Offshore Online Banking Guide – Critical Information You Must Know

There are several legal and regulatory compliance implications with offshore banking that I’d like to cover in this article. However, please don’t construe information on this site as legal guidance. I am providing this information for free based on my own experiences. Please consult your professional attorney or CPA (accountant) before you get involved with offshore internet banking.

What is an Offshore Bank

To be over simplistic, an offshore bank is a financial institution outside the shores of your country. If you are in Australia, a bank in the United States is an offshore bank to you. If you are in the United States, a bank in Singapore is an offshore bank to you. Therefore, the idea of offshore banking is relative.

A business or an individual, in this case you, may select an offshore bank account in a jurisdiction that is typically favorable in terms of taxes (often referred to as a tax haven by media), as well as in terms of legalities. In addition to choosing a jurisdiction with no to little income tax, for many, privacy and “secrecy” of banking activities are two of the bigger key considerations.

It goes without saying that access to your funds is important, as well as protection from corruption and stability in terms of certainty.

List of Common Offshore Online Banking Services

This is a brief list of services offered by offshore banks. This list is by no means a full comprehensive list of an offshore bank’s offerings, but rather a list of some of the most common offshore online banking services that businesses and individuals are offered:

  • Remote Deposits of funds
  • Direct Deposits of funds
  • ACH / Wire Transfers / EFT – Electronic Fund Transfers
  • Consumer and Commercial Lending
  • All Basic Credit Activities
  • Access to Capital – Offshore Debit Cards
  • Forex – Currency Exchange
  • Wealth Management
  • Offshore Trading Account
  • Offshore Brokerage Account
  • Administrative Services
  • Trustee Services

Note: Offshore banks typically tend to focus on either consumer or commercial banking. Within consumer, banks differentiate between retail consumer (the average individual) or private banking (meant for high net worth individuals).

Because each concentration involves a different cost structure from the bank’s perspective, when selecting an offshore bank for yourself, be clear on what type of consumer you are and what offshore online banking services you need. Gaining this clarity will ensure you are not disappointed in your choice.

List of Common Offshore Banks

No doubt the two most common names in offshore online banking are Switzerland and Cayman Islands. Just pick up any business journal or pop in a business based Hollywood flick. There is likely a mention of a Swiss bank account somewhere.

This is because as of at least 2012, these two jurisdictions held the most number of total deposits amongst all offshore online banks. Some other jurisdictions that offer offshore online banking are the following:

  • Singapore
  • Malaysia
  • Panama
  • Cook Islands
  • Dominica
  • Saint Kitts and Nevis
  • Antigua
  • Malaysia
  • Anguilla
  • New Zealand
  • Luxembourg
  • Bahamas
  • Barbados
  • Bermuda
  • British Virgin Islands
  • Cyprus
  • Cook Islands
  • Channel Islands
  • Monaco
  • Mauritius
  • Hong Kong
  • Malta
  • Macau
  • Regulating Offshore Online Banking

With complexity comes increasing regulation. The regulation around offshore online banking activities has steadily increased over the years, but according to many of its supporters it is still not enough. This means much more is in the pipelines. Regulation has particularly increased significantly after the significant events of September 11, 2011.

Regulatory guidance is issued and monitored by global bodies such as the International Monetary Fund or the IMF, who require financial institutions worldwide to maintain a certain level of operating or performance standard, specifically in terms of capital adequacy and liquidity. These key performance indicators are to be reported by banks on a quarterly basis to its designated regulator (such as the Fed or the FDIC in the United States).

The list of regulations is endless and quite comprehensive to say the least. Some notables are the Anti Money Laundering (AML) regulation and the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). These acts require banks and financial institutions to immediately report suspicious activity resembling money laundering to local government authorities despite stepping out of the BSA jurisdiction.

Another example is the information sharing requirements between a certain group of countries with regards to capital flow and taxation which was initiated by members of the European Union. On the other side of the pond, the taxing body of the United States, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requires financial institutions to report to it names of businesses and individuals who benefited from interest income resulting from deposits in US based institutions.

The most notable in my opinion of recently enacted regulations is the US Patriot Act, which permits the US Government to seize all assets of a financial institution if it suspects that the institution holds assets that belong to a potential criminal. Several other countries have since followed suit.

I personally feel these regulations strengthen the global banking infrastructure. But then again I am just one person. There are others who feel in all sorts of ways about offshore online banking.

Interesting Fact: Did you know that just until the 1990s, individuals were allowed to create their very own offshore banks. This practice was stopped and now only large institutions are allowed to do so.

Connotations and Implications of Offshore Online Banking

It is not illegal to conduct offshore online banking, but such activities tend to carry with them a certain set of connotations and legal implications that you must be aware of and comply with. There can be severe fines, penalties and legal repercussions if you fail to comply with the legal and regulatory requirements.

Why you must be thinking? Because offshore banking historically has been used and abused by those who intended to evade taxes, as well as those that used funds for illegal causes. For example, organized crime networks heavily use offshore online banking to launder money.

But like I said, conducting offshore online banking isn’t an illegal activity. All persons conducting offshore online banking are required by most countries (depending on their residency) to disclose the activities and the outcomes, such as interest income for example.

Specifically in the United States for example, a US resident’s income is taxed on a global basis. This means that even interest earned overseas is subject to taxation by US authorities. Now although financial institutions are not required to disclose this information to countries of interest due the bank secrecy guidelines, individuals are required to disclose this information.

Similarly, one can legally avoid taxes in certain situations. For example, a resident of Country X living and working in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) may not have to pay taxes if Country X does not tax the individual’s global income.

