Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The sun never sets on tax havens; Panama Papers and leaktivism's coming of age; A Yolo credit card for the millennials

1 Sun never sets on tax havens (San Francisco Chronicle) There's one part of the British Empire on which the sun still does not set: its tax havens. Britain's former world dominance has left it with a string of tiny territories scattered around the globe, and many of them have become hubs for hiding money. Despite growing political pressure, shutting down these and other tax havens may be easier said than done.

The leak of 11.5 million documents from a Panamanian law firm that specializes in discreet financial services for the wealthy has brought renewed calls for a global clampdown on shadowy financial activity. Many feel Britain bears an especially large duty to act. More than half the 200,000 companies set up for clients by Panamanian firm Mossack Fonseca in the leaked files are registered in the British Virgin Islands, a British overseas territory in the Caribbean.

As Britain's colonies gained independence after World War II, London encouraged several small Caribbean islands to become tax havens as a means to self-sufficiency. As a result, many of the world's tax havens have British links, including overseas territories such as the British Virgin Islands, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands.

Since 2008, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Group of 20 nations have persuaded more than 90 countries to share financial data in a bid to crack down on secret dealings. Fiona Fernie, head of tax investigations at the law firm Pinsent Masons, said the resolve among governments was having a real effect.

Justin Urquhart Stewart of Seven Investment Management said controversy over the huge leak could have the same effect on nations like Panama that have benefited from attracting offshore money. "Panama will be embarrassed into taking action to try to make sure this does not happen again," he said. "But be wary — once you've shut down one tax haven, lo and behold, you'll find there'll be another one along soon."

2 Panama Papers: Leaktivism comes of age (Micah White in The Guardian) From an activist perspective, the importance of the Panama Papers goes far beyond confirming what the 99% already suspected. Yes, this gigantic leak provides more irrefutable evidence than ever that many among the global political elite – the 1% – probably deserve to be in jail (while paying their overdue taxes), not governing our world.

But that is not surprising news to many people. The real significance of the Panama Papers is what the massive leak means for the possibility of social change. The Panama Papers represents the coming-of-age of leaktivism. This is the activist theory, most famously promoted by WikiLeaks, that leaking truthful information is an effective form of social protest.

Of course, this isn’t a new idea – “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32) – but with the rise of global whistleblower activists like Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, leaking has become an increasingly celebrated tactic of contemporary activism.

But will the Panama Papers actually result in positive social change? Haven’t we seen massive information dumps from WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden come and go without shifting the status quo? And haven’t we watched the rich and powerful stay where they are after protesters in 82 countries occupied financial districts in 2011 with the demand “get money out of politics”? Yes, yes and yes.
The proper lesson to draw from these past failures isn’t that we should give up, or stop protesting, but instead that the people must break the script of activism and protest differently this time. Here’s what that could look like.

The fundamental problem that the Panama Papers brings to light is a question of global governance: the wrong people are in power. The only way the 99% is going to solve that deeper problem is if a social movement arises that is willing to use protest to swing elections in multiple countries in order to take power and govern the world. The release of the Panama Papers will be a success if it brings us even just one step closer to realizing that higher goal.

3 A Yolo credit card for the millennials (Ann Williams in Straits Times) YOLO (for "You only live once") is the name of UOB's latest credit card offering for a segment of the population it sees dominating consumer spending in the near future - millennials. The bank said its millennial customers - meaning those aged 26-35 - outspent those older on food and travel by 13 per cent last year.

Ms Jacquelyn Tan, UOB's managing director and regional head of cards and payments, reckons that that within the next decade, millennials' spending habits "will form the backbone of the future economy as they will become the largest segment of the local workforce." Hence the UOB YOLO card.

It will give its holders priority access to bars and clubs, access to dining deals and rebates on travel websites. UOB YOLO customers can also be among the first in Asia Pacific to make contactless payments with tokenised security. All they have to do is tap their Android smartphones at more than 10,000 compatible terminals in Singapore through the Bank's mobile app UOB Mighty.

The card also features Southeast Asia's first 'quick read' card face. Instead of the 16-digit card number laid out in a horizontal line, the card numbers are laid out in a 4-by-4 stack on the top right hand corner of the card, making it easier for customers to read when conducting online transactions.
UOB said millennial spending currently accounts for 20 per cent of its total card spend and one in three millennials in Singapore currently bank with it.

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