It’s that time of the year again. The time of the year when I crown the best offshore banks of the year.
As usual, best in this context shouldn’t be taken to imply financial stability, regulatory stability, ease of account opening, lowest fees, and so on. This is simply a list of offshore banks that I enjoyed working with during 2015.
Last year’s list was very ambitious and I am this time going to leave out banks that I would call exotic banks rather than offshore banks. I may return to those in a few weeks.
Without any further ado, below are the in my opinion and experience 12 best offshore banks of 2015.
Banks are listed alphabetically.
Founded in 1830, this is the largest bank in Lebanon. It has since established subsidiaries and branches across the region and worldwide: Switzerland, Abu Dhabi, France, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, the list goes on and on.
Bank Audi is one of the world’s finest private banks, perfecting the Lebanese tradition of wealth management.
As one of the tightest banking secrecy regimes, Lebanon and its banks know it can demand a lot from prospective clients. Bank Audi rarely accepts non-resident clients that cannot deposit at least eight figures.
However, for those seeking high quality banking in Lebanon and the region as a whole, Bank Audi is in many cases the best choice.
My experience with Bank Audi goes back many years. Through thick and thin (including wars and global financial turmoil), the bank has stood rock solid. Account opening can be a very thorough process and it’s especially difficult as a non-resident, but this in my experience means the bank has more time to spend on taking care of its clients, which it does exceedingly well.
Products and services are of top quality and sophisticated enough to satisfy practically anyone.
As of latest annual report (2014), the bank had assets of 41.9 billion USD.
Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ (BTMU)
While many may not think of Japan as fitting the typical criteria for offshore, this Tokyo-headquartered bank is one of the most important banks in maritime trade, which typically takes place offshore.
The bank is on paper very young, being formed as recently as 2006. However, its parent – through a series of mergers – traces its roots back to 1880.
If you are looking at buying a freight ship or do large-scale import/export across the high seas, chances are you will find yourself in a meeting with BTMU at some point.
I was first introduced to BTMU as I was getting involved in a couple of medium-sized shipping lines. There is a staggering amount of money involved, shell corporations come and go, large letters of credits are issued to secure landing, and due diligence needs to be quick. This is coupled with a myriad of risks: shipwreck, piracy, delays by weather, sabotage, and so on and so forth.
Through it all, BTMU is the kind of bank that has made sure businesses run smoothly. The bank strikes a phenomenal balance between risk and reward. The compliance officers at BTMU are probably some of the best in the industry, having a very keen sense for reviewing documents (including authenticity verification) in an accurate and timely manner.
According to its 2015 annual report, the MUFG (Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group), parent of BTMU, had assets of 286 trillion JPY (circa 2.3 trillion USD or 2.17 trillion EUR).
Bank of Valletta
The go-to bank for every gambling operator and – for those who qualify – financial services provider in Malta, Bank of Valletta (named after the nation’s capital) is one of the finest banks in the Mediterranean (and world).
Founded in 1974 through a merger of banks going back well into the 1800s, the bank today has representative offices in Australia, Belgium, Italy, and Libya. It is not possible to open a Bank of Valletta account domiciled in those countries. You can open an account there, but the account will be domiciled in Malta.
Having partnered with Saxo Bank for trading, BOV now has a strong trading platform. It also has one of the best mobile apps in the industry.
Account opening for non-residents is possible but only through an intermediary, often costing around 1,000 EUR. Minimum deposit is usually just a few thousand EUR but is determined individually.
I have been able to place most kinds of companies with BOV. Very rarely does the bank say no and in those cases it’s usually been because the client has been reluctant to disclose all the details the bank asks for, which can be intrusive. However, Malta ranks as one of the lowest-risk jurisdictions for money laundering.
According to its 2015 annual report, the bank has assets of 9.9 billion EUR.
One of the few good local Caribbean banks, Butterfield stands out as the best in my opinion, mainly for its private banking and trustee services.
Based in Bermuda, this bank was founded in 1858 although it traces its roots as far back as a trading company founded in 1758. It has branches in the Bahamas, Cayman Islands, Guernsey, Switzerland, and United Kingdom.
Services vary somewhat between locations but mainly comes down to private banking and corporate banking. In Bermuda and Cayman Islands, it’s also a retail (personal) bank.
