On the 22nd of June 1948 members of the Princely House of Liechtenstein founded Industrie- und Finanzkontor to restore family assets after the end of the Second World War and to manage them in a more targeted manner. The long-term safeguarding of assets and wealth emerged as a general key issue.
In the course of the turmoil of the First and Second World Wars, substantial assets had been lost and livelihoods had been destroyed. These events sharpened the awareness that assets – be they tangible or intangible - could be lost at any time.
Starting at the end of the 1940s, a rapid economic upswing set in throughout Western Europe, enabling new wealth and social prosperity to be built up over a relatively short time. In Germany, economic policy under the leadership of Ludwig Erhard contributed significantly to the economic miracle. But reconstruction also led to economic growth in other European countries.
In Northern Europe, the fear of a Soviet invasion prevailed; the threat of a rule by communist parties loomed in Italy and France. The Cold War was in full swing, long-term safety and peace was doubted despite international agreements. Marked by the losses that had accompanied the war years, people wanted safety for their families and protection against a renewed loss for at least a portion of their wealth. The protection aspect became increasingly important.
Liechtenstein: a safe haven
Liechtenstein was seen as a politically neutral and secure location. Back in the 1920s, the respective cornerstones were laid:
The Prince and the Government laid a significant focus on the economic development of Liechtenstein and on a lean administration. Over the time, Industrie- und Finanzkontor developed into a leading service provider in the fiduciary sector, with a specific tradition and expertise in wealth structuring for the protection and long-term preservation of wealth, family values and businesses. The roots of Industrie- und Finanzkontor in the Princely House of Liechtenstein – that can look back at over 900 years of family history – shaped the required understanding of assets and the sense of responsibility for the future generations.
Where we are today
Geopolitical upheavals, armed conflicts and monetary upheavals cause national laws to take international standards into consideration, such standards being set by the major states and promoted via international organizations such as the OECD. In addition, social egalitarianism and a generally critical attitude towards wealth is being propagated and poses a threat to property rights.
However, property rights are a necessity for a stable society and economy. Competition is the essence of social welfare. Privacy is essential for a self-determined life of freedom. Today, however, the recognition of a diffuse collectivism and the striving for a misinterpreted equality sets the tone. In such an environment, the desire for safety and a legitimate protection for family, businesses and private property is once again gaining in importance.
For 75 years we at Industrie- und Finanzkontor have served families and entrepreneurs. We focus on the long-term and multi-generational preservation of wealth and values. We set up and manage asset structures via legal entities such as foundations, trusts and other corporate bodies. In doing so, we make sure that these asset structures meet current international requirements and at the same time are flexible enough to be adapted to future changes. We always take a holistic view of both: the assets and the family.
How we see the future
It is important to abandon the fallacy that asset protection solutions are motivated by dubious or fiscal reasons. The lawful protection of assets and values is a legitimate and understandable basic need that has always been part of human existence. Thinking in generations, implemented through asset structures, expresses a great sense of responsibility towards both, what one has created and who are to carry it on. This is reflected in the activities of Industrie- und Finanzkontor.
We are ready for the next 75 years. We will closely monitor future developments in the technological, regulatory and geopolitical spheres, etc. in order to evaluate the resulting opportunities and risks at an early stage and to develop the possibilities for asset structuring and asset preservation with foresight and in the best interest of our clients.
Soon, this year's Finance Forum will take place. In an interview with Ms. Dunja Goop, editor in chief at Wirtschaft Regional, H.S.H. Gisela Bergmann, Princess of Liechtenstein, talks about the future and the present situation of the financial center, the development of the Liechtenstein trust business and the challenges in wealth management.
H.S.H. Gisela Bergmann explains that the Liechtenstein trust industry is actively involved in the development of the Liechtenstein financial center, for example through the total revision of the Law on Trustees to strengthen the Governance system to improve governance and risk management or the in-depth discussion of reporting standards and due diligence legislation.
Furthermore, she emphasizes that the Liechtenstein Institute of Professional Trustees and Fiduciaries, together with the Liechtenstein Bankers Association, has initiated the development a forward-looking positioning and communication strategy for the Liechtenstein financial center. The initiative resulted in a public-private partnership model, which is today known as Liechtenstein Finance.
Politically and economically unstable times increase the need for protection and safety for entrepreneurial and family wealth. The Liechtenstein financial centre can meet this need. The Liechtenstein financial centre is in the tradition of long-term and multi-generational wealth preservation and has the core competencies and know-how needed.
The Liechtenstein financial centre is an internationally recognized partner and compliant with European and international standards, it is very well connected and a member of important international organizations. And last but not least, the Liechtenstein financial centre demonstrates a high level of agility and innovative strength.
Read the whole interview (in German) here.
Founded in 1948 by members of the Princely Family of Liechtenstein, Industrie- und Finanzkontor has been majority owned and managed by family members ever since. Originally run as a family office, the company is now one of the leading providers in the field of cross-border asset structuring and long-term preservation of family and entrepreneurial wealth. In 2020, H.S.H. Gisela Bergmann, Princess of Liechtenstein, was elected to the Board of Directors. She was appointed CEO at the beginning of this year.
Princess Gisela received a degree in engineering from ETH Zurich. This was followed by positions in investment banking and engineering in England, Canada, Singapore and Switzerland. She is the daughter of H.S.H. Prince Michael of Liechtenstein, who chairs the Board of Directors of Industrie- und Finanzkontor as Executive Chairman.
