Personalised Brazilian banking

Tax consultancy firm Intercorp is singling itself out in Brazil’s booming economy by relying on the experience and advice of professional consultants

As Brazil strengthens its position on the international stage, the country is attracting significant amounts of investment thanks to a mixture of several economic factors. It’s been largely protected from the more serious effects of the 2008 crisis thanks to unwavering government legislation and, consequently, investors still have an appetite for the region. “People are looking to Latin American more and more, and as Brazil is the largest country in the region with a stable economy, there is plenty of opportunity,” says Intercorp CEO Leonardo Braune.

Brazil’s central bank used to have tough rules on going against speculative investment, but different measures and exchange rates are providing incentives to send in capital. “Investors are more protected as the country is able to take care of the demand,” says Braune. “Our regulation tax costs used to be very high, but now, when someone has the intent to set up business, to diversify risk or expand in our region, there is a lot of positive atmosphere. “Global investors are looking into the next Olympic Games and the World Cup, so the government has a big challenge ahead – can it create a substantial policy over the next few years?”

Braune runs a company still very much in its infancy in terms of its presence in the market, but its inception comes from an old project – ideas that took shape over 20 years ago. Intercorp is devised from a hefty fiduciary structure, which the CEO insists takes away the potentially cold aspects of doing business. His clients know that anyone he brings to the table will be someone he’s worked with before.

“I always wanted to set this business up,” he says. “There is a decade’s worth of skill in the company as relationships go back over 10 years, and the experience of my team, even further. There are also strong international links with associates in a huge number of the most prominent financial centres, including London and New York, and this makes us a truly global presence. As a strong community, we are able to provide the very clearest advice and our clients can take advantage of our position in the sector. Demand and request for our services is not getting any smaller; in fact, it’s quite the opposite.”

Inherent risk aversion
That international network of specialists is the lifeblood of the company, and the vast spectrum of knowledge they bring to the job enables the team to provide the very best advice for wealth and asset protection. Braune maintains it’s not only local tax legislation providing assurance to the clients, it’s more a total global understanding. “To be able to provide a proper level of service, you must balance technical expertise and knowledge with the feelings and expectations of the clients, and this kind of business skill is not something that can simply be read in a textbook,” he says. “After 20 years in the business, the thinking process becomes part of you, and you become trained to identify risk. I believe that’s why we are so successful because our mindset is so much more than the business itself – we encompass everything from past experience to our feelings from the very first meeting with a new client, and this is how I train my team.”

The capabilities Intercorp can deliver to its clients are impressive. “What we confer is the feeling and the sense that clients have the ability to bring their thoughts to the table,” says Braune. “Our clients trust us and feel comfortable, and this personal relationship makes us all the more successful in the way we do business. We offer trust in inauspicious times.”
Braune believes the full understanding of a client’s needs and expectations allows the company to truly execute its fiduciary structuring services. Intercorp breaks down the ownership structure of asset management and tax succession as simply as possible for its clients and takes on as much responsibility as possible for the process in order to efficiently manage large projects that can take upwards of a year to initiate and produce.

“Our work is a live process that needs constant monitoring,” says Braune. “A client might have 10 properties dotted around the world that need protection through a trust fund. Despite the need for active procedure, we need to recognise the client can’t compromise the time that needs to be devoted to things like a full-time job or family, so we must plan a structure that allows us to take the current tax and succession rates into account, yet work around the obstacles. It’s a complicated process, and we take a great amount of pride in our success rates.”

Confidence in policy
Intercorp works to the idea that its consultants are responsible for ‘playing the role of the client’, which is simply removing the need for a client to have a presence in much of the legwork undertaken by the firm. “They don’t need to come and participate unless they really want to, because we become the specialist in terms of what he or she wants,” says Braune. “Cutting out the middle man requires the upmost confidence in us but we aim to secure it from the very first meet. It makes the relationship much more effective, so the client doesn’t have to be privy to anything they don’t understand. We simplify the conversations when we report back to them, so it makes working together much more productive for both parties.”

Braune believes it’s the confidence in company policy that gives his company the edge in both regional and international markets. Clients don’t pay for advisors’ travel expenses, despite advisors travelling frequently to tight schedules, and the CEO says asking them to do so would go against their corporate philosophy. “We are a global company and I present it as such,” he says. “I need to be present to accommodate clients across the world, and establishing this thinking year after year makes a real difference. This policy has been adjusted from an old banking one: no matter how far technology takes us, there is nothing like a person-to-person meeting. It adds value to our integrity as a company, as we don’t accommodate one client over another, and we can focus simply on what needs to be done.”

Brazil has become a target for investors for several reasons, and Intercorp is willing and able to take advantage of the varying trends in the country, but remains cautious of the recent increase in the tax costs of speculative investments, which might reduce influx. In 2011, Brazil’s central bank cut its benchmark interest rate by half a percentage point to 12 percent, because the high rates had previously hurt the country’s real currency, but Braune believes the government must meet the challenges to keep the tax hikes cost effective. “It’s an ongoing challenge and was a tough call to make,” says Braune, “as the real has now weakened against the dollar. Both sides must know find ways to keep capital moving – if the economy were to become purely speculative, it would be disastrous.”

Positive market feeling
Constant networking is a huge antidote to losing focus or direction in the company, and Intercorp maintains strong national and international links with patrons, clients and competitors. Braune recently hosted a sponsors’ lunch in Geneva, which focused on ways in which companies are dealing with an increasingly transparent world, and how people are adjusting to closely interconnecting business links. “There were around 150 people from a variety of countries participating, all with different aspects and views, which really allowed for a great discussion on what preventative measures countries have undertaken,” he says. “These events are important because friendships are forged and business relationships have the opportunity to grow, bringing more people into the business process.”

Having secured itself in the Brazilian market, Intercorp is looking to expand over the coming years. There is already a representative office in Miami, but there are plans in the pipeline to spread out even further. “We recently set up our US corporation, which will be an effective tax consultancy firm and the Miami offices will eventually become a full-time presence on the Atlantic coast,” says Braune. “We will also hopefully have our London office open by the middle of 2013. These expansions are a natural consequence of what we do as a firm. We are going to rely on the consequence of our successes and continue to establish our global presence as a company. For us, it’s all about expansion.”

Looking ahead to the rest of the year, and into 2013, Braune’s predictions for the Brazilian markets are positive. He believes more and more global demands are being made and the challenge that lies ahead is maintaining a high level of quality in his business. “We have to weigh up with what we can deal with, keeping clients satisfied under time restraints, but also generating other projects as well,” he says. “Intercorp will remain steady, mirroring Brazil’s economy, and keep constantly on the climb.”