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Last Updated: Friday, 17 September, 2004, 18:03 GMT 19:03 UK
Ivan pushes haven further offshore
By Jeremy Scott-Joynt
BBC News Online business reporter

A boat hurled by Hurricane Ivan into a house on Grand Cayman
Homes suffered worse than offices in the Caymans
When Hurricane Ivan hit the Caymans, the corporate registry and financial watchdog went out of action just like the rest of the islands.

Not until Monday 20 September will they be back in business, the islands' government says.

But work at the world's fifth biggest financial centre, top bankers and lawyers say, has continued unabated.

It has simply - and temporarily - moved elsewhere until the islands' power and communications return.

"We were closing transactions on Monday, the next business day after the hurricane hit," said Tony Travers, managing partner at the Caymans' biggest law firm Maples and Calder.

"The clients have been very, very sympathetic, telling us not to worry about deals in progress. And then we've been able to tell them we're ready to go ahead."

We've got quite a few companies incorporated on the shelf, so we didn't have a problem in keeping the transactions going
Ann Nealon, Walkers
Like other firms, Maples and Calder were able to get some key staff out, thanks to a disaster recovery plan which - in the main - worked.

"We had a 24 hour delay getting the (Boeing) 727 in, but other than that the plan did what it was supposed to," Mr Travers told BBC News Online.

He remained in the Caymans while the hurricane hit, experiencing first hand the effect of the storms, before flying to London to bolster the team there handling ongoing business.

Overseas

But how, with phones and data connections out and power down, could they keep things going?

The reason: in the modern world of financial services, offshore really does mean offshore.

Data is backed up in more than one place. Most of the business is electronic. So picking up and moving somewhere else - while complex and expensive - is far from impossible.

"Because we've got overseas presences, our people could set up and start work right away," said Ann Nealon, partner at Caymans law firm Walkers.

On paper

The tools of their trade are equally mobile.

A plane overturned by Hurricane Ivan
Many firms flew staff out before the hurricane hit
The Caymans - whose population is about 45,000 - hosts almost 400 banks, and most of them have no physical presence to speak of.

It also has far more companies than it has people - most of which are used in complex transactions set up by the islands' thousands of bankers and lawyers.

As such, they exist as little more than paper constructs, registered by the hundred at legal offices and company management firms and ready to be rolled out for tax management schemes and big corporate deals.

Normally, of course, that means that the company registry is a rather important place.

But as Ms Nealon pointed out, even that could not halt operations.

"We've got quite a few companies incorporated on the shelf, so we didn't have a problem in keeping the transactions going," she said.

"If the registry's not up and running by the end of next week, that could be a problem."

Backed up

That, according to Barclays Private Banking, is unlikely.

Destruction in Georgetown, Grand Cayman
Offices around the globe helped business keep going
Barclays spokesman Andrew McDougall told BBC News Online that official records were "more or less intact", and that government offices looked likely to open as scheduled on Monday 20 September.

Meanwhile, the bank's own clients are being redirected to its office in Jersey - the main reserve repository for its data and papers.

"Banks like Barclays have so many backups, and so much business is done electronically, that the disruption was minimal," he said.

Homeless

That still leaves the human angle.

Most modern offices survived Hurricane Ivan intact, Mr Travers said.

But private dwellings were another story.

Ann Nealon is now based in London but still has a house in the Caymans.

Or at least she had - till Sunday.

Many more people for whom the Caymans is still their place of residence have likewise lost everything.

"Some of our staff literally have just the clothes they're stood up in," she told BBC News Online.

They will start heading home to rebuild their lives in the next few days.


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