Princess Gisela, you have gained experience in many different companies. How does a family-owned and managed company, such as Industrie- und Finanzkontor, differ from others?
The main difference lies in our mind-set, and in the strong ties between the family and the management team, and between employees and clients. This leads to high levels of identification and above-average commitment. And this also means that family businesses are usually oriented towards the long-term.
So, the family acts as a role model?
Yes. In a family business, family members are prepared to invest their own time and money in the company, and to take personal responsibility for the success of the business. This
mind-set has a positive impact on the business, providing security and stability to both employees and clients, allowing the entrepreneurial spirit to thrive.
To what extent?
The family vouches for the company with its own surname. This creates a fundamental incentive within the company to perform at the highest level. Our family values form the basis
on which the entire governance of Industrie- und Finanzkontor is built. We are proud of our strong, diversified management and the motivated, well-trained workforce that stand behind those family values. The strong family ties mean that everyone feels the same compulsion to pull together. Our employees are fully aware of their responsibilities and are committed to the company. And our clients benefit from this.
Industrie- und Finanzkontor has an unusual origin. How is this reflected in the company?
We have our roots in the Princely House of Liechtenstein, which has existed for almost a thousand years. The Princely House has always stood out thanks to an exceptional willingness
to perform, a flair for innovation and entrepreneurship, and the pursuit of independence. These powerful traits run like a thread through our family history, and through Industrie- und Finanzkontor. We look at wealth and family from a holistic perspective, always thinking in terms of generations.
Industrie- und Finanzkontor focuses on the long-term preservation of wealth and values for clients, and structures wealth via legal instruments. How does the awareness of family and wealth play into this?
Each client’s situation is different, as every family is different. Private wealth, and family wealth in particular, are as diverse as the people to whom they belong. Our awareness of family and wealth is expressed in our entrepreneurial thinking, and reflected in each individual solution we craft for our clients. We view wealth from an objective and comprehensive perspective, focussing not only on tangible assets, but on intangible ones as well.
Why is this intangible approach significant for asset structuring?
Values, needs, expectations and goals, as well as the framework conditions in which assets are embedded, are all factors that influence wealth and assets in the long term. That’s why we pay special attention to this side of the business. We also support entrepreneurial families in formulating their own wealth and family culture and to strengthen the family´s understanding of their own legacy.
At some point the time comes when succession in a family business needs to be planned for. What should be taken into account in order to ensure a smooth succession plan?
Apart from the formal succession planning, clear communication and a leading by example on the part of the previous generation form the basis for successful succession planning. Other factors to be considered are that the family members are professionally and financially independent; that they gain experience; show an interest in the family business and have the appropriate willingness to perform. My sister and I were involved in strategic decisions and discussions about the company’s development from an early stage. However, it was always up to us to decide whether we wanted to take over the family business one day.
The world is now in the midst of a transformation: advancing digitalisation, changing client demands, upheavals in the regulatory structure, geopolitical realignment, and so forth. What do you see as the main responsibility of the next generation?
First of all, taking over a business should be seen as a privilege rather than a right. The entrusted company should be further developed for the benefit of future generations, both on a family level and with regard to employees and clients. Economic and social responsibility must also be ensured. The current times are challenging, especially in view of the erosion of private wealth by politics and society. Increasing bureaucracy inhibits productivity and endangers healthy pragmatism. It is important to consciously counteract unproductive bureaucracy. At the same time, there is also enormous potential for new business areas.
What priorities should one set in order to remain viable in the current and future environment?
As a matter of principle, we approach change with an open mind-set, focussing not only on the risks, but on the opportunities presented by new trends and developments, which we evaluate on a regular basis. An organisational structure must be prepared for the future, and employee expertise must be constantly strengthened. As far as the geopolitical realignment is concerned, we are convinced that it further highlights the importance of wealth preservation. In politically and economically unstable times, there is a growing desire for protection and security for wealth and assets, as well as for an environment in which property ownership rights are respected.
While at Industrie- und Finanzkontor we describe ourselves as «Wealth Preservation Experts», sustainability is the most common buzzword in the business world. How do wealth preservation and the quest for sustainability intertwine?
We focus on the long-term and multi-generational preservation of wealth in line with the will of the founder. Our claim «Wealth Preservation Experts» describes what we do in a nutshell. By setting up, implementing and managing asset structures via legal entities such as foundations, trusts or other corporate forms, we create a starting point for achieving positive social, ecological and economic effects in the long term, through those assets. From a governance perspective, we build fiduciary asset structures in such a way that they meet the current framework of conditions, while still being flexible enough to adapt to future changes. This is a basic prerequisite if an asset structure is to be preserved and continued across generations.
In the financial sector, banks in particular are focussing on the issue of sustainability. The fiduciary sector is cautious around this issue. Is the topic not yet ripe for discussion?
The banking industry is probably most directly affected by the current definition of sustainable investments. Accordingly, it is addressing the issue hastily. In the field of foundations and trusts however, the concept of sustainability has always been the guiding principle. Wealth structuring through legal entities lays the groundwork for a long-term alignment of assets. Wealth structures require sustainable asset management; longterm, viable asset investment; and the use of assets, all in line with the purpose of the foundation or trust statutes, which usually includes a time scale of several generations.
Allow me to conclude by asking you what your vision of the future of Industrie- und Finanzkontor looks like?
