Welcome back! In this year’s list of the Best Offshore Banks, I am once again expanding beyond just offshore banks.
Different people use different banks for different reasons. This has been difficult to show in previous posts. That’s why this time, I am dividing the list into categories:
- Best Offshore Banks
- Best Private Banks
- Best Business Banks
- Best Personal Banks
- Best Digital Banks
So, without further ado, the best offshore banks and other banks for 2017 (plus Q1 of 2018) in my humble opinion, are as follow.
Best Offshore Banks
These are banks that many CSPs have on their menus for IBCs and other offshore companies.
- AfrAsia Bank
- FirstCaribbean International
My go-to banks in Mauritius have for long been SBM (State Bank of Mauritius) and MCB (Mauritius Commercial Bank). While SBM remains a good bank for existing clients, they aren’t as welcoming of new ones anymore.
In 2016/2017, I took over a couple of clients that were banking with AfrAsia. I hadn’t previously worked closely with the bank but it quickly turned into a wonderful relationship.
In addition to placing new clients with AfrAsia, in 2017, I also have found myself moving many clients, that were eager to quickly get bank accounts, away from ABC Bank and Bank One to AfrAsia as well as MCB.
This relatively young (founded in 2007) Mauritius bank is well-aligned with international businesses and, thus far, also private banking.
These days, I rarely open bank accounts in the Caribbean. For years and years, the Caribbean offshore banks (usually operating under some form of International Banking Act) were excellent for IBCs. Then things started to change with the dreaded de-risking, hypersensitivity around FATCA and FATF/OECD-led initiatives, and an overall slowdown in the industry.
Few banks have stood strong through it all. Even fewer have improved.
Barbados-based and practically omnipresent across the Caribbean in various forms, FirstCaribbean International is probably the finest institution in the region that’s still relatively easy to work with. You will need an introducer and, while not strictly required, it helps if you can pay them a visit in person.
I mentioned it in the previous list and it stands true: MCB has been involved in banking for offshore companies for decades. The experience is palpable. Where a compliance officer at a high-street bank might panic at the sight of an IBC or where a compliance officer at so many other shoebox-type offshore banks might go absolutely overboard with due diligence, MCB knows how things work.
Are IBC secretive? Yes.
Can that be problematic? Yes.
Are IBCs often used for nefarious purposes? Yes.
Are there ways to work with that and mitigate risks to the bank in a reasonable manner? Yes, and MCB knows it.
Best Private Banks
2017 was a good year for private banking and 2018 has been promising so far. Not only because of largely positive developments on stock markets, but also because of an increase in how technology is used in private banking. It’s very likely that there will be fewer and fewer private bankers as they can increasingly be replaced with machine learning and artificial intelligence. Not all of them, but a very large number of them. The same will start happening to private banks themselves as well.
In the coming years, I expect we will see more and more banks shuttering their private banking and the leading private bank in 10 (or even five) years might be ones that don’t yet exist.
In any case, these are the banks which I have found to have excelled in performance, innovation, and service.
- KEB Hana Bank
One word: iWealth.
Launched in February 2017, iWealth is one of those rare banking products that live up to and even exceed the hype.
It’s not that the product has anything truly unique and “first in the world”. Many of the features have been around for a long time. It’s the execution of it that’s different.
I have heard almost nothing but positive feedback from DBS clients. With a relatively modest (and somewhat negotiable) 350,000 SGD in minimum investible capital to open a wealth management account, I have placed several clients with DBS over the years and many have started using iWealth.
KEB Hana Bank
While neither particularly secretive nor much of a low-tax jurisdiction, South Korea is one of the four Asian tigers: Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea.
Shedding itself of decades of self-imposed technological stagnation, South Korea is now developing fintech solutions in the private banking sector faster than both Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Since 2013, KEB Hana Bank has been offering robo-advisory, using an artificial intelligence to provide investment advice based on large sets of historical data.
Historically, it has been quite difficult to open a bank account in South Korea as a non-resident. Access to foreign currencies and information in English have also been challenging. In the last years, this has got a lot better and KEB Hana Bank is one of the leaders.
But if you still crave traditional private banking, UBS remains the best in the world. LGT, Banque Audi, Bank of Singapore, and a few others definitely shine but none as brightly and consistently as UBS. The personal service quality at UBS is almost in a league of its own. The hiring process is tough and thorough, and the bank as well as its clients are all the better for it.
UBS are researching a lot into new technologies and hopefully, they will be able to stick around another 150+ years by combining their existing strengths with new technology.
Best Personal Banks
What if you don’t have or just don’t want to deposit the large sums of money that private banking usually requires? The list of banks that accept non-resident foreigners for personal accounts shrank a lot in the period 2010 – 2016 but has since then started to improve. With increasingly automated compliance tools and risk management systems, banks are able to accept a broader range of clients.
