the industry at large. But readers may wish to jump straight to a particular section of the index, using the following links:
Balancing the books
At a treasury select committee hearing in July, chancellor Rishi Sunak spoke plainly: ‘There are tough choices ahead,’ he said. ‘That is clear.’
But the choices Boris Johnson’s government will make in this parliament are less clear. Since it expects to borrow around £372 billion by the end of the year to help the UK weather the effects of the Covid crisis, the wealthiest in society may soon be asked to make an outsized contribution to the public purse.
The experts Spear’s surveyed in our 2020 Tax Advisers Index don’t believe a wealth tax is around the corner, however. Just 9 per cent of those we asked said such a tax was likely to be introduced in this parliament, even if the government’s ambitious pre-Covid spending plans were a departure from the Tory party’s traditional values. ‘It’s not really in their blood,’ said one adviser.
But with the Office of Tax Simplification conducting a review into capital gains tax, there is a sense among respondents that HNWs could see increased rates elsewhere. Some 30 per cent of the advisers in our index said they expected taxes to rise in some form, with capital gains tax, inheritance tax and national insurance mentioned most.
‘It’s inevitable that it’s got to come back and bite us,’ remarked one adviser, of the coronavirus pandemic.
We also asked the denizens of our 2020 index to name the ‘biggest movers’ among international jurisdictions – the places most notable for becoming either more or less attractive to HNWs. Italy was mentioned more than any other country.
But, curiously, it attracted the most votes in both categories – it was perceived as both a notable riser and faller in the international jurisdiction charts. While its non-dom regime and lifestyle benefits are attractive, ‘there are concerns about stability’, says Charles Russell Speechlys’ Sophie Dworetzsky, who is included among our our top ten lawyers this year.
Following closely on Italy’s heels in the list of jurisdictions perceived as increasingly attractive are Malta, Guernsey, Switzerland, the US and the UK. Others mentioned included Cyprus, Singapore, Kenya, Brazil, Monaco and Dubai.
Several advisers who spoke with Spear’s suggested that jurisdictions perceived as ‘safe’ from a reputational and regulatory point of view were in favour.
One said: ‘I’d rather get the client to pay a bit more money to be in a better jurisdiction with a good reputation and which is accepted by the global financial community – not just the offshore one.’ Indeed, there is a sense that an increasingly global effort to unify reporting standards and boost transparency has taken effect. As one adviser, recalling a client who expressed a desire to be upfront and open, said: ‘You’re transparent everywhere!’
Of course, everyone is grappling with the knock-on effects of the pandemic – and will be for some time. Uncertainty, however, proves the value of expertise. ‘When unexpected events happen, clients reach for their trusted advisers,’ said the aptly named Bart Peerless. The Charles Russell Speechlys partner features once again in our premier cru of accountants.
Both lawyers and accountants reported lockdown in-trays filled with requests for advice on succession planning, estate planning and business security. A more sombre consequence of the pandemic has sadly been a rise in probate work.
Change is afoot
There are plenty of movers in this year’s index. As the ‘spearhead’ for PwC’s growing private client practice, Clare Stirzaker enters our top ten list of lawyers.
In the accountancy section, KPMG’s Greg Limb returns to our top ten as the firm continues to evolve its family office practice and virtual offering. He’s joined by Andersen Tax’s Julian Nelberg and James Hender of Saffery Champness. Nelberg is lauded for his expertise on cross-border issues, while Hender was commended by one Guernsey firm as ‘the top adviser in London’.
There are plenty of new names included in both sections this year too.
Paul Huggins, who oversees Rawlinson & Hunter’s London practice, is a versatile partner with a niche in global sports-star clients. Smith & Williamson’s Julia Rosenbloom still works with some of the clients she gained 20 years ago, while James Walker joined haysmacintyre in 2019 to return to his ‘true love’ of ‘client contact’.
Lancaster Knox’s James Heathcote is another respected practitioner. Among the lawyers we welcome Catherine Hill, whose practice at Forsters is fast becoming a favourite of artists and those who manage their estates. Alice Killlingbeck’s brand of ‘integrated multidisciplinary advice’ at KPMG has won her plaudits, while Sullivan & Cromwell’s Basil Zirinis has been acclaimed as the ‘go-to’ for clients looking to do business in the US.
At Payne Hicks Beach, Rosamond McDowell oversees a ‘mixed practice’ of domestic and offshore clients. But while the game continues to change, many of the players remain the same – and not without good reason.
Two faces that will be familiar to Spear’s readers are the stars of our index frontispiece, Nimesh Shah and Suzanne Willis of Blick Rothenberg. Shah, who was appointed the firm’s CEO in August aged just 38, and Willis, who took home the Private Client Accountant of the Year award at last year’s Spear’s Wealth Management Awards, fly the flag for a forward-looking and ambitious firm.
Elsewhere, Camilla Wallace continues to shine at Wedlake Bell, Iain Younger is in his 20th year at Frank Hirth, and Robert Brodrick stands out even among a raft of eminently capable colleagues at Payne Hicks Beach. However, no one garnered more recommendations from peers than Maurice Turnor Gardner’s Ceris Gardner.
She continues to practise her profession at the highest level. Congratulations to her, and all the advisers in this year’s index.
With additional reporting by Rasika Sittamparam and Anna Solomon. Editing by Edwin Smith
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