«Wealth Preservation» is a core value that does not change. The management of asset structures must always be carried out with a long-term view and follow an overall strategy. We, as experts, must anticipate the future, always think a few steps ahead and pave the way for the sake of our clients. This way, we support our clients in their intention to secure the future of their families, assets and values in the long term. At Industrie- und Finanzkontor we develop customised solutions to protect wealth and values and to safeguard them in the long term. Accordingly, our primary goals include to expand the opportunities for wealth structuring and wealth preservation with foresight, and to further develop our products and services.
Gisela Bergmann, Princess of Liechtenstein . Chief Executive Officer
Interview by Susanna Gopp
Recently I was asked how entrepreneurship has changed over time? My answer may not have been the one my counterpart was supposed to get. After all, entrepreneurship has not changed much. It is still concerned with identifying a market demand, examining opportunities, and producing suitable products and services through innovation and courage. That someone becomes an entrepreneur out of «greed for profit» is a fallacy. Entrepreneurs invest capital and time to build and develop a business. They are not afraid of competition with others. And through their personal commitment, they are interested in long-term success, not short-term profit.
What has changed over time, however, are the framework conditions in which entrepreneurship can take place. Today, the regulatory, centralisation and harmonisation structure is so tightly knit that it hinders entrepreneurial competition and makes innovation more difficult. However, competition is essential for improvement and innovation, and a large number of small- and medium-sized enterprises are the basis for a flourishing economy. Unfortunately, this is not understood by political and supranational organisations. And thus, entrepreneurs and citizens are degraded to mere tax substrates.
But entrepreneurs are also characterised by a positive attitude and long-term thinking. They defy many adversities, and family businesses in particular are increasing their productivity, supported by digitalisation. But there are limits to this, too. Western democracies, therefore, should be careful not to slaughter the goose that lays the golden eggs by destroying entrepreneurial freedom.
Conscious succession planning is a core element of long-term entrepreneurship. On the one hand, it strengthens the younger generation’s sense of belonging and responsibility, and on the other hand, it identifies the future for assets and the business. Find out more on how succession planning works in the article: «Gouverner, c’est prévoir».
I am very pleased to announce with this issue that we at Industrie- und Finanzkontor have arranged the company’s succession and Princess Gisela has taken over the operational management as of the beginning of 2022. In the following interview you will get a first impression of Princess Gisela. In our role as managing directors, Count Francis von Seilern-Aspang and I will continue to be active in relationship management and to support the management team at a strategic level.
Michael of Liechtenstein . Executive Chairman
«Gouverner, c’est prévoir; et ne rien prévoir, c’est courir à sa perte.» Emile de Girardin, a French publisher and politician, summed up what wealth and succession planning is all about: act with foresight, otherwise you may be heading for a loss. Often easier said than done! For as much as a generational change offers opportunities, it also harbours dangers if one does not plan ahead in a structured manner.
Structuring assets and planning succession are often not easy undertakings, because the economic-rational view is compounded by an ideational-emotional one. This dimension is often more important than one might think. Every generational change is fraught with risk because intra-family circumstances and poor planning can pose a threat to family assets.
When is «the right time»?
Wealth and succession planning is a process that can take several years. The right time to begin the process depends on many factors. If the process is started too early, it can arouse desires in the successor generation and steer a personal development in the wrong direction. If started too late, the process can fail often because offspring has already gone its own way, established itself in other areas and a return to the fold is difficult or lengthy. The decisive factor, however, is the desire of the transferor to actively initiate the succession process. The actual process begins within oneself.
Material values are not primary
The roots of a succession are already laid in the cradle of children, through the role model function of parents. From an early age, we learn from our parents what life is all about, what it can hold, how things are to be valued and what we can achieve with our abilities. These perceptions shape our own views on family, wealth and entrepreneurship. Accordingly, it is important to focus not only on material resources in the process, but also on family values, traditions, attitudes and role perceptions. They have a subliminal influence on the family system and, if not addressed and taken into account, can jeopardize family wealth and happiness at a later stage.
Wealth means responsibility. Responsibility means looking ahead. What should the future of the family legacy be? What counts as core assets, what as residual assets? What is to be achieved, what is the purpose of the family’s wealth? How should the successor generation use the assets? Who should take over the reins of the family business? What other factors should be taken into account? These and many other questions need to be clarified and the family and the assets need to be viewed from an objective, neutral and future-oriented perspective.
For the person handing over, this is sometimes an uncertain and doubtful path. In order to develop a sustainable wealth and succession strategy, it is therefore worthwhile to call in outside support. Independent experts have the necessary expertise and knowledge in various areas. However, their most important function is to listen and to understand, to ask pertinent questions and to guide the process in a targeted manner and from a neutral position, with the ultimate goal of uniting the family, its assets and business enterprises into a functioning «perpetuum mobile».
Five «essentials» for success
Five factors shape the success of any wealth and succession planning: First, the analysis of the initial situation and possible challenges in order to summarize the real overall situation of the family, its assets and businesses in economic, financial and personal terms and to lay the groundwork for a realistic and sustainable wealth and succession strategy. Secondly, the definition of values in order to promote a common understanding of the family legacy. The associated open communication within the family makes it possible to form a guiding framework for the future development of the family, assets and business. Thirdly, the definition of purpose for assets and the company, which also creates the basis for discussion with regard to shareholding and management succession as well as governance. Fourth, the consensus of all those involved, which is necessary for the feasibility of an asset and succession strategy and fundamentally strengthens the family’s ability to act. Fifth, ensuring flexibility so that the assets and business can be adapted to future conditions.
