Superyacht Investor Q+A: Alison Vassallo, partner, Fenech & Fenech Advocates
In the first of our series on some of the movers and shakers in the superyacht investment industry, Superyacht Investor talks to Alison Vassallo, partner at law firm Fenech & Fenech Advocates. She tells us about why the Maltese flag is increasingly popular with owners, what industry buzzword she would ban and who would play her in a movie of her life.
(1) What made you want to pursue a career in the superyacht industry?
I very much fell into the yachting sector as a result of how my career progressed. I specialised in international maritime law and shipping on graduating as a lawyer. When I joined the marine litigation department at Fenech and Fenech Advocates nine years ago the head of the department and managing partner of the firm Ann Fenech, who had been closely following changes being made to the yachting sector both on an international and on a domestic level, asked me to research and commence to build a practice within the firm.
The government at the time recognised yachting as a niche superyacht sector and had introduced a number of measures in a bid to attract owners and financiers to our shores. Today our yachting department has garnered considerable experience in the field and is supported by the ship registration, ship finance, tax and corporate departments. As leaders in the shipping law sector this means that we offer our clients a 360 degree service.
(2) Describe your ideal client.
I have had the fortune of meeting some extremely interesting individuals who are very often leaders in their respective fields and who know how to handle their business and private affairs professionally. The truth is though that where yachts are involved, particularly those intended for private use, emotions come into play, which may lead to a situation where time becomes an issue and where haste can work against a client’s best interests. My advice to clients is therefore always to ensure that legal advice is obtained from reputable advisors as early on in the process of acquisition/sale as possible. This very often saves time and money in the long run since all facets of the transaction can be discussed and a clear plan laid out at the very beginning.
I also get a tremendous sense of satisfaction when I see clients actually enjoying their yachts and spending quality time on board with their families in the months following the closure of the project.
(3) Who’s been your industry mentor, and why?
Given that my practice entails liaising with representatives from different facets of the industry, including foreign legal counsel, brokers, project managers, financiers, builders and others , it is difficult to identify one person as having been a mentor. However, I have over the years had the fortune of meeting and drawing upon the advice of individuals who are very much considered as doyens in their particular sectors.
(4) Where is your ideal meeting venue, and why?
The Monaco yacht show is undoubtedly the ideal melting pot that has formed the backdrop of many client meetings. The atmosphere over that week is very conducive for deals to be struck and for transactions to move at a very rapid rate.
Otherwise, naturally, it’s also very pleasant when meetings are held on the yacht itself with Malta’s bastions in the background.
(5) What’s hot in the superyacht sector and what’s not?
The Malta flag , with regard to the flagging of private and commercial yachts, has experienced a tremendous increase in popularity over the past few years and we are seeing more and more yachts flying our flag, which is of course a tremendous source of pride.
Taxes of course can never be considered as being “hot”, however I am noticing that there is an increase in awareness in the importance of obtaining proper advice and handling the tax aspect of yacht ownership and operation which has somehow diluted apprehension around the subject.
(6) Superyachts and the industries that serve the sector are often seen as a glamorous by association. When has the industry been less than glamorous for you?
(7) Which industry buzzword would you ban?
Harmonisation, used as though it were the holy grail.
(8) Describe yourself or your approach to the industry in three words.
Fast turnaround, client-oriented and hands on.
(9) What’s your advice for people wanting to get into the superyacht investment industry?
To understand that what may be acceptable or of standard generally in other industries may very well not come close to client expectations when dealing with any aspect of the Superyacht world. Clients expect only the highest level of service that with the extent of choice available and competition today, those that do not come up to scratch will , thankfully, not last for long.
(10) Who would you want to play you in a movie of your life, and why?
(A young) Meryl Streep. Though there are no physical similarities whatsoever, she portrays drama and comedy equally brilliantly in my view.