As of its 2014 annual report, the bank has assets of 9.9 billion BMD (9.9 billion USD / 9 billion EUR).
Founded in 1812 as the City Bank of New York, Citibank is a primarily US bank.
Just over 50% of the bank’s revenue comes from the US, followed by Latin America at 25%, Asia at 20%, and Europe, Middle East, and Africa at 4%.
I would however not dub Citibank the best bank in the US. It’s one of the better ones, together with JP Morgan/Chase and Wells Fargo.
The bank has brought this excellence across Latin America and Asia, where it stands out as one of the best.
Account opening varies greatly by jurisdiction but is generally easy for residents and it’s relatively easy to transport account across jurisdictions.
Remote opening in Singapore (minimum 10,000 SGD) has recently become very popular.
According to its 2014 annual report, the Citigroup had assets of 1.84 trillion USD.
Much has changed in Andorra since then. Banking secrecy has been eased to reach international standards, it has implemented FATCA, it has signed up for AEOI, and it has tightened its AML regulations. The jurisdiction ran without any major incidents until the still on-going problems with BPA (Banca Privada d’Andorra).
Through thick and thin, Crèdit Andorrà has stood strong up in the Pyrenees.
It used to be that non-residents showing up with passports, a banker’s reference, a utility bill, and a good explanation for wanting to bank in Andorra could open personal accounts with this bank. Although that may still happen, the bank greatly prefers non-resident clients (whether residents or corporations) to be seeking wealth management services.
The entry into private banking is quite humble, though, starting at around 50 – 100,000 EUR. This bank isn’t just for the ultra rich (like Bank Audi), but nonetheless offers excellent services.
The bank is also established in Panama and allows cross-jurisdictional account opening.
According to the bank’s 2014 annual report, its assets were 8.7 billion EUR.
LGT (Liechtenstein Global Trust)
Founded in 1920, LGT is wholly owned by the Liechtenstein royal family.
This bank is almost entirely dedicated to private banking, for both private individuals and for corporations. It is also a large investment bank.
LGT takes excellent care of its clients and while it is difficult to speak of and compare the success rate of wealth management, LGT enjoys a very strong reputation, which in my experience is well deserved.
Minimum deposit is flexible and depends on sophistication of services required. On occasion, I have seen the bank accept clients for between 50 to 500,000 CHF but they usually prefer far higher figures.
As of mid-2015, the bank has assets of 125.7 billion CHF (circa 127 billion USD / 115.8 billion EUR).
National Bank of Abu Dhabi (NBAD)
NBAD was founded in 1968, then the first bank of the emirate Abu Dhabi.
In 2007, the bank established itself in Switzerland as NBAD Suisse, based in Geneva. Praised already for its private banking in UAE, the bank continues this tradition in Switzerland.
For private banking, the bank usually expects a few million USD/EUR/CHF to open an account.
Those with start-up RAK ICs are unlikely to be accepted by NBAD but more established corporate entities with presences in the region are accepted by the bank from time to time.
While I in previous year have lauded Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, I decided this year to make this list shorter than previously and in making that decision, NBAD is the bank which in 2015 impressed me more.
The bank’s 2014 annual report shows assets of 376.1 billion AED (102 billion USD / 93 billion EUR).
This also includes Bank of Singapore, OCBC’s private banking wing!
The Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC) was founded 1923, following the merger of three banks.
OCBC is a spectacular bank to work with, whether it’s as a personal account holder, small business, large corporate, high-networth individual, or trader. Whatever you heart desires – OCBC has it covered.
Things are getting more easy-going in Singapore in banking. Following a period of eased banking secrecy, AEOI, and FATCA, the banks are again gaining confidence to take on clients more easily. While it doesn’t mean you can just post a letter to OCBC and get an account, the bank is easing up somewhat on account opening for non-residents.
OCBC today boasts probably the best online banking facilities in the world. It might seem tired to rave about how good a bank’s online services are but when it comes to the likes of OCBC (and also UBS), it is a true distinction. It can save hours every year of your finance and treasury department’s time.
For private banking, OCBC bought ING Bank Asia in 2009 and rebranded it Bank of Singapore, which is one of highest regarded wealth managers in the world today. And rightly so.