The framework conditions in which wealth is embedded influence its continued existence. While one can often only react passively to external conditions, one can actively influence internal conditions. Therefore, it is advisable to actively start a wealth and succession
process with professional support and secure the future of
wealth and family.
Francis von Seilern-Aspang . Managing Director
Since mankind exists trust is an elementary component for prosperous interaction between people, is it in business, politics or society. Without trust fruitful and good relationships are impossible. But why then is everything being done to undermine this essential value? In this article for Trusts & Trustees H.S.H. Prince Michael of Liechtenstein highlights the importance of trust for a prosperous society and economy, and related to that the role and duties of the international trust business industry.
On May 30, 2022 H.S.H. Gisela Bergmann, Princess of Liechtenstein, CEO and Managing Director of Industrie- und Finanzkontor, awarded the winners of the fourth I&F Family Wealth Preservation Award with a prize money of CHF 9'000:
Winner of the 1st prize: Anton Löhmer (DE)
Winner of the 2nd prize: Marco Lettenbichler (AT)
Winners of the 3rd prize: Cynthia Kranz (LI) and Christiane Mocker (DE)
The I&F Family Wealth Preservation Award, an essay competition, is embedded as an elective module in the LL.M. Executive Master's Program in Corporate, Foundation and Trust Law of the University of Liechtenstein. The award honors essays that convince through a high level of practical relevance and scientific expertise. The award is a successfull cooperation between science and the fiduciary practice.
Find out more about the I&F Family Wealth Preservation Award in the media excerpts below (in German language). Photo: Nils Vollmar, Balzers (LI).
Where will the idea of a world full of transparency, equality and common property lead us to? What impact will the idealized vision of a sharing economy have on private property? In his latest article for Trusts & Trustees, the leading international journal on trust law and practice and the official journal of the International Academy of Estate and Trust Law, Executive Chairman H.S.H. Prince Michael von und zu Liechtenstein outlines the threats but also the opportunities that come with the question. He outlines its significance for the fiduciary trust business and shows how it could have come to this excessive strive for transparency that exists today.
In his latest article for Trusts & Trustees, the leading international journal on trust law and practice and the official journal of the International Academy of Estate and Trust Law, Executive Chairman H.S.H. Prince Michael von und zu Liechtenstein highlights a few key facts that the financial industry and the trust business in particular must bear in mind. Because, in recent years, the financial industry faces demanding challenges concerning transparency as well as regulatory and tax compliance. And it is very worrying to see how this development is shifting the industry's focus away from the clients and their needs.
With the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic, it has become clear that in this new decade anything is possible and nothing is immutable. From one day to the next, open borders were closed, while social and economic life was brought to a standstill worldwide. Now, a few months later, we face a new reality. The consequences of the crisis are clearly visible.
Covid-19 has led to great uncertainty in society. The danger of epidemics is suddenly real again. To avoid infection, people are prepared to make vast concessions. All over the world, people are giving up their privacy to gain a little more security through various applications. Billions of dollars in aid are tacitly accepted, even if it is uncertain how this aid will be financed or repaid. Questions about the medium and long term consequences are being ignored. Asking them is seen as a sign of a lack of community spirit. Yet they must be asked.
As we struggle with Covid-19, solidarity is the top priority. The intent is to strengthen the cohesion and trust within society, and help us get through these difficult times.
However, it becomes problematic when the call for solidarity is used to undermine basic civil rights, to expand bureaucracy, to hinder entrepreneurship or weaken democracy, or to increase control over the individual by methods supposedly meant to contain the virus. A look back into the past shows that such ostensibly temporary measures can mutate into a permanent state of affairs.
Paradoxically, however, solidarity is disregarded when it
comes to the future of the younger generations, who will have to bear the consequences – financial and otherwise. Could the threat posed by the virus possibly be overshad- owed in the medium and long term by the effects of the measures taken to overcome it?
All of us – young or old, living alone or in a family, entre- preneur, business leader or politician – should consider the consequences of the crisis initiated by the virus and then decide the right path for the long term: restrictions, control and heteronomy or entrepreneurship, trust and self-deter- mination. More than ever before, now is the time to address these values and realign our economic and social systems in such a way that future generations also have bright prospects, and the future is not gambled away due to fear of the virus.
Gisela von und zu Liechtenstein
Member of the Management Board
A mega-project is quietly being developed that will have far-reaching consequences and represent a significant intrusion into the financial privacy of each individual. Economists Joseph Stiglitz, Thomas Piketty and Gabriel Zucman are driving forward this project, called the Global Asset Registry. Their vision is to uncover the hidden wealth of nations. But what will the consequences be?
Imagine that everything you own and acquire is entered in a register of assets, stating your name, place of residence and tax number. Anyone in the world can inspect and access the information about your possessions. What do you think about it?
Under the leadership of the Independent Commission for the Reform of International Corporate Taxation (ICRICT), to which also Mssrs. Piketty, Stiglitz and Zucman belong, work is underway on a global, centrally managed asset register. A first Global Asset Registry Workshop, held in Paris in July 2019, generated a wealth of ideas. Land, houses, apartments, other real estate, cars, bank accounts, life insurance policies, safe deposit boxes – all types of assets, without exception, could be included in this register, and it should be as accessible as possible to the public.