Because there is no taxation on income earned in many Arab nations, interest income earned from deposits in a UAE bank account is not subject to tax. Further, the income is also not taxed in Country X. This is a common reason why so many affluent folks change residency and citizenship status, one that resonates most with their financial goals and objectives.

It’s a very interesting dynamic and there is a ton of opportunity for strategizing as you can imagine.

Dollar Concentration in Offshore Online Banking

Although offshore online banking is not a subject delved into by the average individual, the numbers involved (concentration of wealth and financial activity) are quite significant. You may find a lot of these simply fascinating.

For example, specialized banking economists and analysts indicate that half of the global capital (money) flows through one of the many offshore banks out there. The so called Tax Havens (think Switzerland) have over a quarter of the global wealth (think high net worth individuals and big companies). These Havens also hold over 30% of profits generated by companies based in the United States.

And that’s not it. Over 6 trillion US dollars owned by high net worth individuals are also reported to be held in offshore bank accounts in one shape or another.

Illegal Monies in Offshore Bank Accounts

Opportunists have identified weaknesses in the offshore banking system and thus have taken advantage of the systems to launder monies generated through illegal means and used for illegal purposes. According to the IMF, this amount is as large as 1.5 trillion US dollars on an annual basis. To put things in perspective for you, this is roughly 5% of the world’s total Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

In addition to illegal monies, there are also monies that have evaded taxation as well as monies that were generated through fraud, graft and corruption. All in all, the amounts are super significant. And as I stated above, the two jurisdictions with the biggest concentration of these amounts are the Cayman Islands and Switzerland (as of 2012).

Offshore Internet Banking for Corporations of All Sizes

I have already stated this earlier, but offshore online banking is not only for large companies, but companies of all sizes as well as individuals. There are a certain set of requirements that any institution, an individual or a company have to meet in order to open and maintain an offshore bank account.

In fact, it is easier for individuals to open and maintain an offshore bank account before companies are required to complete additional forms in a specific manner when establishing an offshore internet bank account.

Corporations typically engage in offshore online banking when they contemplate one or any mix of the following purposes.

  • Cost containment (bank fees and charges)
  • Paying and receiving payments from vendors and customers in local jurisdictions
  • Asset protection strategies
  • International acquisitions and investments
  • Compensating local employees in an offshore jurisdiction
  • Political reasons – Stability and predictability
  • Establishing a local business presence
  • Again, this is not a comprehensive list of why companies engage in offshore online banking. There are several other reasons why a company may decide to establish an offshore bank account. The only true way to find out the best offshore bank for you, and whether your objectives will be met through offshore internet banking is by speaking to a professional who can walk you through the entire process.

Concluding Thoughts on Offshore Internet Banking

I gave you a ton of information to read and digest in this article. As you have read, offshore internet banking is used by several different constituencies for several different purposes with several different intentions.

There are some significant advantages that can be derived from opening an offshore bank account such as entering new global markets and some serious offshore tax planning. I obviously recommend opening an offshore bank account for the right reasons, with full compliance with laws and regulations. For those contemplating abusing the system, understand that bank secrecy is a weakening concept, and one that will continue to weaken over the years.

Countries are increasingly sharing information, some voluntarily and some while succumbing to pressure by more powerful nations such as the United States.

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Universal Banking – Answer For The Best Banking Design?

1.1 INTRODUCTION

In recent years, universal banking has been growing its popularity in Indonesia. Mandiri Bank, for example, has taken strategy to become Indonesia’s universal bank; this bank has also initiated to develop an integrated financial risk system in terms of sounding financial performance and increasing shareholder value. In Germany, and most developed countries in Europe, universal banks have initiated its operations since nineteen century. There is mounting evidence that in those countries, universal banks have taken an important part in the development of real sectors and the financial system. In those countries, the growing numbers of universal banking practices are really supported by the regulation of central of bank.

Despite, in The United States, they are strict to regulate universal banks by blocking commercial banks from engaging in securities and stock markets practices. They argued that the practice of universal banking might be harmful for the financial system. ((Boyd et.al, 1998) cited in Cheang, 2004) The “risk” might be the key reason why the central bank of The U.S is worried about the universal banking system. Since, if the central of bank allowed banks to adjust their operation to be universal banks, the relationship among, banks, financial and stock markets would be closer. Consequently, this would give an uncertainty to the banks condition and performance. For example, if there were a disaster in stock market, banks would get problems in their financial positions. Thus, they would tend to be insolvent.

In addition universal banks would also threaten the market share of other specialized institutions, because more customers would choose universal banks that offer more option to their investment. Hence, more specialized institutions are likely to be ruined in the U.S financial industry.

One majoring factor, which is triggering a bank to be universal bank, is to increase the profit by enlarging their market share. According to João A. C. Santos (1998) universal bank itself can be defined as the financial institution, which enlarges its service range in terms of offering a variety of financial products and services in one site. Thus, by operating universal banking, banks could get a greater opportunity to expand to another financial area, such as : financial securities, insurance, hedge funds and etc.

Although the trend of banks has recently tended to universal banks, it is undoubtedly true that universal banks would also face further risks because a wide range of financial services is strongly associated with increasing risks and escalating monitoring costs. These are the major concerns why banks have to implement more advance technology in terms of financial risk management. Moreover, the practices of universal banks would cause significant risks to economy’s payment system. Since, the operation of universal banks connects closely to the financial and stock markets that are very fluctuate in a short term.

To win in the tight competition among financial institutions, banks have to alter their maneuver to lead in the market. Universal bank could be the wise choice for the bank manager, because they can attract more customers with a wide range of services. Furthermore, by altering their operation to the universal banking system, banks would get benefits from the efficiency and economies of scale.

