By ALAN MARKOFF
When the company that would become Brown Brothers Harriman was first formed in Philadelphia in 1818, James Monroe was the president of the United States, which had a population of fewer than 10 million people. At the beginning of the year, the country had 20 states and Illinois, with a population of fewer than 35,000 people, became the 21st state in December.
Over the ensuing 199 years, the United States has grown and evolved. So too, has Brown Brothers Harriman, which has its subsidiary Brown Brothers Harriman Trust Company (Cayman) Limited at Camana Bay in the 18 Forum Lane building. From its beginnings as merchant bankers involved in transatlantic shipping, BBH — as it is often simply called — has transformed into a global financial services firm offering private banking, investment management and various investor services to asset managers, institutions and sophisticated high-net-worth individuals.
BBH is now one of the last private partnership firms in the financial services industry. Senior Vice President Enterprise Risk Management Robert Hildreth said the fact that BBH isn’t a public company means it’s not beholden to shareholders.
“That allows us to take a long-term perspective,” he said. “It also means we can be much better aligned with clients’ interests. Because our partners are liable for the firm’s obligations, we’ve cultivated a strong culture of risk management.”
Since its modest beginnings, BBH has grown to nearly 6,000 employees in 18 offices throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. The trust company was first established in the Cayman Islands in the mid-1980s and was operated by agents for many years. A year ago though, BBH decided to operate with its own personnel in a small office on Grand Cayman, with Managing Director Matthew Heffernan taking the helm.
“Right now there are two of us, but we have plans to get to four or five people here,” Heffernan said.
Originally from Boston, Heffernan moved to Grand Cayman with his wife and three sons a year ago. He had been coming to the island for many years for BBH business, so he was very familiar with Grand Cayman. His boys attend Cayman International School and Heffernan said his family has transitioned to island life easily.
“We have found it to be an easy community to meet people,” he said. “It’s very welcoming here.”
Heffernan has also noticed how well the financial services community in the Cayman Islands works together and how knowledge is shared.
“I’ve been able to attend a lot of conferences and seminars here that have been very useful,” he said. “That to me has been one of the concrete benefits of being here over the past year. It’s a community that wants to work together. In many cases we’re competitors, but it’s still very cooperative.”
BBH partners and other key personnel, including Hildreth, also come to Grand Cayman to attend board meetings or annual required meetings with the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority.
“They’re accessible, they’re pragmatic and they’re receptive to discussions,” said Hildreth of the Cayman Islands’s financial regulator. “The global regulatory schemes are continuously evolving and CIMA is right there, keeping abreast with all the changes.”
On its website, BBH states that it tries to exercise “enlightened opportunism” in the day-to-day management of the company.
“That’s part of being a 200-year-old firm,” said Hildreth. “We’re focused on staying ahead of the inevitable changes in the industry and looking forward to another 200 years of existence.”