Natacha Onawelho-Loren, head of legal for Investec Trust, says life is never dull in an industry that is under the political spotlight. By Joanne Harris
Only a few months into her role as head of legal for Investec Trust, Geneva-based Natacha Ona-welho-Loren is already getting her teeth into some of the critical issues affecting the company.
Onawelho-Loren was Investec Trust’s Geneva legal officer for more than three years before being appointed to fill the vacant position of head of legal in June. She now has overall responsibility for the company’s legal department, which includes legal officers in Geneva and Mauritius.
A recruitment effort is underway to bring on board an in-house lawyer for Investec Trust’s Jersey office to cover all the company’s jurisdictions.
As well as the three lawyers in the legal department, many of the company’s trust managers are also legally-qualified.
“The legal team is here to act as a point of contact between managers and external advisers,” says Ona-welho-Loren. “It’s quite important that managers, when they’re not sure of something, have someone they can go to.”
She highlights the “highly litigious” environment in which Investec Trust works nowadays as a particular reason for making sure this contact between managers and lawyers is easy.
Onawelho-Loren does not have responsibility for employment issues at Investec Trust, but does take control of other day-to-day legal matters such as commercial contracts. She turns to external advisers when she needs to, although there is no formal panel in place.
Among the City firms that Onawelho-Loren instructs are Baker & McKenzie, Farrer & Co, McGrigors, Taylor Wessing and Withers, but she is keen to note that this list is by no means exhaustive.
“I look for the level of knowledge,” she says of her choice of counsel. “They have to be at the forefront of what they do and also their knowledge has to be applied practically. For me, if they’re personable – nice to deal with – that’s a bonus.”
Investec Trust’s legal team aims to operate on an integrated basis despite being separated geographically. This means sharing knowledge between the jurisdictions and within the business.
“We’re in an industry that is becoming more and more regulated,” Onawelho-Loren explains. “Because we take care of international families we have to stay abreast of developments. Where we try to add value is in sharing knowledge.”
Although Investec Trust is an independent business it is also a subsidiary of Investec Private Bank, itself a subsidiary of Investec’s publicly listed parent company.
“It’s open architecture, and we try to use the best intermediaries we can,” says Onawelho-Loren. “Our bank really understands that.”
This means Onawelho-Loren and her team can liaise with the bank on key issues such as the July 2013 implementation of the US’s Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (Fatca). The implementation is a key project for Investec Trust at the moment, as it seeks to bring its systems and processes up to date to address the legislation.
Fatca is designed to try to prevent US citizens evading tax. Among its key provisions is a withholding regime that will impose a 30 per cent tax on foreign entities that refuse to disclose the identity of US citizens with offshore accounts.
Onawelho-Loren says it remains unclear precisely how Fatca will impact on Investec Trust, but she is certain the company will be affected by the legislation. Accordingly she is leading a Fatca implementation project involving lawyers from each jurisdiction and others within the business.
She explains that Investec Trust has already agreed it will disclose information to US authorities, but says the question remains how best to do this.
“This is a compliance rather than a legal issue,” she explains. “Our systems will have to be able to search the information.”
This entails making sure that IT systems are up to date, while ensuring that Investec Trust is complying with confidentiality rules. So far the project has been carried out entirely in-house, but Onawelho-Loren thinks Investec Trust is likely to seek external advice next year, as the implementation date looms.
She is also involved with Investec Trust’s business development, notably with regard to Russia. Onawelho-Loren’s mother is Russian and until recently she was the company’s only Russian speaker. Now, in an effort to build up the Russian client base, Onawelho-Loren is presenting to law firms to boost Investec Trust’s profile. “With Russian clients, trust is important,” she notes.
Onawelho-Loren says she has enjoyed getting to grips with the challenges of her new role, particularly the constantly changing environment the company operates in.
“It’s interesting, but you need to have nerves of steel,” she says. “What you might take for granted in the morning isn’t going to be true in the evening.”
Name: Natacha Onawelho-Loren
Company: Investec Trust
Industry: Financial services
Position: Head of legal
Reporting to: Chief executive Xavier Isaacs
Main external law firms:Baker & McKenzie, Farrer & Co, McGrigors, Taylor Wessing and Withers