The theme of these posts has changed over the years to increasingly include banks that might not qualify as offshore. This year, I will divide the lists into three categories.
The first category, Best Banks 2016, lists the banks that I have had the most positive experiences with during 2016 (based on relationships going back many, many years). It’s often very challenging to open accounts with these banks as a non-resident or international business. Not impossible; but you need a very good, legitimate business case and/or show significant capital.
The next category, Best Offshore Banks 2016, is banks which many offshore service providers work with and with which it is relatively easy to open an account. These banks are more attainable to the average reader of STREBER Weekly. The drawback is that the quality of the bank may not always reach the same levels as the first category.
Lastly, I felt it’s about time to start looking at Digital Banks, many of whom aren’t technically banks since they don’t hold a banking license. They are instead using more lenient licenses, which limits their service offering somewhat but they still fill a purpose and continue to grow in popularity.
As always, these lists do not take into account financial stability nor should the lists be considered recommendations. This is entirely and solely based on my own experiences; nothing else.
Best Banks 2016
- Crèdit Andorrà
Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Bahamas, Guernsey, Switzerland | http://www.butterfieldgroup.com/
Headquartered in Bermuda and with a history going back to the 1850s, Butterfield is one of the finest banks in the Atlantic-Caribbean region.
The bank is present also in the Cayman Islands, The Bahamas, Guernsey, and Switzerland. Services vary and those looking to open an international business account with Butterfield will likely have their account domiciled in Bermuda or Cayman Islands, as other locations are mostly focused on private banking or mortgages/lending.
The Bahamas branch is almost entirely dedicated to trusts.
The bank is winding down its UK presence, which never gained enough momentum against other private banks in the UK.
Butterfield has a strong range of products and is doing a pretty good job keeping up to speed with the industry leaders. The bank doesn’t handle EUR very well, which can be a big hurdle for European-focused businesses. However, if EUR isn’t an important currency to you, the bank can be a very strong candidate.
Generally speaking, account opening is pretty tricky with Butterfield. Unless you are a business incorporated in Bermuda or Cayman Islands, they don’t take on a lot of non-HNWI non-residents. A strong intermediary is nearly always required.
Andorra, Panama | https://www.creditandorragroup.com/
While Andbank is taking great strides to be the best bank in Andorra and time will tell what comes of Vall Banc (the bank being formed from the ashes of BPA), Crèdit Andorrà stands strong as the local leader in my eyes.
With a recently updated internet banking and increased number of English-speaking staff, the bank remains one of my absolute favourites. Opening accounts for local residents and local companies is a breeze, and non-resident clients are generally welcome with a relatively low minimum deposit of 50 – 100,000 EUR for private banking.
Private banking clients are sometimes domiciled in Panama (by request or decision by the bank). Trust and foundation arrangements are well understood by the bank.
Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Austria, others | https://www.lgt.com/
A purebred private bank (all they do is private banking and asset management) owned by the Liechtenstein royal family, LGT is very good at what they do.
Minimum deposit for non-residents is usually one million CHF/EUR, although sums as low as 100,000 CHF/EUR will sometimes work. Residents can get away with much less.
Unlike many private banks, credit cards are available, including premium cards and cards in other currencies (EUR and USD).
Northern Europe, others | https://sebgroup.com/
SEB has lately become very strict on requiring that corporate clients be local businesses or businesses with some form of attachment to the jurisdiction. Incorporation does for the time being seem to be enough, which is good news for those interested in forming for example an Estonian company.
Doing business in the Nordics and Baltics, SEB is a very good partner to have. With one simple and secure login, you can manage finances of different but related legal entities (group companies) across jurisdictions. Moving funds across borders is quick.
SEB’s user management is among the best in the entire banking industry. You can set very finely tuned rules for who can do or see what within your organization.
Cards are available in SEK and EUR across the different jurisdictions.
Their UK branch is undergoing a policy revision at the moment, which should hopefully terminate in SEB UK being more open to international business than other banks.