In the Roadmap for a Global Asset Registry (GAR), ICRICT argues that the prevailing inequality of wealth poses a serious threat to the economy, society and democracy. It does not explain exactly what this danger is. But it does see the solution in the complete disclosure of property owner- ship. The ICRICT admits that the effective extent of wealth inequality is unknown. But it hopes that the GAR will bring hidden wealth to the surface and then reveal the extent of wealth inequality.
To this end, ICRICT wants to link the wealth data that the GAR collects with those already collected by existing instru- ments – such as the Common Reporting Standard, the Beneficiary Register or Country-by-Country Reporting – or those contained in other national registers. Any additional data could then be collected at a later stage. Those behind the project eventually want to be able to trace asset ownership back to its origin, if possible.
The ICRICT justifies its striving for comprehensive asset transparency by stating that it wants to revive a «broken social contract», according to which private property only receives protection from the law if, in return, ownership
relationships are disclosed and applicable taxes are paid. The argumentation suggests that it is striving for an ideal «Contrat Social» in which the common will and the common good prevail over everything. Individual rights and goods are to be subordinated to this common will and common good. The conviction seems to be that inequality of property becomes inequality among people. Conversely, however, this means that there would no longer exist any room for individual freedom of action and decision-making, or for property rights.
Political decision makers are an important target group.
As outlined in the GAR Roadmap, ICRICT would like to give them a basis for discussing an «appropriate» level of inequality and supporting appropriate taxation. Further- more, ICRICT sees the GAR as an instrument to prevent crime and abuse of power; tax authorities or citizens of corrupt states should be able to take action against their governments. They argue that the advantage for ordinary citizens or businesspeople is the complete transparency and the resulting convenience of only having to sign tax returns, for example. The data on belongings would already be stored centrally.
The project’s argumentation is largely based on estimates and assumptions. It follows the widespread notion that the
«rich» are getting richer and the «poor» are getting poorer because a certain percentage of the world’s wealth is accounted for by a certain percentage of the population, and this percentage is decisive for all social problems and injustices. This is the basis for the idea that justice is achieved when everyone has the same amount of wealth. But is it not much more important that people have the ability to exit poverty and the chance to increase their living standards, instead of everyone having equally much or, conversely, equally little? Discussions about rich and poor often fail to take into account that worldwide poverty has fallen significantly in recent decades (as confirmed in surveys by the World Bank and other organisations), and that living standards are generally much higher today.
The measures initiated because of Covid-19, however, could interrupt the decline in poverty, leaving a lasting mark on the economy and society. Across the globe, social and economic prosperity will weaken and poverty will increase again. Here and there, the virus will also tempt to maintain restrictions on fundamental rights and increase control over citizens. A comparison of these developments with the objectives of the GAR reveals a complex picture of the future: The opportunities to shape life according to one’s own ideas will dwindle. The right to own, use, dispose of and be- queath legitimately acquired property will gradually be restricted. Authorities and centralised organisations, on the other hand, will be given greater scope for action.
The world is moving into a challenging age. The claim to equality and justice ignores the fact that in a world where everyone is equal, no progress can be made. To paraphrase Friedrich A. von Hayek: «A social market economy is not a market economy, a social constitutional state is not a constitutional state, a social conscience is not a conscience and social justice is not justice.» Why? Because with the word «social» individual liberty rights are being gradually eroded.
Whether and how the GAR project will be able to really establish itself depends ultimately on the extent to which politicians, especially in Western democracies, will adhere to the principles of the rule of law – because the project attacks the principle of the rule of law and personal rights. It will also depend on how aware each individual becomes of the dangers that emanate from such comprehensive transparency.
A global register of assets would neither bring crime to a standstill, nor would it close the gap between rich and poor, nor eliminate inequality. On the contrary, it would make a mockery of fundamental human rights and expose every citizen. Social progress and social prosperity would be destroyed because private property would be destroyed.
The GAR Roadmap also argues that offshore structures through foundations or trusts hide the existence of proper- ty and provide fertile ground for tax evasion, tax avoidance or financial crime. Here, the authors seem to be deliberate- ly negating all developments of recent years in the field of tax compliance and the fight against money laundering and terrorist financing in favour of their project.
The purpose of foundations, trusts or other legal asset structures is to organize assets in such a way that business, family or charitable goals and projects can be realized. However, this presupposes that assets are preserved and protected, for example against the dangers arising from current political and economic developments. Foundations and trusts are instruments with which assets can be preserved over the long term and aligned with a specific purpose – so that also future generations have good prospects.
In these times of great uncertainty and widespread fear, it is natural for many citizens to turn to their leaders for guidance and reassurance. However, these much-needed qualities of real leadership have proven to be elusive in many countries around the world. Instead of that, in the US and even more so in the EU, we saw a lack of consistency and planning in the face of the corona epidemic, adding to the overall confusion among citizens and further fueling the media-driven panic. This is why I decided to turn to Prince Michael of Liechtenstein, who kindly agreed to share his views and insights on the present crisis. His tempered and rational analysis, along with his deep understanding of history, have offered many valuable lessons in the past, but this approach is even more needed now that panic is so dangerously abundant.
