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  5. Commercial On-line Registration Network (ACORN) positions Anguilla as a premier offshore jurisdiction

Government of Anguilla


Commercial On-line Registration Network (ACORN) positions Anguilla as a premier offshore jurisdiction

Background

In 1994, Companies House of the UK undertook a feasibility study on the opportunities for Anguilla enhancing its presence in the offshore financial services market. The feasibility study concluded that in order for Anguilla to make an impact in the market, some unique feature would be required. The proposal was to introduce an on-line company incorporation service, 24 hours per day, 365 days per year, as the feature that would set Anguilla apart from the other jurisdictions. Based on this recommendation, the British Government initiated a project to provide a computerised company incorporation service for Anguilla in 1995.

An Invitation to Tender was issued to a number of Caribbean companies in February 1996 and after a protracted procurement process, Fujitsu-ICL was selected as the prime contractor for the turnkey project to computerise Anguilla's Companies Registry. The contract between the Government of Anguilla and Fujitsu-ICL was signed in May 1996.

The Solution

The scope of the project widened during the procurement process to provide on-line services for all the functions that are provided by the Registry. Based on this extended requirement, Fujitsu-ICL proposed a Sun/Oracle/Solaris based solution for the database. Access to the Registry would be via the Internet and features would be introduced to provide security of operation. The web server is a Fujitsu-ICL TeamServer and the internal workstations are Dell. The operating system is Windows NT and a Checkpoint firewall has also been included. To meet the stringent availability and reliability targets set by the Government of Anguilla, the solution provided duplication of the servers thereby enabling reconfiguration of the servers in the event of a failure.

Online Agent Services

The use of the Registry system is not open to everyone. All users must be registered with the Director of Financial Services, the Regulator, before access can be given to the system. Therefore, a key requirement is to be able to control and indeed identify who is actually using the Registry services. The project has adopted VeriSign digital signatures as the primary identification methodology. This product also provides the ability to encrypt all transactions. Given that the documents lodged with the Registry can be called for as part of a court case, a methodology had to be identified to ensure that 'original documents' could be created and to ensure that they cannot be tampered with. Obviously, filling in fields in a form and entering those into the database does not create a 'document'.

Other functions include the ability for an Agent to change any details of a company for which that person is the Agent, to conduct on-line company searches, to ensure that the correct fees are charged and to provide a full audit trail for all financial transactions.

Given the uniqueness of the requirements and the necessity to seek solutions to specific problems in implementing this complex system, Fujitsu-ICL called on the services of their longtime partner, the Techlead Corporation, to develop the software.

The development started in earnest in September 1997 and by May 1998, the first reviews of the application were being conducted by Anguilla's Registrar of Companies. The software development was being undertaken at Techlead's premises in Pune, India and this provided all parties with a series of challenges in defining, understanding, checking and creating the application software. Following a successful Factory Acceptance Test in August 1998, the project transferred to Anguilla for final integration, testing and acceptance.

The Registry system went live on 16 November 1998. This act has at a stroke changed the face of how offshore financial services are conducted. With the assistance of Fujitsu-ICL and Techlead, the Government of Anguilla introduced the most technically and intellectually advanced Registry system in the world. It is one of the largest Internet applications as Agents have access to in excess of 300 data entry screens. It is fully interactive so that all transactions are acknowledged. There is nothing worse than a user being left to wonder if the transaction was successful. For example, on incorporating a company, the response from the Registry is to confirm the details within the application, to define the cost of the service, to attach the Certificate of Incorporation and the associated Articles of Incorporation. It now takes some 3 minutes to incorporate a company.

Another major advantage is the use of on-line services which greatly enhances the productivity of Agents. Up to now, all submissions had to be hand carried to the Registry and then manually checked, certificates produced and the Agent then had to return to the Registry to collect the Certificate of Incorporation. Depending upon the volume of business within the jurisdiction, this activity can be measured in days rather than minutes. It is also debatable whether any Registrar of Companies can be confident that all the company records, now held on paper, are complete. The use of the ACORN System ensures that all filings from initial incorporation, are recorded, are traceable and are complete. The validation routines used in checking submissions also highlights where errors in the company records exist, enhancing compliance with the legislation and, as a by product, ensuring that all revenues that are due to Government are actually collected.

Meeting the requirement logically broke down into two distinct areas. Firstly, there is the ability for Agents to submit their documents electronically from anywhere in the world and, secondly, for the Registry to be able to conduct its regular business i.e. checking documents and providing administrative and revenue collection services to the Government. In line with the way Governments' always do business, the modus operandi is to use a comprehensive and sophisticated filing system. In the Companies Registry, each company has it's own file supported by other files, as required. This collection of files provides a full, traceable, record of all submissions, queries, notes, etc for each company and all relevant persons involved in the management of the statutory requirements for companies.

Back Office Services

Anguilla embarked on what was initially considered to be a limited ability for submissions to be received electronically, especially as perceived from a 'back office' administrative perspective. The requirements for the 'paper trail' and the continuation of the manual records were considered to be functions that would not change as a result of providing the new electronic features. However, in analysing the requirements defined by Anguilla it was clear that there was the opportunity to provide an 'electronic' filing system for the Registry. As a result, the ACORN system now provides the ability to create and send e-mails and other correspondence, the ability to generate file notes and it incorporates a diary/bring-up service. It provides facilities to scan paper documents and for the information to be stored against the appropriate company file. It provides an ability to set privileges and access levels allowing only nominated staff members access to information or the ability to annotate/enter information thereby maintaining confidentiality and it also enables warnings or other 'heads up' notes to be actioned on receipt of specific types of transactions. The concept of a 'paperless office' has been taken one step further with the ACORN system and, as a by-product, the security and control of files has been significantly enhanced. After all, as long as frequent back-ups are taken, the electronic information can be recreated under all circumstances. That cannot be said for paper records.

Project Success

The implementation of the Registry project has been a significant achievement. Since going live in November, the system produced by Fujitsu-ICL and Techlead has proven its reliability and demonstrates, on a daily basis, that the original objectives and requirements set for the system are being achieved, in some cases, the requirements have been handsomely exceeded.

The response to the introduction of the system by the financial services community has been exceptional. Normally, a community of lawyers is, by definition, very conservative. However, the Registry system is starting to be embraced by a significant number of offshore Agents. This is boding well for the future of Anguilla as a premier offshore jurisdiction.

As a result of the Anguilla project, Fujitsu-ICL has been awarded a contract by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago to introduce a computerised Registry based on the Anguilla model. The system is now under active development and is expected to be introduced into service shortly.

Within Anguilla, the introduction of the ACORN system, feels as if the whole of the financial services market has been turned on its head. There is no doubt that the current users will, within a year, wonder how they ever managed to conduct their business before ACORN. From little acorns, mighty oak trees grow and, indeed, there is a huge potential market for Internet based Registry systems around the world. Fujitsu-ICL and Techlead, in partnership with the Government of Anguilla, are now poised to take advantage of the leap forward their hard work, diligence and technological expertise in satisfying the needs of the market.

For more information on Anguilla as an offshore financial center and ACORN, visit their web site at www.anguillaoffshore.com.

Achievments

Industries:

  • Government

Offering Groups:

  • Consulting
  • IT Infrastructure

Solution Areas:

  • Systems & Network Management

Regions:

  • Caribbean

Challenges:

  • Provide opportunities for Anguilla to enhance its presence in the offshore financial services market

Benefits:

  • Increased country revenue
  • Improved job opportunities
  • Faster company incorporation
  • Improved productivity of company agents