Wealth management and private banking are available to residents worldwide with relatively low barrier to entry (around 500,000 to 1 million SEK). I generally prefer LGT and UBS (and some other banks) over SEB for private banking, though; at least for non-Scandinavian clients.
Switzerland, Liechtenstein, others | https://www.ubs.com/
This year, the best of the best. Whether it’s been private banking, personal banking, or business banking, UBS has stood strong. They have practically everything you could wish for from a bank, and it’s executed beautifully.
They can be a little difficult when it comes to non-resident businesses, often requiring a strong connection to Switzerland. Leniency increases as the risk profile of the business candidate decreases and its revenue goes up.
For local businesses and residents, they are splendid. I put them ahead of Credit Suisse on most fronts.
Best Offshore Banks 2016
- Standard Bank (Stanbic)
Singapore, Hong Kong, China, others | https://www.dbs.com/
DBS is one of the finest banks in the world today. They could easily shut down applications for offshore companies and still make it the top-10 (maybe top-5) in the previous category. Fortunately for founders and finance officers at international and offshore businesses, DBS is still open for business.
You’ll need an intermediary in most cases, though. The due diligence process is standardized and streamlined, which usually makes for a pretty smooth on-boarding process for legitimate clients.
Minimum deposit varies depending on jurisdiction and services required, but expect to have to show at least 10,000 SGD or 100,000 HKD.
While some customer service representatives don’t always speak the best English, I have always found them very willing and capable to help.
DBS does all three big pillars of banking very well: personal, business, and private banking.
MCB (Mauritius Commercial Bank)
Mauritius, Seychelles, Maldives | http://www.mcbgroup.com/
MCB is both the oldest and largest bank in Mauritius and has successfully expanded into Seychelles, Maldives, Madagascar, and Mozambique.
The bank has been a pillar in the offshore industry for decades, which means the bank is accustomed to all sorts of jurisdictions and understands offshore business very well.
Account opening nowadays almost always require an intermediary (at times, personal accounts can be opened for non-residents directly with the bank). Following a recent tightening of internal policies, many intermediaries have been relegated to personal accounts only. It’s possible to move from a personal to a business account after some period with the bank.
Service quality is generally high and there is a fairly sophisticated range of services available.
Singapore, Hong Kong, others | http://www.ocbc.com/
This includes OCBC Wing Lung (Hong Kong) and Bank of Singapore (private banking only). The bank also runs a popular brokerage called iOCBC.
Just like DBS, OCBC would easily fit in the first category. In terms of quality, sophistication, and all-round pleasantness to work with, OCBC is up there with UBS and the rest. What distinguishes OCBC from them is that account opening is much more relaxed. A relatively high minimum deposit of 30,000 SGD keeps most small fish (often unprofitable clients) away and a competent compliance team, well versed in offshore companies thanks to the bank’s long-standing acceptance of international business clients, together keep the bank clean.
Account opening requires a personal visit in practically all cases. Exceptions effectively limited to private banking client (often providing an off-site meeting with the client) or special situations with extremely qualified introducers.
SBM (State Bank of Mauritius)
Mauritius | https://www.sbmgroup.mu/
The, for better or worse, government-owned State Bank of Mauritius has a very colourful history, jumping on the online-gambling train right when it started in the 1990s and processing millions upon millions in sketchy payments.
Times have changed and so has the bank, on the surface at least.
Like MCB, SBM has been involved in offshore banking and corporate services for decades. Unlike a compliance officer at your average European bank, a compliance officer with SBM can spot a fake certificate of incorporation from the Seychelles right away. This confidence helps boost the banks’ ability to take on IBCs and other offshore companies.
I generally find MCB to have a more modern feel and experience. SBM’s internet banking is looking very dated. But aside from that, it’s still a rock solid bank to work with.
Opening an account with SBM is pretty straightforward. Intermediary is usually required.