His Serene Highness Prince Michael of Liechtenstein is the Executive Chairman of Industrie- und Finanzkontor Etablissement, a leading Liechtenstein-based trust company with a tradition and expertise in the long-term and trans-generational preservation of wealth, values and businesses. Furthermore, he is the founder and Chairman of Geopolitical Intelligence Services AG, a geopolitical consultancy company and information platform headquartered in Vaduz. In addition, Prince Michael of Liechtenstein is a Board Member of the Liechtenstein Institute of Professional Trustees and Fiduciaries, Chairman of the liberal think tank European Center of Austrian Economics Foundation and Board Member of the International Institute of Longevity.
Claudio Grass (CG): Thanks to the coronavirus epidemic, within a month, the entire planet has been swept by panic. The global economy has been forced to a screeching halt, citizens of most western nations are being ordered to stay in their houses, while we all constantly receive regular updates on the latest “death count” and infection figures. Did you anticipate that such a scenario was even possible? Is there anything comparable to this in recent historical memory?
HSH Prince Michael of Liechtenstein (PML): Since the end of World War II, Europe has gone through an unprecedentedly long period of peace and prosperity has constantly increased since then. Over time, the awareness of possible crises has been lost. This “spoiling” effect of the good times has caused societies to dismiss and ignore the eventuality of a possible crisis that could come at any time. People voted for safety and security, but the prevention of threats was widely repressed and happily ignored. The welfare state, under the banner of protection, directed people to exchange individual freedom and self-responsibility for an illusion of security provided by the state.
We are now facing a health crisis, which is serious and has to be addressed, but it is not one of the greatest, world-wide humanitarian crises in modern history. Yet in Europe, it is perceived as precisely that. This shows just how comfortable we’ve been in the recent past, but it also blatantly discounts all the other crises: almost 10 years of war in Syria, the enduring conflicts in Afghanistan, the Ebola epidemic in West-African countries, the civil war in Rwanda, Burundi and Congo in the 1990s. However, the emergency measures we’ve seen in response to the threat that this virus poses – necessary as they may be deemed – constitute the largest restriction of fundamental rights in Western Europe since World War II, and in Central Europe since the end of the communist dictatorship. They might also result in a major recession. At the very least, this should serve as a reminder to us all to increase prevention measures in different sectors! Responsible politicians should prepare their countries against possible disasters, mainly by fostering and trusting the personal responsibility of their people. Decentralized preventive systems are necessary: engaging local and municipal responsibilities and relying on the positive outcomes of individual freedom.
CG: Could you elaborate more on your views regarding the governmental reaction to the epidemic? Do you see the damage being inflicted by the measures as a necessary evil and proportional to the threat posed by the disease?
PML: Certainly, measures to control or at least limit the spread of the virus are necessary. However, the opinions on how to achieve this differ in the various countries. To judge the different governmental reactions, for example that of the UK versus Sweden versus other European countries, is not appropriate and it is certainly premature. What can be seen so far, however, is that countries with more decentralized healthcare systems are better prepared to help people who are infected. The current epidemic has brought the inflexibility of oversized systems of many countries to light. Countries such as Italy, Spain and others with their centralized, rigid systems were not able to adapt and respond to the crisis quickly enough. The policy of many countries now is to slow down the spread of the virus in order to have enough treatment and hospital capacity for those who are infected. This should give them some breathing room, while we wait for the development of vaccines.
The lesson that countries with more flexible and more decentralized healthcare systems are faring better should cast serious doubts over the push to find common European solutions or to embrace the global leadership of the World Health Organisation (WHO). The European Union and the WHO can support the handling of the crisis by giving some guidance. However, decentralized and local actions and policy decisions might be more to the point to respond to the crisis adequately. They can be much quicker to adapt to changes and developments and better equipped to address the specific needs of their regions and communities. It is important that institutions such as the WHO are not allowed to assume decision-making powers or to exert undue influence that limits the responsibility of local and regional authorities and constrains their capacity to act.
Also, in other areas of civil protection, such as cybersecurity, emergency plans for the population and strategic stockpiles of medicine or food are insufficient in a number of countries.
CG: In your own view, is there a better way of reacting to this as a state, than what we’ve seen in most western democracies? Might there be alternative policy approaches that could protect the public without decimating the economy?
PML: At the moment, the protection and preservation of human lives is certainly a priority. But indeed, it is also a duty of political leadership to apply common sense when introducing preventive measures. It is a great responsibility to maintain economic viability, which is also essential to the wellbeing and finally the health of citizens. Excessively harsh measures will alienate and marginalize large parts of society, especially those in the weaker and older segments of the population. Mankind needs social contact. Some people may become very lonesome and lose their purpose in life. Sound political leadership should not only be guided by medical expertise on the virus itself, but also by the courage to find the right balance between the protection of public health and the functioning of society and the economy, as well as between state-imposed measures and citizens’ self-responsibility. A crisis must never be misused to extend state power. It is thus vital that governments will have the courage not to delay the return of the economy to its full capacity.
In China, the crisis was first ignored by the centralist system and then crushed by brutal, authoritarian measures. These measures will help the totalitarian state reinforce control over its citizens in the future. Our democratic countries must avoid the temptation to use the emergency measures taken today to control the citizens tomorrow, for example via tracking their movements and contacts through mobile phones. Although some lip service is paid to the contrary, we already hear suggestions from political leaders and NGO’s in that direction.
CG: How is Liechtenstein handling this crisis? What measures are in place and what are the plans to protect the principality against both the virus and the economic fallout?