In order to understand about the universal banking practices, this paper would examine the exclusive matters, which related to the risks and benefits in a universal bank. Moreover, this paper would also focus the whole impact of this institution to the financial system and the economy as a whole.

1.2 PROFITS AND COSTS IN UNIVERSAL BANKING: IMPLICATIONS FOR INDIVIDUAL BANKS

General problem related to financial intermediation, include universal banks and another type of banks, is about asymmetric information . It is the main problem that causes costs to increase and influence the performance of financial institutions. In Universal banks, the problems that would increase are slightly different with specialized banks; they are similar in that they should cope the risks problem associated with their financial position. Although, in universal banks, the risks are more bigger due to the wide range of financial instruments that they organized. Therefore, banks have to increase their spending on monitoring costs that are more complicated than specialized institutions or conventional banks.

Possible answer why more banks sacrifice to the escalating risks and transform it operation into the universal banking is that they want to compete and expand their market share, in order to seek a greater opportunity profits by serving more choices to their customers. Many banks has experienced a great performance after they alter their operation, the main concerns are that they could reach better economies of scale which can reduce the amount of spending in operational costs and also a greater opportunity to get more profits. The research finding which was conducted by Vender, R. (2002, cited in Cheang, 2004) about the efficiency of revenue in financial conglomerates and the level of both profit and cost in universal banking, has proved that both financial conglomerates and universal banking contain good performance in several indicators of bank profitability. His finding also suggests that the sustained expansion of financial conglomerates and universal banking practices may increase efficiency in the financial system.

This opinion is strengthen by another experts, like : George Rich and Christian Walter (1993). They state that universal banks which posse benefits over specialized institutions, are able to take advantage of reduction in the average cost of production and scope in banking. It is essential for banks that operate on a international level and in order to fulfill customer needs with a variety of financial services. They also mention a classic example how universal banks in some countries, such as : Switzerland, Germany and more European countries has experienced benefits by operating universal banking. In addition, they also state that the fear if universal bank would threaten specialized institutions has not proven. In Switzerland and Germany, for example, specialized institutions could achieve a better improvement in terms of cooperating with big banks. Universal banks are one of potential market channel which can sell their products directly to the customers, so specialized institutions also get additional return due to the increases in the number of universal banks. Therefore, this proves that universal banks do not threat other institutions; in fact, they support specialized institutions to market their products.

According to Fohlin, universal banking would lead to a bank’s concentration due to the increases the number of branch. Based on Germany’s experience, such branching-based expansion has led to the efficiency in banking because it could increase economies of scale in advertising and marketing, and open an enormous opportunity to enhance diversification and steadiness for banks.

A universal bank has unique position to tackle asymmetric information. As stated by Joao A. C. Santos (1998), that a universal bank has potential benefits on the reduction of agency cost and acquires profits due to information advantages. Although in other sides, universal banking also face problems related to the cost, conflict of interest and safety and soundness. But the default risk, which is generally happened in financial intermediation, would decrease substantially because universal banks are easier to control over their customers. Most of lenders in universal banks are their customers, so they can understand about the capacity of the customers from the information that they gather.

Nicholas Cheang (2004) also points out how universal banks could reduce a crucial problem in financial institution, asymmetric information. He argued that they could preserve a close relationship with their borrowers, by gathering more relevant information to make an important decision for investment. Their advantageous positions also vital to optimize the distribution of fund allocation, because banks have already known which investment that would give more margins to them. So, they don’t need to worry too much about the risk.

1.3 UNIVERSAL BANKS AND THE STABILITY IN THE FINANCIAL SYSTEM

Financial institution plays a vital role in terms of mobilizing funds in the economy. Consequently, stability in financial system is really important to manage by government in order to prevent wider implications to the real sectors. Financial disasters which happened in most countries in Asia in 1997 are the classic examples how importance to save banks to recover the economy.

As the financial supermarkets, which are handling a variety of financial instruments, they must face a greater risk than specialized institutions. As a consequence, this institution needs to be monitored closely in order to prevent more implications to the economy. According to Benston (1994), the escalating risks in universal banking would lead to a great problem because it can cause generous distress in the financial system. Hence, it will greatly increase the risk to the economy’s payment system. In another term, Rime and Strioh (2001) who examine the financial system in Switzerland in which universal banking are becoming more important in this country, state that difficulty in monitoring large universal banks is a major concern. This is the reason why universal bank has to spend more money in monitoring cost and develop an advanced system in information technology. In other words, it could say that the consequence of inefficient monitoring could lead to financial instability. (Cheang, 2004)

A wider range of universal banks in financial system makes the fund channels of banks to the customer are larger than specialized institutions. So, the economy will improve because universal banks will support more funding. This can be seen by the fact that a universal bank practice in Germany has triggered the progress of some enterprises performance in this country. (Stiglitz, 1985). It is understandable that when the allocation of fund can distribute widely and effectively to the potential enterprises, the economy will improve. In this context, universal banks have played as the key institution which mobilize fund to the potential lender.

Edwards (1996), has also proved that a universal bank is not just significantly contributed to economy from the external funds that they provide, but also from the improvement of the information flows. (cited in Cheang, 2004) Therefore, this proves that universal banks have played a significant role in terms of reducing the default risk by providing important information about the lender or customers. Furthermore, the safety of the financial system would be improved by the existence of universal banks.

1.4 CONCLUSION

The development of universal banks has to in line with the policy direction of central bank, because it is important to keep the stability of financial system and the economy as whole. There are three important areas that must be concerned related to universal bank operations, such as : the strengthened of capital and advanced risk management system. Consequently, in order to manage universal bank, people need to be aware about the unique of the risk type in universal banking. Furthermore, policy maker must also consider about the implication of universal banks in financial system.

