Choosing a domicile – a keystone decision

Ben Watford, Eversheds

By Ben Watford, Eversheds Sutherland – Selecting the fund domicile which best suits an emerging hedge fund strategy is one of the key decisions facing investment managers ahead of launch. The choice they make at the outset will have far reaching regulatory and tax consequences throughout the life of the fund.

Law firm Eversheds Sutherland notes that in making this choice, a manager needs to take into account the preferences and location of the fund’s seed and target investors. Historically, hedge fund managers have favoured offshore, low tax jurisdictions like the Cayman Islands, but more recently the dedicated fund vehicles available in onshore domiciles like Luxembourg and Ireland have been attracting more attention. This is a particularly appealing option for investment managers hoping to market to investors in the EU, as funds established in EU Member States are eligible for the AIFMD marketing passport, which grants continent wide market access using the fund’s home state’s authorisation. When deciding whether to set up the hedge fund in the Cayman Islands, Ireland or Luxembourg, a start-up manager should keep a few key points in mind:

  • Flexibility: Can the fund vehicle be tailored to the fund’s investment strategy and its target investors?
  • Limited Liability: Who is liable for the fund? Most fund vehicles will limit the liability of investors to the amount they have invested in the fund; a protective measure that ensures that investors will not assume unlimited liability for investments managed by someone else. 
  • Tax efficiency: Is the vehicle tax efficient? Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question and a proper comparison of any given vehicle would depend on a number of factors, including the domicile of the management company, where the fund is offered and where its investors are based. 
  • Regulation: What kind of regulatory regime will the fund operate under? This obviously varies depending on the chosen domicile: funds established in Germany and Chile will operate under different regulatory regimes. However, there is differentiation within jurisdictions too. For example, different fund vehicles may be eligible for different regulatory regimes within a single jurisdiction. This variability should be taken into account when considering the hassle (and cost) of regulatory compliance.

Cayman, Luxembourg or Ireland?

While there are many options available to prospective hedge funds, it can often be helpful to focus on the most popular vehicles and structures within each jurisdiction. Luxembourg and Ireland both offer tailored fund regimes – the ICAV (regulated as a QIAIF) and the RAIF – which are in direct competition for prospective EU fund launches. 

Understanding how these vehicles are similar, what differentiates them and how they all compare to funds domiciled in the Cayman Islands can help clarify the options available to new managers.

The table above shows a high-level comparison offering an overview of some of the core differences between these jurisdictions. 

Ben Watford
Partner, Head of Hedge Funds, 
Eversheds Sutherland

Ben Watford is a Partner in the London office of Eversheds Sutherland and leads the Hedge Fund practice, advising tier one funds to start-ups, and everything in between. Ben has worked on a wide range of alternative investment funds for fund managers, family offices, sovereign investors and entrepreneurs, domiciled in various jurisdictions including the Cayman Islands, Ireland, Luxembourg, Channel Islands, BVI, Malta, UK, and the US.

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