Luxembourg is about to shed its reputation as one of the EU’s largest tax havens

Cracks to international pressure.

Luxembourg Finance Minister, Luc Frieden, announced today that Luxembourg was willing to share account information on global multi-national companies going forward. This extends current information sharing agreements which are limited to US and EU individual tax payers.

"Luxembourg is comfortable to share information about multinationals as well as individuals," Mr Friedan said. This will help shed Luxembourg’s reputation as one of the EU’s largest tax havens.

According to WealthInsight, Luxembourg is the 5th largest private banking centre in the world with assets under management (AuM) of US$350 billion at the end of 2012.

Luxembourg also had mutual fund assets of US$2 trn and additional bank assets of US$550 bn as of year-end of 2012. These figures together amount to US$2.8 trn, which equates to almost 50 times Luxembourg’s GDP of US$57 bn in 2012.

It also equates to over 30 times the total wealth held by locals in the country (US$91 bn). This is an extremely high ratio when considering that Luxembourg is one of wealthiest countries in the world (in per capita terms).

According to the Credit Suisse Wealth Report, Luxembourg has the 8th highest wealth per capita,in the world at US$178,000 per person. This is well above the worldwide (US$28,000) average. Notably, Switzerland is the highest ranked country based on this measure with wealth per capita of US$293,000, followed by Norway in 2nd place (US$243,000) and Australia in 3rd place (US$239,000). The United States had a wealth per capita of US$172,000.

Going forward, WealthInsight expects Luxembourg private banking AuM to stay remain relatively static at US$350 bn, while countries such as Singapore surge ahead.

Singapore is expected to have private banking AuM of over US$2 trillion by 2020, compared to US$550 bin in 2012 and US$50 bn in 2000.

Photograph: Getty Images

Andrew Amoils is a writer for WealthInsight

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A small dose of facts could transform Britain's immigration debate

While "myth-busting" doesn't always work, there is an appetite for a better informed conversation than the one we're having now. 

For some time opinion polls have shown that the public sees immigration as one of the most important issues facing Britain. At the same time, public understanding of the economic and social impacts of immigration is poor and strongly influenced by the media: people consistently over-estimate the proportion of the population born outside the UK and know little about policy measures such as the cap on skilled non-EU migration. The public gets it wrong on other issues too - on teenage pregnancy, the Muslim population of the UK and benefit fraud to name just three. However, in the case of immigration, the strength of public opinion has led governments and political parties to reformulate policies and rules. Theresa May said she was cracking down on “health tourists” not because of any evidence they exist but because of public “feeling”. Immigration was of course a key factor in David Cameron’s decision to call a referendum on the UK’s membership with the EU and has been central to his current renegotiations.  

Do immigration facts always make us more stubborn and confused?

The question of how to both improve public understanding and raise the low quality of the immigration debate has been exercising the minds of those with a policy and research interest in the issue. Could the use of facts address misconceptions, improve the abysmally low quality of the debate and bring evidence to policy making? The respected think tank British Future rightly warns of the dangers associated with excessive reliance on statistical and economic evidence. Their own research finds that it leaves people hardened and confused. Where does that leave those of us who believe in informed debate and evidence based policy? Can a more limited use of facts help improve understandings and raise the quality of the debate?

My colleagues Jonathan Portes and Nathan Hudson-Sharp and I set out to look at whether attitudes towards immigration can be influenced by evidence, presented in a simple and straightforward way. We scripted a short video animation in a cartoon format conveying some statistics and simple messages taken from research findings on the economic and social impacts of immigration.

Targeted at a wide audience, we framed the video within a ‘cost-benefit’ narrative, showing the economic benefits through migrants’ skills and taxes and the (limited) impact on services. A pilot was shown to focus groups attended separately by the general public, school pupils studying ‘A’ level economics and employers.

Some statistics are useful

To some extent our findings confirm that the public is not very interested in big statistics, such as the number of migrants in the UK. But our respondents did find some statistics useful. These included rates of benefit claims among migrants, effects on wages, effects on jobs and the economic contribution of migrants through taxes. They also wanted more information from which to answer their own questions about immigration. These related to a number of current narratives around selective migration versus free movement, ‘welfare tourism’ and the idea that our services are under strain.

Our research suggests that statistics can play a useful role in the immigration debate when linked closely to specific issues that are of direct concern to the public. There is a role for careful and accurate explanation of the evidence, and indeed there is considerable demand for this among people who are interested in immigration but do not have strong preconceptions. At the same time, there was a clear message from the focus groups that statistics should be kept simple. Participants also wanted to be sure that the statistics they were given were from credible and unbiased sources.

The public is ready for a more sophisticated public debate on immigration

The appetite for facts and interest in having an informed debate was clear, but can views be changed through fact-based evidence? We found that when situated within a facts-based discussion, our participants questioned some common misconceptions about the impact of immigration on jobs, pay and services. Participants saw the ‘costs and benefits’ narrative of the video as meaningful, responding particularly to the message that immigrants contribute to their costs through paying taxes. They also talked of a range of other economic, social and cultural contributions. But they also felt that those impacts were not the full story. They were also concerned about the perceived impact of immigration on communities, where issues become more complex, subjective and intangible for statistics to be used in a meaningful way.

Opinion poll findings are often taken as proof that the public cannot have a sensible discussion on immigration and the debate is frequently described as ‘toxic’. But our research suggests that behind headline figures showing concern for its scale there may be both a more nuanced set of views and a real appetite for informed discussion. A small dose of statistics might just help to detoxify the debate. With immigration a deciding factor in how people cast their vote in the forthcoming referendum there can be no better time to try.