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Offshore Banking – Fiction Vs Fact

FICTION: Offshore banking can’t be that good because they can’t really pay the high interest rates they offer. If they could really pay those rates then U.S. banks would try to be competitive and have the same interest rates.

FACT: Examine closely the financial statements of any U.S. Bank. You will see that their “gross” profits against customer deposits can range from 25% to 40% — but — they have laws written in stone to limit the interest amount they can pay customers on their deposits. The U.S. banks place their earnings into unnecessary frills and non-productive expenditures like fancy buildings etc., while offshore banking facilities don’t do this and share their profits with their customers.

FICTION: Offshore banking isn’t regulated, so you are at risk of losing all money deposited with them.

FACT: The truth is that every country in the free world has regulations, rules and laws governing financial institutions and banks. Those regulations, rules, and laws, however, are much less restrictive than the “protectionist” U.S. banking regulations, rules, and laws and allow the offshore banking industry better opportunity to earn much greater profits for their investors and depositors.

FICTION: Offshore banking facilities are not insured by the F.D.I.C.

FACT: Some of the banks are but not that many. If they are, they must comply with the same protectionist banking regulations and rules as all the other F.D.I.C. insured banks. But, the majority of offshore banking facilities are insured; one way or another.

Depositor insurance programs similar to the F.D.I.C. program have been established in some countries, so that the banks in those countries have their deposits insured. Independent insurance companies insure the deposits of offshore banking facilities in other countries AND unlike the F.D.I.C., insure 100% of the banks deposits; not just those under $100,000. (By the way, some of the banks in the U.S. insure their deposits with independent insurance companies and many banks in the U.S. are not F.D.I.C. insured)

Offshore banking is “self-insured” for the most part which means those banks have a liquidity factor equal to 100% (or more) of the deposits on the books. Those banks have $1 (or more) in liquid assets for every $1 held on deposit. Therefore, there is no bank run because they can cover any depositor demand.

Self-insured offshore banking is actually more secure than F.D.I.C. insured U.S. banking. Why? Because the F.D.I.C. insured U.S. banks are permitted to maintain a liquidity factor equivalent to approximately 10 percent of their public deposits. (Is it any wonder why more U.S. banks fail each year than in any other country?)

Which kind of bank would you feel more safe having your money in? An offshore banking institution which as one dollar in cash for every dollar on deposit, or a U.S. bank which as ten cents in cash for every dollar that shows up on the deposit statement they give their clients?

FICTION: Offshore banking isn’t as big or strong as U.S. banking.

FACT: Of the strongest and largest big banks in the world (in assets), one bank ONLY is located in the United States:

Here are the safest offshore banks in the world, according to a ranking done in 2007 after examining their total assets in US dollars. This ranking is compiled from balance sheet information included on AllBanks.org

1 UBS AG Switzerland 2 Barclays UK 3 The Royal Bank of Scotland Group UK 4 Deutsche Bank AG Germany 5 BNP Paribas SA France 6 The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ Ltd Japan 7 ABN AMRO Holding NV Netherlands 8 Societe Generale France 9 Credit Agricole SA France 10 Bank of America NA USA

2008/2009 UPDATE AFTER THE FINANCIAL COLLAPSE OF 2008

Germany’s largest bank, Deutsche Bank AG, reported a fourth quarter loss of about $6.3 billion. A year earlier, the bank posted a profit of about $1.3 billion (1 billion euros), Bloomberg reported.

Royal Bank of Scotland is expected to post losses of as high as £1.7 billion.

Bucking the trend is a bank not even on the list above and that bank is Standard Chartered bank which is expecting to post profits of 1.3 billion pounds. I have a contact who can help you open an account at this bank for your company if you desire to do so. The account would be in Hong Kong.

Another bank I know about is rated AAA by an independent rating service and if you are not from the U.S. or if you are from the U.S. and have a foreign LLC or IBC to open the account with then you can deposit $15,000 and get involved in their borrow low and deposit high program which has earned depositors as much as 100% per year on their deposit. It is easy to open an account there.

FICTION: Offshore banking must not be very good, or more facilities would advertise their services in newspapers and magazines in the U.S.

FACT: Offshore banking in general is restricted by law from advertising in magazines, newspapers, radio and on T.V. unless they come under the same protectionist rules and regulations that are placed upon U.S. banks. Knowing that, you should be cautious about doing business with any offshore banking facility that publicly advertises in the U.S. media. Because you can be very sure that they have sold-out to the U.S. banking establishment and that establishment will end up selling you out to those who make the rules.

FICTION: Offshore banking is only for the wealthy.

FACT: About 25 years ago, that may have been true. But I know of about three offshore banking facilities that will allow you to open an account for as little as $500. One of these is in the Asia, another in Europe, and another in Latin America.

FICTION: Opening an account at an offshore banking facility is too difficult, and it is very difficult to get a withdrawal when you need it.

FACT: Opening an account at an offshore banking facility is easy because you just follow the instructions they give to you. Getting your money out only requires a request that you fax or email with an attachment included.

This article is governed by international copyright laws and is governed by the laws of Ezine Articles. Violators of their rules will be punished to the fullest extent possible.

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ENTREPRENEURIAL CHALLENGES – The Case of Royal Bank Zimbabwe Ltd

Industry Shake-up

In December 2003 Mzwimbi went on a well deserved family vacation to the United States, satisfied with the progress and confident that his sprawling empire was on a solid footing. However a call from a business magnate in January 2004 alerted him to what was termed a looming shake- up in the financial services sector. It appears that the incoming governor had confided in a few close colleagues and acquaintances about his plans. This confirmed to Mzwimbi the fears that were arising as RBZ refused to accommodate banks which had liquidity challenges.