Local or regional connection will often help with getting approval. Others may ask that you sign a life insurance policy. The intention is to de-risk (lower the risk of) your profile and to ensure the bank has some guaranteed revenue stream from you.
- AfrAsia Bank
In 2017, I had a number of clients ask to open personal bank accounts. Not for the purposes of hiding (CRS/AEOI wasn’t an issue) but simply to have their finances more spread.
This is pretty normal and usually such clients end up banking in Singapore or Hong Kong if they are from western countries or in Switzerland, Luxembourg, or Sweden if they are from APAC.
What was different in 2017 was that many clients were looking beyond those jurisdictions. I found myself placing clients with banks in Mauritius and a little bit in Panama. The bank that stood out the most was AfrAsia Bank. Client onboarding is relatively easy and streamlined for personal accounts.
AfrAsia’s foreign-currency cards, including premium credit cards, have also been popular.
OCBC / OCBC Wing Hang
This listing includes both OCBC in Singapore and OCBC Wing Hang in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong branch is still keen on taking on new clients and is currently probably the easiest bank to open a bank account with in Hong Kong.
Internet banking and mobile apps by OCBC and OCBC Wing Hang are of excellent quality.
OCBC’s wealth management wing Bank of Singapore is also among the finest in the world.
The people that make up the SEB Non-Resident team is probably the most experienced such team of any bank I routinely work with. Although they are thorough with on-boarding clients, they reject very few applications without looking them over.
With superb internet banking and customer service, SEB Sweden continues to be one of the best places for a personal bank account.
Best Business Banks
These lists are for resident or at least regional businesses with local connections.
- Banque International á Luxembourg (BIL)
Banque International á Luxembourg (BIL)
In the past, I have written about how some banks just sit in the background and work. BIL has been one of those banks for years and years, but really started to shine in 2017 when I placed several clients with the bank and have heard almost nothing but good feedback about the bank since then.
BIL is successfully transforming itself from being a pure private-banking/wealth-management bank into a bank that’s so fresh and nimble it almost feels like a digital challenger bank at times.
Although fintech is booming in Luxembourg, banks such as BIL are open to foreign businesses as well. You can’t expect BIL (or any bank) to open an account if all you have is a half-baked idea and a few hundred euro to invest into it, but they will listen to you if you have a good business.
Internet banking and apps are rock solid. Personal accounts can be opened remotely with relative ease in some cases. Businesses accounts are a bit more complicated, as always, but still relatively smooth.
I believe SEB has been on nearly every one of these lists now, and there’s no end in sight. I have placed well over 100 clients with SEB in its home jurisdiction Sweden as well as the Baltics and other jurisdictions. In the shape of a bank or investment fund/manager, SEB spans most corners of the world.
They are – by quite some – the margin best business bank in the Baltics and Scandinavia. There are plenty of good banks in that region, but SEB reigns supreme.
Whether you are a small start-up or a large, international conglomerate, SEB has you covered. They have a slightly higher risk appetite than many other banks of similar size and quality.
The Swiss giant isn’t just for the wealthy to deposit their money. It’s also the largest retail bank in Switzerland. I generally prefer it to their arch-nemesis Credit Suisse, but the reality is that both are excellent banks.
Risk-averse and challenging (but not impossible) to open accounts with for companies with limited connections to Switzerland, once an application is approved, banking with UBS is great experience. Their internet banking remains one of the best in the world. Customer service (account management) is where UBS truly stands out from the competition.
- OCBC/ OCBC Wing Hang
DBS makes multiple appearances in this list and that’s for very good reasons. It’s simply a superb bank to work with through and through.
Although headquartered in Singapore, DBS in Hong Kong can also be an excellent banking partner for a regional business.
They strongly prefer locally incorporated companies with local or regional businesses, but will consider applications from overseas companies including IBCs.
This bank has saved me and my clients in many pinches. I mostly use this bank for businesses involving shipping but have recently expanded to other forms of businesses. Happy to say MUFG continues to excel at whatever industry we present to them.
OCBC / OCBC Wing Hang
By now, I have practically stopped taking new clients to HSBC and Hang Seng and instead take all new ones to OCBC or DBS.
Ever since OCBC bought Wing Hang, it has been a very welcome addition to the Hong Kong banking sector.
Just like DBS, they prefer local businesses. However, OCBC are slightly less strict on this than DBS. They are for example very comfortable with Hong Kong companies that are controlled, operated, and managed overseas, as long as there’s a tangible business model behind it.
