How to choose the right offshore service provider?

The specialized providers

The specialized providers are narrowly focused on the offshore services available from one particular jurisdiction. As a rule, such providers are physically located in that jurisdiction, are licensed by the local regulatory authority as Registered Agents or International Corporate Service Providers, and, therefore, tend to be experts in everything their particular jurisdiction can offer. The specialized provider (Registered Agent) is usually the one who actually prepares the incorporation documents, goes to the Registry of Companies, submits and receives the paperwork and does all the "grunt" work associated with offshore company formations. Proficient in their field, fast and cost-effective, the specialized providers are the "source" of the offshore incorporation services.

Downside? The source providers would be naturally biased towards their "own" jurisdiction. So there is really no sense asking them to compare the benefits of different jurisdictions, as theirs' would always come out on top anyway. They may also be unable or unwilling to structure complex, multi-jurisdictional arrangements as may be necessary for some more complicated business models. But for a client who has done his homework and knows exactly which jurisdiction and what sort of company and services he needs, dealing with a genuine Registered Agent is absolutely the best bet.

The local, specialized offshore service providers are also not all too similar. Here, the distinctions are like in any other business.

The older, more mature Registered Agent firms would tend to be slower, less flexible, conservative and more cumbersome to deal with, as the institutionalization has settled in. Of course, they would be more expensive. On the upside, the "old players" would usually have a solid internal framework, experienced senior staff (if You can reach them), and the implied assurance of being around forever.

The new players in the market would quite certainly be quicker (sometimes also quick to overpromise), and generally easier to deal with. What they may lack in experience and sheer market presence, is often compensated by better customer support, flexibility and, of course, friendlier pricing.

All that aside, it is certainly true that all providers in one jurisdiction sell totally the same product. Apart from purely cosmetic variations between two standard packages of documents of, say, a BVI Business Company, there is no other difference, legal or otherwise - regardless whether the package has been provided by a startup Registered Agent or a half-a-century old law firm. From this perspective, it would seem appealing just to look for the lowest possible price. Largely true - but with a word of caution. As in all markets, there will always be an undercutter, desperate for a quick boost. Sometimes, it just does not work out. When rock-bottom fees prove unable to support decent record-keeping and database facilities, adequate internal security and confidentiality controls and dependable staff competence, dealing with an offshore provider may turn into a nightmare – certainly not worth the initial saving of a few hundred dollars.

As so often, the best bet is somewhere in the middle, in between the rip-off for the "brand name" and the bargain basement of price wars. In any established offshore financial centre there will be a fair number of reliable and experienced Registered Agents, who take their work seriously and professionally. At Fidelity Corporate Services Ltd, we would like to think of ourselves as belonging to exactly this group.