The last two months of 2003 saw interest rates soar close to 900% p.a., with the RBZ watching helplessly. The RBZ had the tools and capacity to control these rates but nothing was done to ease the situation. This hiking of interest rates wiped out nearly all the bank’s income made within the year. Bankers normally rely on treasury bills (TBs) since they are easily tradable. Their yield had been good until the interest rates skyrocketed. Consequently bankers were now borrowing at higher interest rates than the treasury bills could cover. Bankers were put in the uncomfortable position of borrowing expensive money and on-lending it cheaply. An example at Royal Bank was an entrepreneur who borrowed $120 million in December 2003, which by March 2004 had ballooned to $500 million due to the excessive rates. Although the cost of funds was now at 900% p.a., Royal Bank had just increased its interest rates to only 400% p.a, meaning that it was funding the client’s shortfall. However this client could not pay it and just returned the $120 million and demonstrated that he had no capacity to pay back the $400 million interest charge. Most bankers accepted this anomaly because they thought it was a temporary dysfunction perpetuated by the inability of an acting governor to make bold decisions. Bankers believed that once a substantive governor was sworn in he would control the interest rates. Much to their dismay, on assuming the governorship Dr. Gono left the rates untamed and hence the situation worsened. This scenario continued up to August 2004, causing considerable strain on entrepreneurial bankers.

On reflection, some bankers feel that the central bank deliberately hiked the interest rates, as this would allow it to restructure the financial services sector. They argue that during the cash crisis of the last half of 2003, bank CEOs would meet often with the RBZ in an effort to find solutions to the crisis. Retrospectively they claim that there is evidence indicating that the current governor though not appointed yet was already in control of the RBZ operations during that time period and was thus responsible for the untenable interest rate regime.

In January 2004, after his vacation, Mzwimbi was informed by the RBZ that Royal had been accommodated for $2 billion on the 28th of December 2003. The Central Bank wanted to know whether this accommodation should be formalised and placed into the newly created Troubled Bank Fund. However, this was expensive money both in terms of the interest rates and also in terms of the conditions and terms of the loan. At Trust Bank, access to this facility had already given the Central Bank the right to force out the top executives, restructure the Board and virtually take over the management of the bank.

Royal Bank turned down the offer and used deposits to pay off the money. However the interest rates did not come down.

During the first quarter of 2004 Trust Bank, Barbican bank and Intermarket Bank were identified as distressed and put under severe corrective orders by the Central Bank.

Royal Assault

Royal Bank remained stable until March 2004. People who had their funds locked up in Intermarket Bank withdrew huge sums of funds from Royal Bank while others were moving to foreign owned banks as the perception created by Central Bank was read by the market to mean that entrepreneurial bankers were fraudsters.

Others withdrew their money on the basis that if financial behemoths like Intermarket can sink, then it could happen to any other indigenously controlled bank. Royal Bank had an advantage that in the smaller towns it was the only bank, so people had no choice. However even in this scenario there were no stable deposits as people kept their funds moving to avoid being caught unawares. For example in one week Royal Bank had withdrawals of over $40 billion but weathered the storm without recourse to Central Bank accommodation.

At this time, newspaper reports indicating some leakage of confidential information started appearing. When confronted, one public paper reporter confided that the information was being supplied to them by the Central Bank. These reports were aimed at causing panic withdrawals and hence exposing banks to depositor flight.

Statutory Reserves

In March 2004, at the point of significant vulnerability, Royal Bank received a letter from RBZ cancelling the exemption from statutory reserve requirements. Statutory reserves are funds, (making up a certain percentage of their total deposits), banks are required to deposit with the Central Bank, at no interest.

When Royal Bank began operations, Mzwimbi applied to the Central Bank – then under Dr Tsumba, for foreign currency to pay for supplies, software and technology infrastructure. No foreign currency could be availed but instead Royal Bank was exempted from paying statutory reserves for one year, thus releasing funds which Royal could use to acquire foreign currency and purchase the needed resources. This was a normal procedure and practice of the Central Bank, which had been made available to other banking institutions as well. This would also enhance the bank’s liquidity position.

Even investors are sometimes offered tax exemptions to encourage and promote investments in any industry. This exemption was delayed due to bungling in the Banking Supervision and Surveillance Department of the RBZ and was thus only implemented a year later, consequently it would run from May 2003 until May 2004. The premature cancellation of this exemption caught Royal Bank by surprise as its cash flow projections had been based on these commencing in May 2004.

When the RBZ insisted, Royal Bank calculated the statutory reserves and noted that, due to a decline in its deposits, it was not eligible for the payment of statutory reserves at that time. When the bank submitted its returns with zero statutory reserves, the Central Bank claimed that the bank was now due for the whole statutory reserve since inception. In effect this was not being treated as a statutory reserve exemption but more as a penalty for evading statutory reserves. Royal Bank appealed. There were conflicting opinions between the Bank Supervision and Capital Markets divisions on the issue as Bank Supervision conceded to the validity of Royal’s position. However Capital Markets insisted that it had instructions from the top to recall the full amount of $23 billion. This was forced onto Royal Bank and transferred without consent to the Troubled Banks Fund at exorbitant rates of 450% p. a.

FML Saga

When FML was demutualising, the executives were concerned about the possibility of being swallowed by its huge strategic partner, Trust Holdings. FML approached Royal Bank and other banks to act as buffers. The agreement was that FML would fund the deal by placing funds with Royal Bank so that Royal would not fund it from its balance sheet.