- JP Morgan Chase
Butterfield continues to be a favourite year after year. This Bermuda-based bank continues to offer excellent services to businesses in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, in addition to its good trustee and asset management services in other jurisdictions.
The bank has tightened its onboarding requirements significantly, making it very difficult to place IBCs with them. While unfortunate for those IBCs, it has paid off as the bank is now a lot less bogged down with compliance headaches caused by smaller clients.
JP Morgan Chase
This bank doesn’t need much in terms of introduction. It’s one of the largest banks in the world.
I have not had much to do with this bank prior to around 2016, when I started working with several non-US businesses that had entered the US and banked with JP Morgan Chase. Most US banks make it very difficult for foreign businesses, even those operating in the US. JP Morgan Chase makes you feel welcome and they treat you well.
Setting up an account for an LLC is a breeze. Under the right circumstances, non-resident (non-US) LLCs are welcome but with a hefty minimum deposit of around 10 – 50,000 USD and significant amount of paperwork.
With most US banks, opening foreign-currency accounts can be a trial by fire and in the end you often get an expensive account with limited usefulness. This is not the case with JP Morgan Chase, and it’s one of the reasons they are on this list.
Royal Bank of Canada was one of my first introductions to Canadian banks. The bank has significant presence across the Caribbean, mainly by way of private banking but it is possible to open corporate accounts with RBC there for offshore companies under very special circumstances.
In Canada, RBC has been a superb partner for local businesses as well as foreign businesses establishing in Canada. RBC is equally good at small businesses as large corporations.
It is also relatively easy to open a US bank account with RBC.
Rest of World
- Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB)
- Standard Bank
- Standard Chartered
Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB)
While other banks in UAE vary in quality a lot over time, ADCB has remained unchangedly great over time.
You will often hear CSPs say that ADCB doesn’t work with offshore companies including Ras Al-Khaimah international companies. This isn’t technically true. (Such things rarely are.) But it is very, very difficult. Freezone companies are much more generally accepted. Foreign companies need to have significant local or regional connections, or find some other way to generate revenue for the bank (such as exchanging a lot of currency, for which ADCB often can offer competitive rates).
Although banking in South Africa is a dreadful affair by and large, Standard Bank has fortunately grown beyond South Africa.
If you come from a western country and wish to do business in and across Africa, it’s very common to end up with Barclays or Standard Bank. Of the two, Standard Bank consistently stands out in terms of quality and services offered. The bank is present in many African countries, holding licenses as well as competence to transact in and convert between the local currencies without additional intermediaries that usually add cost.
The bank’s presences in Isle of Man and Jersey are often of great interest as well.
Despite being one of the most internationally-present banks in the world, Standard Chartered is a bank that people either don’t think about or assume is much larger than it is. While it’s still one of the top-50 largest banks in the world by many measures, it pales in comparison to HSBC, Citibank, and Barclays.
Standard Chartered is listed under Rest of World but could in any of the aforementioned categories. I work with numerous clients in low to medium risk industries that rely on Standard Chartered to always be there and always work, and they always are and always do.
In Hong Kong and Singapore, they are noteworthy for being receptive to local companies with non-resident ownership. You will often be asked to deposit 100,000 HKD or 30,000 SGD minimum, purchase a life insurance policy, or set up some form of investment/wealth management relationship. This isn’t as straight-forward as OCBC / OCBC Wing Hang but it’s nonetheless a good option if you have the capital.
Best Digital Banks
However, digital banks are often ill suited for any larger sums of money. Doing a couple of five-figure-amount transactions will quickly get complicated as you’re dealing with compliance staff that simply haven’t the experience found at larger financial institutions. This applies even if they’re first-party transfers (moving funds to and from your own accounts).
One of few digital challenger banks to actually hold a banking license, Netherlands-based Bunq gets practically everything right in order to be a world leader in their space: fast and friendly customer service, a great app, and simple sign-up.
While slipping somewhat in service quality levels and with an interface that is starting to look outdated, Paysera nonetheless remain one of the best digital banks (E-Mony Institute, in this case).
While nearly all of their competitors stay away from non-European companies entirely, Paysera will consider applications from such companies (including IBCs) but only if there is a solid business plan behind it and subject to careful (but not unreasonable) due diligence.
Because of Paysera’s experience with handling more complicated clients, they also tend to follow a compliance structure that’s more akin to well-established financial institutions. Basically, they don’t cause as much of a fuss when you transact larger sums or transact with non-European jurisdictions.
The mobile application is better than most traditional banks’, but looks dusty compared to Bunq and Revolut.
Having a Revolut card has helped many expats, travellers, and online shoppers save money when transacting in foreign currencies.
The registration process is very smooth with Revolut and the app should be a role model for all banks.
That’s the whole list this year.
It will probably be quite a while until I post again.