For trading, OCBC has created iOCBC, which is a robust trading platform.
In 2014, OCBC bought Wing Hang bank in Hong Kong. While the transition is not completely finished yet, OCBC Wing Hang is easily the most exciting bank in Hong Kong right now.
In the bank’s 2014 annual report, they reported assets of 401 billion SGD (285 billion USD / 260 billion EUR).
Some are surprised to learn that Standard Chartered was founded in 1969. The bank certainly feels and seems older. This is because its roots go back to the mid-1800s but the bank as it is today was not incorporated until 1969.
Standard Chartered has two primary areas of interest: private banking and corporate banking (including private banking for corporate clients). In some jurisdiction, it also offers retail banking.
The bank is head-quartered in London but generates very little of its revenue in UK – or anywhere else in Europe. Well over 90% of its revenue comes from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.
In many cases that I have seen and see on a daily basis, Standard Chartered is almost more of a financial platform than a bank. Companies move funds across borders and currencies with such ease that the bank is almost a transparent service providers.
That’s how good Standard Chartered is.
For private banking, they are more involved and work hard to maintain their stellar reputation.
Account opening is difficult. The bank is very picky, especially when it comes to non-residents. They usually ask for high minimum deposits. The lowest I have seen is their minimum of 100,000 HKD for new corporate clients in Hong Kong, but non-residents face a pretty hard time opening an account. It’s not impossible, though.
As of its 2014 annual report, it has assets of 726 billion USD (661 billion EUR).
One (and the in my opinion the better) of the two Swiss giants, UBS was founded in 1862, if you look back to the earliest signs of what would eventually become present day UBS. The bank’s early history is full of mergers.
UBS has had private banking at its core since the early days and they have perfected it since.
The bank has suffered from the financial turmoil in the last decade and since 2007, its largest shareholder is (perhaps surprisingly) the Singaporean government. UBS has established a relatively strong wealth management in Singapore.
The bank has focused heavily on growing globally, today being present in (among others) Liechtenstein, Jersey, Monaco, Luxembourg, Turkey, Austria, Canada, the US, Hong Kong, South Korea, New Zealand, UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Bahamas, Uruguay, and Panama. Note that they aren’t a bank in all jurisdiction. Sometimes, they settle for just an investment services license.
Whether a personal account holder, business of any size, or just in need of private banking, UBS does the job very well.
UBS has relatively attractive cards, offering CHF, EUR, and USD currency cards in Switzerland. You can find more impressive reward points elsewhere but as merely an extension of corporate or personal banking, they cards are among the best.
In my opinion, UBS competes with OCBC for best online banking services.
According to its 2014 annual report, the bank has assets of just over 1 trillion CHF (1.01 trillion USD / 921 billion EUR).
Zürcher Kantonalbank (ZKB)
More or less every canton in Switzerland has its own cantonal bank (Kantonalbank in German). Zürich founded theirs in 1870.
And what a bank it is.
Wholly owned by the government of Zürich, ZKB is the go-to bank for many residents of the canton, competing mainly with UBS and Credit Suisse.
Every couple of quarters, I look into investments with ZKB (my own, clients’, and acquaintances’) and find that while growth might not beat more aggressive banks like UBS on a year-on-year comparison, ZKB often outperforms in a long run. Overall growth and long-term returns tend to be better than many other banks; a sentiment I know many account holders share.
The Swiss mentality in banking (and most things in life) is to take the slow and steady approach, something ZKB has taken to heart.
Account opening is relatively straight-forward but will in most cases require 250 – 500,000 CHF deposit.
Commercial banking is available for non-resident companies but the bank strongly prefers having some sort of Swiss connection. Small, non-resident companies are almost never accepted.
As per the bank’s 2014 annual report, it has assets of 158 billion CHF (159 billion USD / 145 billion EUR).
2015 is over and so is this list. To recap:
- Bank Audi
- Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ
- Bank of Valletta
- Crèdit Andorrà
- National Bank of Abu Dhabi
- Standard Chartered
- Zürcher Kantonalbank
Do you have experiences (good or bad) with these banks? Or other banks that you want to share? Feel free to leave a comment or join the discussions over on the STREBER Weekly forums.
See you again next year! We’ll kick things off with a look at Dominica, and then head east…