Consequently FML would leave the deposits with Royal Bank for the tenor of the loan. The deal was consummated through Regal Asset Managers and was to mature in December 2004, at which time it was anticipated that the share price of First Mutual would have blossomed, allowing Royal Bank to harvest its investment and exit profitably. The deal resulted in Regal Asset Managers owning 57 million FML shares. Royal Bank gave FML some securities in the form of treasury bills as collateral for the deposit.

The Reserve Bank and the curator wrote off this investment because at that time FML was suspended at the ZSE. However the fact that it was suspended did not invalidate its value. Recent events have shown that this investment has generated huge capital value for Regal Asset Managers as the ZSE rebounded. Yet the curator valued this investment negatively. Around March 2004 there had been a contagion effect at FML due to the challenges at Trust Bank. This resulted in the forced departure of the FML CEO and chairman. FML was suspended from the local bourse as investigations into the financing structure of Capital Alliance’s acquisition were carried out. Because of the pressure brought to bear on FML, it wanted to withdraw the deposits held by Royal Bank, contrary to the agreement. FML could not locate and return the treasury bills that had been provided as collateral by Royal. Royal Bank suspected that these had been placed with ENG, another asset management company which collapsed in December 2003. A public row broke out. Royal Bank executives sought counsel from Renaissance Merchant Bank, which had brokered the deal, and the Chairman of the ZSE, who both agreed with Royal that the deal was legitimate and FML had to honour the agreement. At this stage FML sought court intervention in an attempt to force Royal Bank into liquidation. Even the curator contested the FML position resulting in his taking it for arbitration. Royal’s position remained that if FML fails to return the securities then it will not get the funds.

Royal bank directors claimed political interference on the issue. The Royal Bank executives believe that the governor, against his better judgment, decided to act against Royal Bank under the pretext of the political pressure. In retrospect, the political support for cracking the whip at Royal gave credence to the rumour that the governor had an underlying agenda in taking Royal and merging it into ZABG because of its strong branch network.

Royal Bank had been warned by friendly RBZ insiders that if it ever accessed the Troubled Bank Fund it would be in trouble, so it sought to avoid this at all costs.

However on 4th August 2004, Royal was served with papers that effectively placed it under the curator. Interestingly, the curator’s contract was signed two days earlier. Until this time no depositor had ever failed to withdraw his deposits from Royal Bank.

The lack of credibility of the Reserve Bank in handling this case is exposed when one considers that some banks were given more than eight months to stabilise under curators, e.g. Intermarket and CFX Banks, and were able to recover. But Royal and Trust Bank were under the curator for less than two months before being amalgamated. The press raised concerns about the curators assuming the role of undertaker rather than nurse, and hence burying these banks.This seemed to confirm the possibility of a hidden agenda on the part of the Central Bank.

Victor Chando

Chando was an excellent financial engineer who set up Victory Financial Services after a stint with MBCA. He had been the brains behind the setting up of the predecessor of Century Discount House which he later sold to Century Holdings. Royal Bank initially had an interest in discount houses and so at inception had included Victor as a significant shareholder. He later acquired Barnfords Securities which Royal intended to bring in-house.

Victory Financial Services was involved in foreign currency dealings, using offshore companies that bought free funds from Zimbabweans abroad and purchased raw materials for Zimbabwean corporations. One such deal with National Foods went sour and the MD reported it to the Central Bank. On investigations the deal was found to be clean but the RBZ went ahead to publish that he was involved in illegal foreign currency transactions and linked this to Royal Bank. However this was a transaction done by a shareholder as an account holder, in which the bank had no interest. What confused matters, was that Victory Financial Services was housed in the same building as Royal Bank.

After failing to nail Chando to any criminal charges, the Central Bank issued an order for Royal Bank to force him out as a shareholder and board member. It is ridiculous that the Central Bank would vet who is a shareholder or not in banks – particularly when the people had no criminal records.

Negotiations with OPEC were underway for it to take over Chando’s shareholding. The Reserve Bank was aware of these developments. OPEC would then help in the recapitalisation as well as open up lines of credit for the bank.

The Arrest

In September 2004 the executive directors of Royal Bank, Mzwimbi and Durajadi, were arrested on five allegations of fraudulently prejudicing the bank. One of the charges was that they fraudulently used depositors’ funds to recapitalise the bank.

Three of the charges after police investigations were dropped, as they were not true. The two remaining charges were:

a) a conflict of interest on loans that were made available to the directors. The RBZ alleges that they did not disclose their interests when companies controlled by them accessed loans at concessionary rates from the bank. However the enterprising bankers dispute these charges, as they claim the Board minutes prove that this interest was disclosed. Even the annual financial statements of the bank acknowledge that they accessed loans as part of their employment contract with the bank.

b) money was owed to Finsreal Asset Management. However Mzwimbi argues that Finsreal actually owes them money and not the other way round. Royal Bank shareholders needed to inject money for recapitalisation of the bank and were requested to deposit their funds with Finsreal Asset Management. Since some had not paid their portion of the recapitalisation by the due date, Royal Financial Holdings, which had an account with Finsreal, paid the money on behalf of the shareholders – who were then indebted to Royal Financial Holdings. Somehow the RBZ confused this transaction as the bank’s funds and therefore accused the

shareholders of using depositors’ funds to recapitalise.

By retrospectively analysing the court case wherein the Royal Bank executive directors are accused of defrauding the bank it appears that the RBZ created a falsehood in order to frustrate the bankers. The curator who initially refused to take a stand before the RBZ appointed Independent Appeal, has in court clearly testified that no monies were stolen from the bank by the directors and that the curator did not (contrary to RBZ assertions) recommend charges against the bankers. In January 2007 the former executive directors of Royal Bank were acquitted by the High Court on the remaining criminal charges after the prosecution failed to present a convincing argument.

