Increasingly, banks world-wide require a personal visit to open a bank account. As mentioned in the post “Why Banks Say No to You But Yes to Me“, opening a bank account remotely involves a certain degree of risk.
Visiting the bank in person shows you are serious and – silly though it may sound – shows you have enough money to do it. Remember, banks love money.
I have been asked by a few people how the actual process works when opening an offshore bank account in person. So here we go.
When I go to a country to open bank accounts, I always make sure to have appointments in advance. I say appointments, because I always make sure to have a few back-ups in case one bank backs out last minute. This has happened more than once.
When researching banks, create a list of at least your top-3 preferred banks.
Next, set up appointments in that order. First bank first, second bank second, and so on. Not all banks will agree to make appointments, instead telling you to just show up. Even so, pencil it into your calendar as an appointment.
Set aside at least two hours for each account opening. Three or four hours if you don’t have an appointment. In most cases, it’s a lot faster but you wouldn’t want to have to rush it.
As soon as you have met with a bank and opened an account, call up the other banks and cancel the appointments. Don’t be a no-show. Cancel. If you a few months later need to open an account there, you wouldn’t want to the bank to remember you as that person who didn’t show up for his appointment.
Note that it’s not always possible to set up appointments. Some banks have become account opening mills. This doesn’t mean you can’t mark a visit to the bank an appointment in your calendar, though. In fact, while you lose out on the human interaction on beforehand and potential pre-approval it makes the appointment more flexible. There’s always a silver lining.
During the Meeting
Be on time. If you are delayed, call as soon as possible and make necessary arrangements.
If you made an appointment in advance, someone will usually come and meet you at the entrance of the bank. If there is no one there, ask a cashier to inform the person you’re meeting that you’ve arrived.
You will then be taken to either a separate office away from the ground floor or to someone’s desk. After some small talk, it’s time to get to business.
If you have made an appointment, you may even have received pre-approval. If that’s the case, the bank will often have prepared the application forms. You simply need to discuss things again and make sure that the right services are requested for in the application.
You will then hand over corporate documents and your passport, and the world’s longest “I’ll just be five minutes” begin. All over the world – whether it’s Panama, Andorra, Switzerland, or Hong Kong – bank staff always tells me it will be five minutes. What they do is take a look at your passport and corporate documents, make copies, and take the copies to the compliance department. They might also be getting a digipass or other bank token, generating an account number, and having a smoke.
It’s normal for this to take up to half an hour.
If you have not received pre-approval, the process will be similar, except for the introduction. You will need to explain who you are, the purpose of the account, and if it’s a business account, quickly go through your business plan. Make sure you have a good business plan prepared. Banks love business plans. Not as much as they love money, but it’s definitely in the top-20 list of things banks love.
If you did not make an appointment in advance, just take a queue number and wait for your turn.
A common question I get is what you should wear. And since this is a fashion blog, it’s definitely something I must address. Jokes aside – this is simple. Dress as you would in an office. No, this isn’t a tuxedo or ball gown event. No, this isn’t a t-shirts and shorts affair. A suit is good, but if you don’t own a suit you probably shouldn’t wear one since chances are you don’t know how to wear one correctly. Dress pants, a dress shirt, and a nice jacket are fine. Look presentable. A good bank will see right through you if you are out of your comfort zone, and they might fear you’re not who you say you are.
“Can I eat the candies?” Luckily, this is perfectly acceptable, even among seasoned entrepreneurs who are at a bank to open an account for a multi-billion company. Recycle the wrappers.
“Do I say yes to tea/coffee/water?” Now you’re over-thinking it. Unless in a country where not accepting would be rude, do whatever you want.
Gender and Culture
This is an unfortunate reality. Fortunately, however, the trend is that it is decreasing.
Female entrepreneurs may find it challenging to open a bank account in the Middle East and parts of Africa. UAE – the main banking center in the Middle East – does not have this problem, neither does Mauritius in Africa.
In other countries, I have heard about women being refused to open accounts, instead being asked to have a man show up and do it. However, 99.99% of the time, the person at the other side of the table is interested in his bank getting your and your company’s money.
Dressing culturally appropriate is important here. Respect the customs of the country you’re in, even if you disagree with them. You are a guest.
After the Meeting
As things wrap up, fire off any questions you may have. This may be the last time you have a live person from the bank in front of you, making it a good opportunity to ask questions. Also make sure that you know what will happen next.
In many cases, accounts are not opened right away. For example, you may have to come back in a few days to pick up digipass for internet banking or wait for it to arrive by post at home.
You have now opened an offshore bank account in person. Congratulations!
Exit the building. Go eat lunch.
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