As managing director of Quintessential Relocation Consultants, Jo Stoddart helps individuals, families and businesses move to the Channel Islands. She tells BL who’s coming and why, what the islands have to offer and what they could do better
Before you started Quintessential Relocation Consultants, what was your background?
I went to Paris for a gap year, but ended up staying for 17 years. I worked for five of those in international banking before realising that wasn’t for me. I spent a couple of years at a charity, then five at IMG McCormack, an international sports management firm.
I was involved in organising huge projects, including professional golf and tennis tournaments all over France. After my daughter was born, I went to work at the OECD for five years, organising conferences and seminars in central and eastern Europe.
I moved to London in 1999 with my husband, David. We spent 20 months there but weren’t particularly enamoured with the lifestyle, so we moved to Jersey in 2001. My son was born, and when he was two I thought ‘I need to go back to work’. So I went to work for a property firm, mainly dealing with commercial sales and lettings, but also doing a bit of residential work for clients who were relocating.
In 2005, we moved to Guernsey because of David’s work, and I took up a post at a local estate agency. In relocation terminology, I was the classic ‘trailing spouse’ – having to rebuild our family life each time David moved. So my career path has, by necessity, been varied!
You set up Quintessential in 2010 – did you spot a gap in the market?
Basically, I had a constant stream of clients who had the same issues I’d had when moving – there was nowhere to go for independent advice about where to live, which were the best schools etc.
I realised relocators could benefit massively from an independent property finding and project management service to pull all the different threads together and open the right doors. It was a massive leap of faith, but I could see there was a need for it.
How has the business grown since you launched it?
I was on my own at first, but now there are five of us over two islands. Between us, we have personal experience of international relocation and we know the property markets and schools really well. We’ve worked with hundreds of clients from all walks of life and all budgets, so we bring a lot to the party.
Most of our clients are really busy and time poor – they don’t want to trail through endless websites looking for property. So we search the whole of the market, discuss options with them, make appointments, preview on their behalf if necessary. We get involved in negotiating leases and sales and act as the client’s eyes and ears on the ground before they arrive.
We give a lot of frank and unbiased advice on all aspects of Channel Island life. Whether people need help arranging shipping, transporting pets, re-registering cars, finding doctors or employing domestic staff, we can point them in the right direction. We’ve even helped people to find jobs. The list is pretty endless.
So, what sort of people are relocating to the islands?
About 75 per cent of the people we deal with relocate with their job, 25 per cent choose to live here. We deal with a fair amount of families, but we also help single people and couples.
The demographics are really interesting, with an increasing number of younger people looking for a better work/life balance. Entrepreneurial types see opportunities here and, for those in the finance industry, offshore experience looks good on their CV.
You launched just after the financial crisis – how have things changed since then?
The days when people used to come to the islands and buy a property and think ‘If we don’t like it, we’ll resell it’ are behind us. These days, people are a lot more cautious – they’re renting, not wanting to commit themselves for long periods of time.
As far as employment goes, we did have a really slow period where employers weren’t bringing people to the island. It didn’t quite drop off a cliff but it wasn’t far off. Now that’s really picking up and employers are bringing more staff to the islands again, which is a sign of confidence.
It helps that there aren’t as many restrictions on where people can live – the housing laws changed in Jersey in 2013, for instance, and the rules are due to change in Guernsey at the beginning of April.
Where are these new arrivals to the islands coming from?
We’ve got employers who are bringing in people from all over the world. We’ve worked with people coming in from Russia, America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Dubai, the Caribbean. That said, the majority are still British or European.
Do you think people have misconceptions about the Channel Islands?
Yes, I think people do have preconceived ideas. Many assume that because the islands are small, there will be nothing to do. People are usually pleasantly surprised that there’s far more going on than they expected. They’re also amazed by how beautiful, clean and well-kept everything is.
Families sometimes worry about the quality of education and what opportunities there will be for their children – and are then blown away by just how good it is. That said, many people also assume everyone is rich here, so it can be quite a surprise to see that we also have poverty.
What do you believe are the attractions of the islands?
To the wealthy, it’s tax, obviously. But where we win over other jurisdictions is the fantastic work/life balance. Also, safety and security are uppermost in people’s minds – they want to live in a place where their family and their business will be safe. You have shorter commuter distances, and you can access decision-makers such as government officials quite easily. The medical care is great, education is good and there are lots of leisure options.
When we moved to Jersey from London, we were blown away by the improvement in our quality of life and I know others feel the same.
On the flipside, what might put people off?