PML: Liechtenstein has functioning open borders with Switzerland and will therefore widely align with the Swiss measures. A big asset is that, contrary to many other European countries, Liechtenstein has no debts. A prudent fiscal policy allowed the country and its municipalities in the past to build up financial reserves. In the current situation, this allows Liechtenstein to effectively and efficiently support businesses that are strongly impacted by the measures eroding their income, without simultaneously building up an enormous debt burden.
CG: We saw an unprecedented fiscal and monetary response to this crisis, with central banks turning their printing presses to the maximum and governments pledging trillions in stimulus and bailouts. Do you expect this so-called “bazooka” response to suffice in keeping the economic system standing?
PML: Although normally governmental bailout policies are dangerous, it is now essential to help businesses which have lost their capacity to produce or sell their goods and services. This necessitates and legitimizes liquidity injections. The problem now is that a large part of the world’s economy was already supported by cheap money over the past 10 years. Of course, cheap money can help fend off a crisis in the short-term, but it may never be seen as a long- term economic solution. The coronavirus has encountered a fragile global economy, weakened by too much government intervention and oversized public sectors. Now is the time to find a way back to more entrepreneurialism, individual freedom, personal responsibility, less public spending, more private savings and equity-building, as well as simplified tax regulations. That will be the most efficient long-term recipe to get out of any economic crisis.
Unfortunately, in the past, in most European countries overspending has led to significant public debts and aggressive tax policies have eroded the equity basis of businesses.
CG: Many investors have experienced “shock and awe” by the historic crash and volatility spike in the markets. What would be your advice for conservative investors and for ordinary savers who not only have to contend with the market rollercoaster but must also now live with even deeper negative rates and infinite easing policies?
PML: Due to the effect of money supply at “no” cost via zero to negative interest rates and quantitative easing, we face a real asset inflation. Bubbles developed in the equity, real estate, arts and other markets. A correction was long overdue, and this was not a soft landing but a harsh crash. Nevertheless, I still believe that equities of strong, solid companies remain a good investment. In fact, we should not be too impressed by the markets’ current volatility, as long as the basis of an investment is solid. Abundant money can even drive valuations again to excessive levels. However, this is not necessarily a sound development. Markets need to find prices that reflect the economic reality. An oversupply of money, as we have seen in the recent past, destroys savings and has the potential to erode trust in the currency. I am concerned that the current easy-money policies will go beyond the measures that are necessary to provide troubled businesses with short-term liquidity in order to make it through the crisis.
The Austrian School of Economics teaches the importance of the principle of “creative destruction”, according to which a crisis always has the potential to create innovation in business, society, the economy, etc. However, a crisis caused by an epidemic is not necessarily a creative destruction for businesses which are not viable anymore. It rather jeopardizes good businesses due to uncontrollable elements. Thus, a liquidity support is to be endorsed, however, if such support ends up in an illusion of a “healthy economy”, further delaying essential reforms, it has a detrimental long- term result. Again, what is needed after the corona-crisis is a hard turn towards entrepreneurship, free markets, less state intervention, and decentralization.
Currently, there is the belief that savers are punished again and debtors are rewarded. But in the mid- and long-term, everybody should watch out for building up some reserves to survive hard times to come. Such reserves can be a certain amount of cash or real estate properties with moderate mortgage loans, but also a good education and development of skills that will be demanded in the future. Gold also seems to be a solid hedge once again. Last but not least, especially in times of crisis, it is crucial that common sense and realism prevail over panic and fear.
CG: What are your expectations and projections for the next few months? Do you believe this crisis will cause structural changes and transformations in our economy and financial system or do you expect we will all go back to “business as usual” once the dust settles?
PML: There is the old adage: “Never let a good crisis go to waste”. The question now is, who will be using this crisis and to what end? A great concern that should be at the forefront of everybody’s mind is the misuse of power that goes along with the emergency situation. Bureaucratic principals and centralists may attempt to misuse and perpetuate the additional powers that the state is gaining from the current measures. This “opportunity” might also be grasped by supranational entities to increase their own influence excessively.
If we look back at the past 20 years, we see an obvious trend towards more centralization, regulation, bureaucracy and the limitation of individual freedom and self- responsibility, as well as the undermining of privacy and property rights. Weak national politics also allowed supranational institutions to influence and to limit national sovereignty. Judicial systems are increasingly becoming an instrument of the state, rather than an instrument of the citizens to protect themselves from arbitrary state decisions. These detrimental tendencies might be enhanced by the emergency measures.
On the bright side, a positive result might be that people become more aware of the necessity of individual and local responsibilities and of the necessity to plan ahead and to prepare for emergencies, instead of blindly and naively expecting solutions from the state. Another good development could be that the crisis may have positive effects on various businesses, in the services industries in particular. Certain procedures are now being reconsidered and realigned to become more productive, customer-friendly and cost-efficient. Also, the crisis may also incentivize regulators to streamline regulations in order to make them more market-oriented, slimmer, effective and less costly.
CG: On a global level, and especially in Europe, most of the private sector has already taken a severe hit, the media continues to spread panic, most people are locked in their houses and they increasingly see their basic rights curtailed through “emergency powers” and new government rules. There’s a lot of confusion, many are scared of the virus, and arguably even more are scared of losing their jobs and of financial ruin. What would be your advice to ordinary citizens during these difficult times?
