Ten On The Weekend is a weekly feature on IMI, the concept of which is simple: Each weekend, we ask the same ten questions of a different industry figure, letting readers get to know the interviewee on a more personal and informal level than they might in an ordinary business setting.
This weekend’s guest is Alexander Varnavas, Partner of Varnavas Law Firm.
How do you spend your weekends?
Without a doubt, weekends are time spent with the family. Although I work side-by-side with my lovely wife every day, given we are business partners, we look forward to the weekends, to spend some quality time together and, as new parents, to enjoy time with our daughter, who’s turned two so quickly. As you can understand, at this stage of our lives, Saturday Night Fever is literally fever, while the schedule includes visits to the zoo, playgrounds, parks and early nights. Now and again, we try to take advantage of the weekend for a quick getaway to London – our favorite spot even after the Brexit – or some other European capital.
What are your top three business goals this year?
Last year was a successful year for us. We used the time to regroup and grow, while we also received the award for Golden Visa Law Firm of 2020 for Greece from British magazine Corporate INTL.
For this year, our goal is to continue our successful course at the same growth rate, by building on tested practices and strengthening our company’s human resources with new recruitments of qualified lawyers, who have extensive experience in cross border transactions and investment immigration.
Naturally, as has been the case in the past, our plans include striking strategic alliances with law firms or other regulated professionals from every corner of the globe, on condition that we share the same values and principles, and build our business model on transparent procedures.
Lastly, this year we aim to update our strategic communication by redesigning our company website, varnavas.gr, which will help us showcase our quality traits, meaning our vast experience, our impressive know-how and our ethics, the three key pillars that make us stand out in this field.
What’s your biggest business concern right now?
It’s April 2020 and nearly three billion people around the globe are under lockdown due to the COVID-19. The markets are in a downward spiral and all the financial reports are forecasting the start of a deep recession that will affect the global economy. Our industry is mainly based on HNWI and Ultra HNWI, meaning individuals who possess liquidity and require free movement.
After the end of this global lockdown, it’s very likely that this need for movement will increase further, but no one can know how many of these people would be willing to use their – already reduced – liquidity for this purpose or which investment migration programs they may opt for. The countries that could potentially come out in front are the ones that successfully addressed the COVID-19 pandemic; alternatively, the ones with the most social and political liberties could be appreciated more.
On another note, if you asked me a couple of months ago, I would say I was concerned with the sharp rise of the industry’s bad boys, who undermine the efforts of all the rest that try to create a healthy market with longevity; a market which, on the one hand, will serve society and, on the other, will bring a reasonable profit to all parties involved. Unfortunately, malpractice incidents are increasing as the industry is becoming more popular, and the culprits could include anyone from individual local professionals who supposedly offer the program in their countries to large multinational agencies or prominent executives of said companies. Of course, they share a common secret, which can be summed up in eight words: conflict-of-interest and get-rich-quick attitude.
After each of the major crises humanity went through, everything started from scratch and was set on better and more stable foundations. Everyone turned to professionals with knowledge, experience and values, and they were the ones who redefined the new market conditions. Maybe the end of the Covid-19 crisis will give us the opportunity to redefine the industry on a solid basis.
Which book is on your night-stand right now?
Paul Newman’s In Pursuit of the Common Good. It is a delightful story, about how his food company began as a lark and became very successful in raising money for good reason, setting up a dedicated charity. It is an inspiring book, full of …food for thought.
How and when did you first get into the investment migration industry?
I remember that afternoon back in 2012 like it was yesterday. As I was returning to the office from court, I heard on the radio that Greece would be granting residence permits to foreign citizens who invest over €250,000 in property. Given our firm’s thirty-year specialization in property law, the idea intrigued me so much that I immediately started thinking of further conditions and provisions.
On the same day, I contacted the then Minister of Development – who happened to be a good friend of mine – and made myself available to him for any help he might need over the coming period to draft and implement the new law. Of course, since then, we are constantly trying to assist the Ministry of Migration and the incumbent government, each time with proposals and suggestions to improve the program.
We started having our first appointments with Chinese citizens as early as 2013, which was when we also established a special desk dedicated to the Greek Golden Visa program. We were the first – and for a number of years the only ones – who truly believed in the program and promoted it ourselves, as the state did not give it the necessary attention. For many years, the lawyers who worked intensively for the program could be counted on one hand, until the major boom of the last two years.
What was your proudest moment as a service provider?
Undoubtedly, it was back in the middle of 2017: my appointment to serve on the Advisory Committee of the Investment Migration Council (IMC), the worldwide association for Investor Migration and Citizenship-by-Investment. It was an international recognition for our firm and our team; the result of our hard work, professionalism and non-negotiable values.
Which investment migration market development has surprised you the most in the last year?
Last year, we witnessed a cascade of countries integrating or announcing start-up visas. Even the large companies of the sector, such as Harvey Law Group, announced they would be focusing on such programs. However, to date, we have not seen anything noteworthy for programs of this type. Practice has shown that real estate is the king in this industry, as it is a tangible investment product, followed by intangible financial products, similar to those Greece introduced recently, such as government bonds, mutual funds, shares, time deposits, etc.
If you could go 10 years back in time, what business decision would you change?
Based on the current state of affairs, I would not change any key strategic decisions, as our main goal to become a top-tier law firm for the Greek Golden Visa program has been achieved to a large extent. During a crucial turning point a couple of years back, we wrestled with the idea of taking it to the next level and offering other programs as well, but that would essentially make us middlemen rather than lawyers. So we rejected the idea and focused on what we know well.
What investment migration industry personality do you most admire
I’ll take this opportunity to voice my appreciation for the people who battle for this industry behind the lines, in order to shape it and lead it into the future.
I cannot but mention Bruno L’ecuyer, CEO of the Investment Migration Council (IMC), who is fighting to protect the industry’s reputation against malpractice, by connecting the bigger part of the Investment Migration professionals and strengthening their voice.
If all goes according to plan, what will you be doing five years from now?
On a professional level, I’m hoping I will be doing exactly what I’m doing today, having, of course, achieved the milestones set from time to time, as I am still too young to be considering any exit or retirement plans. However, I’m hoping I’ll be a father of two or even more by then.
More from the 10 On The Weekend interview series:
- Kianoush Mahmoudi: “I’ve Been in Lockdown for One Month Now”
- Sam Bayat: “I Know Too Many Secrets”
- Paul Williams: “Politicians Meddle in Successful Programs to Their Detriment”
- Nuri Katz: “I Live My Life in a Constant State of Jet Lag”
- Eric Major: “Our Industry Deserves Some of the Bad Press it Gets”
Christian Henrik Nesheim is the founder and editor of Investment Migration Insider, the #1 magazine – online or offline – for residency and citizenship by investment. He is an internationally recognized expert, speaker, documentary producer, and writer on the subject of investment migration, whose work is cited in the Economist, Bloomberg, Fortune, Forbes, Newsweek, and Business Insider. Norwegian by birth, Christian has spent the last 14 years in the United States, China, and Spain.