Mike Saville is a UK resident, specialising in asset recovery from offshore jurisdictions. After 22 years as a UK-based insolvency practitioner he gained experience of the offshore world, culminating in several years as a Cayman Islands-based practitioner, leading predominantly court-appointed liquidations and receiverships. These cases concerned investment funds that had been suspended and liquidated, following either fraud or poor investment decisions, and offshore global holding companies. In particular he has experience of cases involving the US, China and numerous island jurisdictions associated with “hiding” assets.
DESCRIBE YOUR CAREER TO DATE.
Following a law degree I qualified as a chartered accountant in 1985 while working at an independent accountancy firm in Leeds. Initially my work involved accounts preparation and audit, but as my experience grew, more ad hoc commercial projects were added to the mix. Following qualification as an accountant I joined the then leading regional insolvency team at Grant Thornton in Bradford, ultimately becoming a partner in Leeds. As was typical of the time, my insolvency advice comprised of a mix of distressed advisory and formal appointments, both corporate and individuals, liquidation to bankruptcy. Initially, the demise of the Yorkshire woollen textile industry occupied much of my energy but over time my experience extended to many industry sectors.
By 2008 the UK insolvency market had changed dramatically and I started to look for new ways to apply the extensive skills gained in the preceding 20 plus years. With a growing understanding of cross-border challenges I decided to move to the Cayman Islands, excellent timing given the havoc caused to many investment structures as a consequence of the 2008 financial meltdown. In my time in Cayman, I was able to gain extensive experience of global recognition applications, as well as pursuing assets and claims around the world and in particular in other offshore jurisdictions.
I returned to Grant Thornton in the UK in late 2017 and continue to focus on offshore asset recovery, in particular, assisting with the development of our insolvency presence in the Isle of Man.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT BEING AN ASSET TRACING SPECIALIST THAT YOU MOST ENJOY?
Every day is different. New and interesting challenges on both old cases and new. It’s intellectually challenging and there are lots of opportunities to travel!
WHAT ARE THE MAIN CHALLENGES OF RUNNING TRANSNATIONAL ASSET RECOVERY INVESTIGATIONS?
There are immense complexities – different global legislation, opponents who can often afford the best professional advisers, but the real issues are often the simple ones. For example, communicating a strategy effectively, in terms every member can understand, across different languages and jurisdictions, can become a challenge. Also, ensuring motivation of team members is sufficiently high – such that they can arrange and effectively participate in phone calls involving several jurisdictions over widely dispersed time zones for days on end. Get the simple things right and the benefits follow.
WHAT IMPACT WILL THE COMMON REPORTING STANDARD HAVE ON ASSET RECOVERY?
I would say superficially none. Parties wishing to hide assets will still seek to do so. What is likely to change is where they hide those assets. The ability of onshore tax authorities to access information about assets held offshore by using tax information exchange agreements will be a concern for those who have something to hide. Inevitably, this is likely to reduce the attractiveness of well-regulated and compliant offshore jurisdictions whilst driving those wishing to hide assets from tax authorities and potentially others, to the less compliant, less regulated havens less commonly used.
WHAT TECHNOLOGIES IS GRANT THORNTON EMPLOYING TO ENHANCE ITS ASSET RECOVERY PRACTICE?
Our asset recovery team draws on a wide range of advanced technology – and crucially, technical expertise – to assist in its work. We use a range of technologies supporting traditional digital forensics examination of laptops, computers, servers and mobile devices to identify relevant behaviours and activities on assets, through the use of data analytics and artificial intelligence.
Increasingly, asset recovery is focused on online data sources, including the identification of assets in jurisdictions responsive to asset recovery orders, and our teams use complex online data analytics and behavioural/relationship mapping tools to identify attractive targets for asset recovery and the social circle related to our investigations.
Our teams are also focused on forensics of non-fiat currencies, such as cryptocurrencies, innovating on expert work to de-anonymise bitcoin transactions and identifying forensic evidence of asset dissipation, leading to strong opportunities for recoveries.
WHERE, IN YOUR OPINION, DOES THE FUTURE OF THE PRACTICE AREA LIE?
You need to know the markets you want to participate in and have the capacity to enable that participation. Global asset recovery requires appropriate resource; a fast response from a team with know-how, experience and the financial solutions to enable asset recovery. Of particular importance is the ability to use the right type of funding to enable global asset recovery and legal claims. Without it many good claims cannot proceed with a resultant loss to stakeholders.
LOOKING BACK OVER YOUR CAREER, WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR PROUDEST ACHIEVEMENT?
To be recognised as a leading professional adviser in all the different geographic locations and professional communities that I have been resident in – while having the benefit and privilege of working with excellent colleagues, both within my immediate team and across the globe.
WHAT IS THE BEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s a strength, not a weakness.