PML: Try to live healthily. Although we have to behave carefully, it will be impossible to completely prevent infection, simply because it will be impossible to completely eliminate human contact. A healthy lifestyle and an optimistic mindset will certainly strengthen the immune system and that is the best hedge against the effect of the coronavirus, and many other diseases for that matter. On the flip-side, all fear and panic, not only lead to terrible decisions, but they also weaken the immune system. Therefore, my advice is to act prudently and responsibly. A healthy lifestyle and a clear mind are key in the current situation, together with common sense and realism in everybody’s economic and financial decisions.
Claudio Grass, Hünenberg See, Switzerland
Link to the interview: https://proaurum.ch/aktuellwichtig/crisis-must-never-misused-to-extend- state-power
In Liechtenstein, the Law on Token and TT Service Providers will soon enter into force. In FinTech circles, the law is already known as the Blockchain Act. In this newsletter you will learn more about this law and also what opportunities will arise from a digitalised economic system.
In an interview with Claudio Grass, H.S.H. Prince Michael von und zu Liechtenstein talks about the value of private property in today's world, what the tasks of a state are, what opportunities and risks are foreseeable, and what distinguishes the Principality of Liechtenstein. The interview was published in two parts on www.proaurum.de
The token economy is a catch-all term for the trade taking place in the digital domain and the management of information relating to the underlying fungible and non-fungible tokens. Currently, the blockchain forms the necessary digital trading system. The advantages of such a system are obvious: direct involvement, greater efficiency, less administrative effort, and low transaction costs. Especially for the trust business, the possibility of tokenization opens up new opportunities. Which ones? Read more on this subject in the article that has been exclusively published by Trusts & Trustees.
The Western World can look at a Golden Age. The decisive factors behind it were the concept of a free market economy and the awareness of the need for cooperation. But today's burning question is: how will the future look like? The voices of egalitarianism are becoming louder and are accompanied by an increasing entitlement mentality. We would like to share our thoughts on this with you in the current I&F-Newsletter. Therein, you will also discover the key factors that have enabled the Principality of Liechtenstein to become a successful business location.
The so-called Beneficial Ownership Register turns over a new page in the book of control and surveillance mechanisms. This essay sets out the trend towards an excessive transparency.
Prince Michael von und zu Liechtenstein in talks with Barbara Dietrich (www.diplomatic-world.com) about Liechtenstein and the world. The key question is: What makes Liechtenstein so successful?
In talk with the Automatic Exchange of Information (AEoI): the key issues seen from a different angle.
How can an overall sustainable social-wellbeing be achieved? What economic role does private wealth play? Why is the broad public led to believe that sizeable personal fortunes have to be regarded as something "dubious"? Explore answers to these and other questions in the following article titled: The tale of the big bad wolf.
"Last night the wife said: Oh Boy, when you're dead you don't take nothing with you but your soul, think!" This line, that John Lennon once sang, holds implications which many People grapple with: the awareness of one's own mortality. In this essay Count Francis von Seilern-Aspang explores the various opportunities that come along with a conscious wealth and succession planning.
Geopolitical developments have a decisive influence on private wealth, both in a positive and negative sense. Just like in a crime investigation, the "murder" is a given - of greater interest is how it happened in the first place. In a similar way, Geopolitics examines the events happening around the world. In her exclusive essay for www.finews.ch Princess Therese von und zu Liechtenstein illustrates the relationship of Geopolitics and Wealth Preservation and Management.
Is the Private Sphere still private? Marc Zahn analyses this question in an essay which he contributed to www.finews.ch
In the eyes of many, certain areas of Europe are virtually heaven on earth. But reality reveals a different picture. Thus time would be right, to reflect once more on values. An exclusive essay written by Count Francis von Seilern-Aspang for www.finews.ch
The world is back in a phase that increases the need for wealth protection, whereas the trust business faces three main challenges. Prince Michael von und zu Liechtenstein examines the future of Liechtenstein's trust Business.
In this Essay H.S.H. Prince Michael von und zu Liechtenstein illustrates the challenges for Wealth Protection in times of Big Data.
There's an old adage that says that true happiness lies within oneself. Transposed to the financial industry, this could be interpreted as meaning that happiness lies in the culture and values that prevails at those companies?
An interview on the future of Wealth Management in the context of Wealth Preservation.
An article on the importance of privacy, explaining why the attitude "I don't mind people knowing because I have nothing to hide." constitutes a great danger.
An article on the need for privacy in the context of Wealth Preservation.
This newsletter explains what Wealth Preservation is all about, especially in terms of younger generations. And you will learn about the variety Liechtenstein has to offer.
An article about a trustee's part in times of increasing transparency.
Facts and background information on the Automatic Exchange of Information (AEI).
An article about challenges for trustees in an unpredictable legal and planning environment.
This newsletter addresses the risks and jeopardies which are a bane to wealth, and illustrates what is needed to preserve wealth in the long-run.
An article about public debts and private asset protection.
An article about the Liechtenstein foundation in the context of family governance.
This newsletter gives you an insight into Family Governance.
An article looking at Liechtenstein family foundations and financial privacy.
On the 22nd of June 1948 members of the Princely House of Liechtenstein founded Industrie- und Finanzkontor, to restore family assets after the end of the Second World War and to manage them in a more targeted manner.
The long-term safeguarding of assets and wealth emerged as a general key issue.
75 years at the service of families and entrepreneurs.