It can be expensive to get off the rock and travel links are an issue. If you’re going on holiday abroad, you generally have to get a flight to the UK first, so that’s an extra cost.
The cost of living and the cost of property can put people off, particularly if they’re coming over for a job and are on the lower end of the payscale. Generally, though, there are more advantages than disadvantages.
What makes people choose one island over the other?
Not everyone gets to choose, especially if they’re coming for work. If they’re coming for other reasons, partly it’s a question of affordability. Jersey sets a minimum income level that they expect their high-net-worths to be able to meet. So Guernsey’s an easier option.
Typically, people say there’s more going on in Jersey and it’s generally a bigger place. Some think Guernsey is too quiet. But others prefer the quiet and don’t want the ‘bling’ factor of Jersey. It depends what you’re looking for in terms of lifestyle, and also on the type of property you’re after.
Do you ever get people who come to the islands, have a look and just say no?
Yes we do. In some cases, people are put off by the cost of property and realise they could get more for their money in other jurisdictions. Sometimes it’s the transport links, but mostly it’s because one half in a relationship isn’t committed to moving. When that’s the case, it’s a personal issue and it would be the same anywhere.
If people come and spend a few days here and realise that it’s not for them, then it’s money well spent, because a relocation that doesn’t work out is horrendous for everybody. When you relocate, you’re ripping up your roots and starting over again, and you need to be realistic about whether you’re prepared for that.
How important have Locate Jersey and Locate Guernsey been in attracting people to the islands?
Both organisations do a great job marketing the islands as destinations for people to come to for business or wealth reasons. They have the funds to go out and do that, whereas small companies like mine don’t have the budget for that.
The important thing is that they’re both seen as representatives of the government, so it sends out a message that Jersey and Guernsey are open for business. Competitor jurisdictions all have similar set-ups and it’s something the islands just have to invest in to ensure we’re on the radar of people looking to relocate.
Is there anything those bodies aren’t doing that could help the islands more?
They’re doing a great job targeting the obvious sectors, but I think they need ideas about what other sectors might work on the islands. Identifying growing businesses elsewhere that are looking for funding to take their business to the next level and matching them up with some of the wealthy and sophisticated investors living on both islands could provide an opportunity.
It could be win-win if business funding from private investors and residency went hand in hand. So, tell some of these entrepreneurs they could have the funding if they moved their business to the islands and created local jobs in the process.
Have you noticed any impact on relocation on the back of Brexit?
If anything, it’s had a positive effect. Before the referendum – from early April onwards – things went very quiet. Businesses and individuals put plans on hold. Once the outcome was announced, there was a flurry of people saying ‘We’ve got to get away from the UK’. I can’t say it’s been floodgates, but it has prompted some people to make a decision.
In terms of business clients bringing staff to the islands, that seems to be taking off again in some cases. Then again, we have other clients who employ people from all around Europe who are suddenly putting the brakes on because they don’t know what the implications are going to be in the long term.
I do have a few concerns about whether the UK will start to sell itself as a low-tax jurisdiction, which could be a bit of a challenge for the Channel Islands.
Are there other jurisdictions that people think about when considering Jersey and Guernsey?
People often consider a number of places. We had a client recently who’s relocating his business – he did a very thorough study of all the possible places around the world he could go, and he felt that Guernsey was the right choice.
Switzerland used to be popular, and sometimes Malta is on the radar, especially in the tech arena. But no, there isn’t just one place.
How do you see the outlook for the next 12 months, both for people relocating and for your business?
The start of the year has been really positive. I think it’s an interesting time for people coming to the islands – for instance, as I mentioned earlier, the housing rules are changing in Guernsey as they did in Jersey three years ago. In Guernsey, prices on the Open Market have dropped considerably, so it’s a real buyers market.
Business seems to be doing quite well in the islands. You can see things moving forward, and it’s encouraging to see interesting people from diverse backgrounds with some great ideas among the entrepreneurs who are moving to the islands. They want to get involved, contribute to island life and make a difference, which is encouraging.
I think I would say I’m cautiously optimistic because I can see movement rather than stagnation. As for my business, it’s important to get the message across about what we do and how we complement the work of Locate Jersey and Locate Guernsey rather than compete with them.
Other than that, we’re just going with the flow – you never know from one week to another who might be the next new client. And that’s all part of the fun.
Name: Jo Stoddart
Position: Founder and MD of Quintessential Relocation Consultants
Married to: David
Children: Laura and William
Hobbies: Cooking, renovating houses, travel
Interesting fact: I had to stand in for Isabella Rossellini and present one of the prizes to golfer Vijay Singh when he won the 25th Lancome Trophy in Paris in 1994