Standard Bank (Stanbic)
Isle of Man, Jersey, Africa, worldwide | http://www.standardbank.com/
While many readers, who are not familiar with banking in Africa, associate Standard Bank with Isle of Man only, it is in fact the third African bank on this top-5 list, having its headquarters in South Africa and being the by far wealthiest bank in Africa. In 2016, Standard Bank itself sold most of its non-African operations have now been sold to ICBC.
Most offshore companies that open an account with Standard Bank have their accounts domiciled in Isle of Man. It is possible to transfer relationships across jurisdictions provided there is good justification for it.
With a relatively modest minimum deposit of 6,000 GBP/EUR, opening a bank account with Standard Bank in Isle of Man or Jersey can be one of the smoothest ways for an offshore business to bank with a large international bank in Europe or Africa.
For trading within Africa, banking with Standard Bank can make managing your business’ finances much easier. Its reach is greater than any other African bank.
Top Fintech Banks/Quasi-Banks (Digital Banks)
Malta/Bulgaria | https://www.leupay.eu/
This Malta-based quasi-bank is closely affiliated with the up-and-coming Maltese bank Satabank. There are strong ties to Bulgaria through ownership, staff, and management, hence being listed here as Malta/Bulgaria.
Stable services, attractive fees for EUR/Eurozone payments, wide range of currencies, and relatively easy-going account opening make up for the rather poor customer service that plagues LeuPay.
It’s worth noting that LeuPay recently stopped processing USD.
Minor negative that cards often are issued under a Bulgarian BIN. Some website’s fraud checks won’t like it that your card is issued there. The IBAN is Maltese, using a SWIFT BIC supplied by Satabank.
Germany | https://n26.com
The hipness of N26 is starting to wear off and we are seeing the bank (one of few of these to actually have a banking license) mature. The long-term strategic vision of N26 may be blurry at best but it’s present state it nothing to sneeze at.
A rock-solid mobile app and increased availability across the EU/EEA, the future does look pretty bright for N26.
N26 is useless for business, though. Arguably useful for personal banking for residents in the right countries.
Cards are issued under a German BIN and the IBANs are German as well.
Lithuania | https://www.paysera.com
By and large the same service as LeuPay, although this time in the form of a more established Lithuanian outfit. They are largely riding on SEB’s platform, which happens to be a very good one.
Account opening is a breeze, both personal and corporate. Offshore companies require some additional work but European business accounts are approved practically same day provided you supply the right docs. I’ve seen UK companies approved in a matter of hours.
Low limit on the card, which is issued under a UK BIN. IBANs are Lithuanian and the SWIFT BIC is Paysera’s own.
Banking in 2016 in Review
2016 has seen banks prepare for AEOI, CSR, FATCA, and other acronyms and initialisms related to the automatic reporting of bank accounts. Some will say banking secrecy is dead. As you know, the reality of secrecy is more complicated than that.
One upside of this increased transparency is that I’m finding it increasingly easy to place clients with banks since much of the secrecy stigma is going away. The barriers to entry have gone up slightly and we’ll likely see a divide being grown where some banks move towards more and more exclusivity and others are lowering theirs thanks to automation on compliance.
The lines between offshore banking and regular banking are beginning to blur.
Readers who expect me to be some cloak-and-dagger figure hiding people’s money in remote locations are often surprised (and more than once angry and hostile) with me when I voice a positive attitude towards AEOI.
For me, AEOI is good business. As mentioned, it makes it easier to place clients with banks. Furthermore, it means that structures to avoid exchange of information are require even more finesse and complexity to remain within the confines of the laws and regulations, which is both more fun and challenging to arrange while obviously also being more lucrative.
In other developments, one of the most exciting things to come out of recent regulatory changes in mainly EU/EEA is the advent of digital banks (such as the aforementioned). These disruptors are using what is actually pretty mundane technology to beat stale, monolithic banks when it comes to customer acquisition and offering what feels like a faster, hipper banking experience.
Time will tell if these digital banks can compete long-term when it comes to the less cool aspects; i.e. service quality, sophistication, security, compliance, and ultimately sustainability. One thing seems to be for sure, though: they are changing people’s expectations of what (personal) banking is.