By Geneva Group International (GGI) global CEO Michael Reiss von Filski
When the movie Goldfinger settled the global popularity of James Bond in 1964, the world was divided between East and West, each of the sides casting the other as the evil villain. An Iron Curtain made sure everyone stayed in his place. Britain was an empire and James Bond’s famous Aston Martin DB5 even had a concealed telephone in one of the doors, although it was never actually used in the film. As a child, I played with a toy DB5 which was able to eject a miniature plastic figurine from its ejector seat. I admired James Bond and read all the books by Ian Fleming. The fact that Bond’s mother was Swiss felt like a personal connection, being Swiss myself. Bond travelled all over the world and was one of the “good” guys. At this time, travelling was for the elite only. In 1984, when I was ten years old, in my class in school in Switzerland, there were only two pupils who had already travelled by plane: a friend of mine whose father was a Swissair pilot and myself, since part of my family lived in Spain. Goldfinger was still a highlight then and, once or twice a year, I could watch the movie on one of the six TV channels available in Switzerland.
Globalization made the world smaller, and not just for villains who would travel from Miami to the UK to Switzerland in order to melt parts of their golden Rolls Royce. Travelling by plane became affordable, popular and normal. More and more, international networks of accounting firms were established to cope with national legal regulations regarding consolidated balance sheets. In 1964, Goldfinger would probably have been an amazing client for professional service firms, with an estate in the US, companies in the UK, ownership of a golf club, and the sole shareholder of Auric Enterprises SA in Switzerland. For sure, he would have received good advice on how to lower his tax burden and how to benefit from transnational loopholes.
Today, however, it would be difficult for him to be accepted as a client, and compliance would most likely have prevented him from becoming a rich villain. Today, accountants, tax advisors and lawyers working with international clients travel a lot – and the glamour of transatlantic missions has vanished.
In my daughter’s class, there is simply not a single child who has never travelled in an airplane yet. Accountants and lawyers, organised in international networks and associations travel a lot. They meet for conferences anywhere from Antigua to Zimbabwe, service clients literally all over the world, and help them to establish new businesses, relocate, restructure family trusts, and audit subsidiaries. They ensure that their clients benefit from a truly globalized world, wrapping the holiday home in France in the correct structure, recapitalizing the entity in Shenzhen that holds the factory, and advising on the best legal structure for a corporate bond or an IPO. These clients are truly winners of globalization, as are the accountants and lawyers who are members of international networks and associations of professional service firms.
Ian Fleming’s literary description of his protagonist James Bond inspired me, I have to confess, to become an international man of mystery; to enjoy travelling and having eggs benedict for breakfast (every time I am in my club in London, which happened to be Fleming’s club, too). The privilege of my profession is that the whole world has become my town. I buy my shirts in the US, my shoes in Italy, ties and shooting apparel in London, cologne in Spain, my private stationary in Belgium, some cheese in France, salami in Hungary, and salty liquorice in Sweden. Globalization is wonderful if you are on the sunny side of its street. Now, Goldfinger looks like an amateur, as does James Bond – remember that his phone was built in to his car, mine is an office in my pocket.
However, there is also the dark side of the street. Many people and firms have also been victims of globalization. Their products are no longer competitive, their services too expensive. Nobody is interested in ever-lasting quality, the internet allows the possibility to compare all goods and every service globally – similar to the introduction of money thousands of years ago, which allowed comparability of goods in an accurate way. These victims of globalization are everywhere and often enough want to turn the clock back by eliminating free trade, by rebuilding state protectionism and by condemning their respective governments for having forgotten them, as they believe. It is interesting to see these contrasts, so far away from the international accounting profession. Globalization is not always good and I believe that even Goldfinger became a victim of it by being intercepted and destroyed from outside his home turf.