Royal Bank assets were sold by the curator to ZABG barely two months after being placed under the curator, without any audited financial statements. The speed at which an agreement of sale was reached is astonishing. The owners of Royal Bank went to court and, after a protracted legal struggle, the court ruled that the assets were sold illegally and hence the sale was “illegal and of no force or effect and therefore null and void”. The court then directed that the owners should appeal to the Central Bank for a determination of the actions of the curators. The Central Bank begrudgingly set up an “independent panel” to adjudicate the case. Strangely ZABG continued to trade on the illegal assets.

The panel advised that the appeal by Royal bank be rejected as it would be difficult to disentangle it from ZABG. They also cited the fact that ZABG had some contractual obligations with third parties who may not want to do business with Royal bank. This strange ruling fails to explain why these considerations were not made when the amalgamation was done. The ruling also redefined the agreements between the curator of Royal bank and ZABG as not being an “agreement of sale” even though the parties which entered into the agreement clearly intended it to be viewed as such. This was a way of circumventing the Supreme Court ruling that the agreement of sale was null and void.

But the panel did not explain how this disposal of the assets should be considered if it was not a sale.

Consequently the major shareholders of Royal appealed to the Minister of Finance who upheld the RBZ decision. Mzwimbi and his colleagues have therefore appealed to the courts. In the meanwhile there was a failed attempt to sell the disputed assets by ZABG despite the outstanding legal challenge. Just ice delayed is justice denied.

Mzwimbi and his team have been denied access to all bank records and yet are expected to defend themselves. As he characteristically puts it, “We are going into this fight blind folded and our hands bound, while fighting someone who has armour and a sword.”

Around 2002-3 there were press reports indicating that the ruling party/state wanted to have a stake in the profitable banking sector. A minister of government at the time of the arrest confirmed this to Mzwimbi and his team. Another bank, NMB, had allegedly been assaulted and the major shareholders were told to dispose of their shareholdings to certain politically connected persons. They refused and had to leave the country after some trumped up charges were preferred against them. Unfortunately, the governor faced resistance and the politicians distanced themselves. One indigenous banker reported how he was summoned to the Central Bank governor’s office and informed that he should leave the country, as his bank would be closed. This banker credits Royal Bank’s resistance to being manipulated as the reason why his own bank survived. The bank was placed under curatorship on 4th August 2004. Mzwimbi had secured potential investors for the recapitalisation of the bank just before the deadline of 30th September 2004. Three days before that deadline, Mzwimbi met the curator and explained in detail the position for the recapitalisation exercise. Investors who had shown interest and were in advanced negotiations were OPEC, Fidelity Insurance and some South African investors. He further asked the curator to request the Central Bank for an extension of about a week. The very next day he was arrested on the pretext that he was about to leave the country. Mzwimbi and his team believe that his arrest at that critical stage was meant to intimidate the would-be investors and result in the failure to recapitalise. This lends credence to the view that the decision to acquire the bank and amalgamate it in ZABG had already been made. The recapitalisation would have scuppered these plans. Notably, other banks were given an extension to regularise their recapitalisation plans.

Shakeman Mugari reported that the central bank has in principle agreed to enter into a scheme of arrangement with Royal, Trust and Barbican banks which could see the final resolution of this issue. He argues that the central bank disregarded the value of securities that the banks had pledged to the central bank for the loans. If these are factored in, then the bank shareholders have some significant value within ZABG. If this scheme had been consummated it would have protected RBZ officials from being sued in their personal capacity for the loss of value to shareholders. From the article it appears like a memorandum of agreement had been signed to effect a reduction of Allied Financial Services’ share in ZABG while the former banks’ shareholders will take up their share in proportion to the value of their assets. This seems to indicate that the central bank has noted a weakness in its arguments.

If this proves true Royal Bank could regain a fairly big stake of ZABG due to its assets which included the real estate and its paper assets which had been undervalued.

The legal hassles show that entrepreneurs in volatile environments face unnecessary political and legal challenges. The rule of law in these countries is sometimes nonexistent. The legislative and political environments, instead of supporting investors, pose serious challenges to entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs in these environments have to assess the associated risk in setting up their enterprises. However a new breed of entrepreneurs who do not fear the vicissitudes of political interference is making a difference. Entrepreneurs recognise that the environment is a constraint but can be manipulated until worthwhile opportunities are exploited for commercial value. These entrepreneurs choose not to be victims of the environment.
Assault on Entrepreneurs’ Character

The information asymmetry whereby the Central Bank played its case in the public press while the accused bankers had no right of response created a false impression, in the minds of the populace, of entrepreneurs being greedy and unscrupulous.

The Central Bank accused Jeff Mzwimbi and Durajadi Simba of siphoning funds from the bank. An example appeared in a press article in which it was alleged that the sale of Barclays Bank branches to Royal Bank was annulled and the refunded funds were remitted to Mzwimbi and Durajadi at Finsreal Asset Managers and not Royal Bank’s account. This was a clear case of deliberate misinformation as the Central Bank was aware of the truth. Royal Bank had included the purchase of the Bulawayo Barclays Bank branch building which Barclays Bank would lease a portion of from Royal Bank. When Royal Bank fell short at the Interbank Clearing House, it renegotiated with Barclays. This was after Royal was threatened that if it did not clear this amount it would be placed into the Troubled Bank Fund – which carried severe penalties.

The result was that Barclays refunded the amount paying it directly to Royal’s Central Bank account. The RBZ acknowledged receiving these funds. How can they now accuse the founding shareholders of siphoning the same funds which went directly to the RBZ account? Mzwimbi insists that Barclays can easily testify to this.

