Marlon has been in the Barbados Stock Exchange for over 16 years, coming into the role as General Manager before becoming CEO General Manager and being elected to the board in 2016. “To all extents and purposes,” he says, “I’ve been CEO throughout.” The Barbados economy has had a “difficult twelve years” and the island has recently changed government. “They have embarked on an IMF austerity package, where you get money from the IMF but there’s certain things you have to do,” he explains. The new government inherited a debt-GDP ratio of 175% and has a target of reducing it to 60% by 2032. “They’re trying to lower the fiscal deficit by reducing expenditure, but this has a ripple effect through the economy. So they’re trying to develop a growth strategy- and that’s the challenge.” It’s a challenge that Marlon is well up to facing.
In his time with the Barbados Stock Exchange, Marlon has overseen significant operational improvements. An accountant by profession and fellow of the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada, he has also studied law, encouraged by the Legal Counsel for the Stock Exchange, Sir Henry Ford. While working for the Stock Exchange he was awarded an LL.B from the University of Huddersfield in the U.K. and an LL.M in Securities Law from the Osgoode Hall Law School at York University in Canada. Before joining the Stock Exchange, he had years of experience in finance and he jokes his CV looks more like a scroll.
“Barbados is a small developing economy with a relatively small Exchange. Over the years we’ve lost listings because of consolidations in the marketplace. Barbados is an attractive jurisdiction for investors – we’ve found that a few of our listed companies, over the years, have been taken over by other regional conglomerates. We need to find ways to bring more listings to the Exchange.” Marlon, therefore, devised a two-pronged strategy, playing on his team’s strengths to show Barbados is open for business.
“Our first strategy looks outside Barbados,” he says. “We launched an International Securities Market (or “ISM” for short), where companies from around the world can list on our exchange as Barbados for the most part is very attractive to financial investors.” What’s more, at the end of 2018 the Government of Barbados took significant steps to remove any stigma of an “offshore” reputation by harmonising the island’s corporate tax rates between local and international businesses. These companies that are domiciled on the island will now pay – depending on the level of international business they conduct – between a minimum of 1%, and a maximum 5.50%. The timing of this harmonization was fortuitous for the Exchange, neatly supporting their goal of supporting global businesses, whether regional or beyond. “We developed the ISM to list securities in hard currency, for example pounds, sterling, dollars, Canadian dollars” noted Marlon in acknowledging the focus of the ISM market.
On the domestic front, the Barbados Stock Exchange recently rebranded its Junior Market – it is now known throughout the island as the Innovation and Growth Market (or “IGM” for short). “We chose that name because junior has negative connotations,” he laughs, “while they might be small to medium-sized companies, they are nonetheless both innovative and ripe for growth.”
Marlon has been on a promotional tour to promote the International Securities Market and Barbados generally. One topic in particular would be raised with some frequency, especially as part of his frequent sojourns to Canada: what is Barbados’ regulatory position on the burgeoning phenomena of Initial Coin Offerings or ICOs. He realized quickly that there was a need to investigate this development. “It forced us to both look at and try to understand the space. Initially we did not think this was something we should get into, mainly because it involved currency and not financial instruments. It’s not our core business – we list and trade securities.” His investigations however found that a derivative of ICO’s (known as security token offerings or STOs) were “akin to securities in traditional markets – you had an asset (company, art, property) you tokenised it, brought it into small pieces and issued security tokens, which are one and the same as securities just using blockchain technology. Originally when shares were issued you had to issue individual share certificates; now we’re using blockchain, where each share is again identifiable on the block chain with a specific numbering – we’re back to where we were at the beginning but in a different form. In Barbados there’s no specific legislation for digital assets so we took it upon ourselves to develop a body of rules for them.”
Marlon continues to traverse the world to promote Barbados and the BSE’s developments. When we spoke, he was soon to visit London and advised us that in 2019 the Barbados Stock Exchange was officially designated as a ‘recognised stock exchange’ by HMRC. After London he is due to visit the African nation of Ghana and is also looking to make inaugural headway in Asia as Barbados and China have a double taxation agreement between them. “We want to be a global exchange and have Barbados as a centre for business and financial services. Our fees are competitive compared to competing jurisdictions.” In addition, while he is quite pleased with the headway the BSE is making internationally, Marlon is most proud of the local talent he supports. “There’s nothing unique about my academic and professional qualifications. I’m one of many. I might think I’m special but there are lots of us! Barbados is a jurisdiction; they call us ‘Little England.’ Everything here works. We have two direct, weekly flights to Gatwick in the winter season. We also have easy direct travel between London, Toronto, New York and Miami. Things work here in Barbados. We have the rule of law; we have a common law jurisdiction that is very much modeled on the English common law system; we’re a Commonwealth country, and the queen is our head of state. Companies function- telecommunications work well; we have high speed internet – this is why Barbados is known for its international business and financial services sector – simply put: things work in Barbados.” Marlon Yarde and his team certainly do. Investors should sit up and take note.