EDITORIAL – Conor O’Dea: A coup for Cayman Finance

A standard disclaimer in investment literature warns that “past performance is not indicative of future results.” But in the case of Conor O’Dea, the financial services veteran recently selected as chairman of Cayman Finance, a waiver of that warning would be perfectly appropriate.

Mr. O’Dea’s sterling professional track record, decades in the making, gives us confidence in his ability to lead Cayman Finance, along with CEO Jude Scott, to new altitudes of success.

The new Cayman Finance chairman has served in numerous positions for the government and local business organizations, including the presidency of the Cayman Islands Bankers’ Association. But, of course, Mr. O’Dea forged his reputation (which now precedes him) primarily during his long and distinguished tenure at Butterfield Bank (Cayman).

Mr. O’Dea shepherded Butterfield Bank through a period of great growth and oversaw the construction of the bank’s signature downtown George Town headquarters.

In 2016, Mr. O’Dea retired as President & Chief Operating Officer and Managing Director of Butterfield Bank (Cayman). His plan was to spend more time with his dear wife Fiona, enjoying Cayman as well as traveling the world while continuing to serve in a non-executive role on Butterfield’s local and global boards. Now, country and duty call, and we are putting Mr. O’Dea back to work.

Those of us who know Mr. O’Dea can attest he is a consummate professional – as comfortable at a microphone before multitudes as he is in a boardroom with major investors and clients. He possesses an uncommon amalgam of diplomacy, financial acumen, toughness and, not to be discounted, indigenous Irish charm and wit.

Mr. O’Dea’s cache of talents will complement the experience and strengths of Cayman Finance CEO Jude Scott, former partner at Ernst & Young, global CEO of Maples and Calder, and, civically, chairman of the board of Cayman Airways. The two will make a formidable team during this particularly difficult time – as offshore centers continue to draw fire from revenue-hungry politicians, globalist regulators and “tax fairness” zealots.

During this protracted struggle, it is best to leave the sunny public relations campaigns to the Department of Tourism and Chamber of Commerce (of which Mr. O’Dea happens to be a former president). Cayman Finance must be prepared to be assertive, even aggressive, on behalf of Cayman’s financial services industry.

With new leadership and the start of the new year, it is particularly opportune for Cayman Finance to revisit and rededicate itself to its core principles and mission, namely, to represent, both locally and globally, the interests of Cayman’s financial services sector.

One recent development that might be re-examined by Mr. O’Dea’s board is its dependence on government funding – an increase to $750,000 per year in the new budget. (Frankly, this is a pittance compared to the tens of millions allocated to the tourism industry.)

When announcing the cash commitment last November, Minister of Financial Services Tara Rivers called it a way to counter negative campaigns and promote business development in the jurisdiction.

Perhaps. However, we do have a concern.

We believe that Cayman Finance must decide whether it is a “collaborator” with government (a good thing) or a “partner” with government (not a good thing).

With government money comes government influence and the appearance of “dependence,” rather than independence. There will certainly come a time when the interests of politicians, meaning government, divert from the interests of Cayman’s financial industry. Cayman Finance, when that occurs, will have to craft its public and private positions at the behest of two masters – the public sector and the private sector.

A sounder relationship, we believe, would be for Cayman Finance to be entirely self-funding, largely from corporate and membership dues and fees. Certainly, with the scope and resources of the financial industry, Cayman Finance could readily raise $1 million or more from our financial firms, provided, of course, they have confidence in the organization charged with representing their interests.

But that is a discussion for another time. For now, we would simply like to add our voice to the chorus of congratulations to Mr. O’Dea – and to Cayman Finance for making such a wise and august appointment.

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