The RBZ also alleged that Mzwimbi and Durajadi withheld information from their CVs on application for the bank licence and hence questioned their integrity. They claimed that Mzwimbi withheld information on his involvement with a failed bank, UMB. But the business plan for Royal Bank which was filed with RBZ clearly states this involvement. The Central Bank would have these records anyway. They also queried Durajadi’s source of funds and cast aspersions on the net worth statement. Yet Durajadi had been involved in Zimbabwe Trust and a transport business with his brother, which gave him sufficient net worth value.

The RBZ contends that the Board of Royal Bank failed to comply with a directive to recapitalise by 29th July 2004. Royal Bank executives and Board state categorically that they never received this directive. Mzwimbi and his team argue that this is misinformation, as all banks were required to have recapitalised by 30th September 2004.

The regulators also allege that the balance sheet of Royal Bank had a deficit of $140 billion, which the bankers dispute. If one were to consider the disputed $23 billion for statutory reserves and the $20 billion as accommodation from the clearing house, this would amount to $77 billion with interests. However with the undervaluing of the assets and the $160 billion which was written off as uncollectible, there would be no negative balance sheet. The contention of the Royal Executives is that the curator, at the behest of the Reserve Bank, deliberately tampered with the accounts to provide a reason for the take-over. This may be validated by the fact that the curator’s balance sheet kept changing whenever he was challenged and he increased the write-offs, even of funds that had since been collected. Since Royal and Trust Banks were amalgamated into ZABG, the bank is still profitable, without any recapitalisation having been carried out. The very fact that this new amalgamated bank can operate for this long from insolvent banks’ capital without recapitalising lends credence to the argument of the Royal Bank’s owners.

The entrepreneurs contend that they were dealing with a Central Bank which was determined to see them sink and not to protect the integrity of the banking system. This environment was not conducive to survival and it amplified normal weaknesses which could have been resolved in the course of normal business.

Entrepreneurial Determination

Mzwimbi and his colleagues refused to give up under challenging situations. Despite intimidation they took the Central Bank to court and refused to budge until justice was done. They were presented with numerous opportunities to quit the country but would not.

It is reported that they have not given up on their dream. They have set up Royal Financial Services in Kenya, despite the challenges in Zimbabwe. Indeed a sign of perseverance. Press reports indicated that they are in negotiations with Trust Bank so that once they win their case they can merge and continue their operations in Zimbabwe. Trust did not confirm or deny this. The more likely scenario however is that both Trust and Royal could reach a compromise with the central bank resulting in them taking up equity in ZABG subject to an independent revaluation exercise of the assets which were taken over.

Entrepreneurial Principles

The entrepreneurial journey is fraught with risk but can be very rewarding. Some lessons that can be learned from the case study are as follows:

• Entrepreneurs take calculated risk. Mzwimbi did not use all his resources in the bank but left his shareholding in Econet intact. He also sought to diversify his wealth by keeping some investments with FML and Screen Litho. This has been the mainstay of his wealth creation strategy. The disaster that befell the bank did not completely wipe him out because of this prudent investment strategy.

• Entrepreneurs learn from their experiences. Mzwimbi’s vast experiences taught him critical lessons. His international banking experience enabled him to see the emerging trends as Barclays and Standard Chartered withdrew from country towns, creating a route for his entry strategy. His work with Econet taught him perseverance as he and his colleagues fought legal battles with government for the award of the licence. Little did he know that this was just training ground for the battle of his life – the battle for Royal Bank.

• Entrepreneurs need to continuously scan the environment for threats and opportunities. Whereas Mzwimbi and his team were good at noticing the emerging positive trends in the environment at inception, they failed to pick the changes in the regulatory environment when the new governor came on board.

• Entrepreneurial strategy emerges and therefore entrepreneurs should be flexible. Although Royal Bank had a plan to grow at a steady pace, when the opportunity arose to acquire other branches cheaply the entrepreneurs seized the opportunity.

• Entrepreneurs are faced with credibility challenges as customers, regulators and suppliers test the credibility of newcomers. Royal Bank minimised this by recruiting experienced and well known personnel in the market. However the lack of institutional shareholders led to credibility gaps with some corporate clients.

• Entrepreneurs need to craft into their organisations both managerial and leadership competences to ensure both the ability to exploit opportunities (entrepreneurial activity) and sustainable company performance (strategic management). The more contemporary view of entrepreneurship transcends just the venture creation and now encompasses strategic growth. Although Mzwimbi was an excellent leader he needed a strong and powerful manager to consolidate the gains and create solid systems to sustain the rapid growth. Leaders thrive on change while managers thrive on handling complexity and creating order.

• Business is built on relationships as these help in the scanning of the operating environment e.g. critical information about opportunities and threats was obtained from close relationships

Lets close this article with a few questions that an entrepreneur should consider. For instance, if Mzwimbi had expanded less aggressively, would Royal Bank have been safer from the regulators? How could Mzwimbi have protected Royal Bank from political and regulatory interference if he anticipated those risks? If Mzwimbi had selected to pursue his enterprise ideas in a country with a more dependable political and regulatory environment, how would he have performed? Would it have been wiser to keep the equipment, real estate and other assets in Royal Financial Holdings or other corporate entity and only lease them to the bank? In that scenario would the predators have been able to pounce on the bank?

Sources: I Dr Tawafadza A. Makoni confirm being the author of this work. The material for this case study was drawn from my interviews with Mr J Mzwimbi CEO of Royal Bank in February 2006 and two Royal Bank Board Members. Some material was drawn from an unpublished Royal Bank Strategic Business Plan, (2000)

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