Offshore Bank

An offshore bank is a bank located outside the country of residence of the depositor, typically in a low tax jurisdiction that provides financial and legal advantages.

Offshore Bank

An offshore bank is a bank located outside the country of residence of the depositor, typically in a low tax jurisdiction that provides financial and legal advantages. These advantages typically include some or all of
strong privacy (see also anonymous banking)
less restrictive legal regulation
low or no taxation
easy access to deposits (at least in terms of regulation)
protection against local political or financial instability

While the term originates from the Channel Islands "offshore" from Britain, and most offshore banks are located in island nations to this day, the term is used figuratively to refer to such banks regardless of location (Switzerland and Andorra in particular are landlocked).

One common misconception is that offshore banking can legally prevent assets from being subject to personal income tax on interest. Except for certain persons who meet fairly complex requirements, this is incorrect as the personal income tax of most countries makes no distinction between interest earned in local banks and those earned abroad. Persons subject to US income tax, for example, are required to declare on penalty of perjury, any offshore bank accounts they may have. Although offshore banks sometimes do not report income to other tax authorities this does not make the non-declaration of the income or the evasion of the tax on that income legal in most jurisdictions.

1 Advantages of offshore banking
2 Disadvantages of offshore banking
3 Banking services
4 Regulation of offshore banks
5 Offshore financial centres

Advantages of offshore banking

Offshore banks provide access to politically and economically stable jurisdictions. This may be an advantage for those resident in areas where there is a risk of expropriation or where there is corruption within the banking system, or bank officers may become liable to the influence of or pressure from criminal gangs. Some offshore banks may operate with a lower cost base and can provide higher interest rates than the home country.

Offshore finance is one of the few industries that geographically remote island nations can competitively engage in.

Interest is generally paid by offshore banks without the deduction of tax. This is an advantage to individuals who do not pay tax on worldwide income, or who do not pay tax until the tax return is agreed, or who feel that they can illegally evade tax by hiding the interest income.

Some offshore banks offer banking services that may not be available from Domestic Banks.

Offshore banks in some countries participate in mandatory bank account deposit protection insurance systems.

Offshore banking is often linked to other services, such as trust and corporate management, which may have specific tax implications for some individuals.

Disadvantages of offshore banking

Not all offshore jurisdictions have depositor compensation schemes, to bail out depositors in the event that a bank becomes insolvent.

Offshore banking has been associated with money laundering and organized crime. There is a risk of reputation being tarnished by association.

The advantages of offshore banking may come at a high cost as the returns on some offshore banking accounts may be substantially below those of domestic bank accounts.

Offshore jurisdictions are often remote so physical access and access to information can be difficult.

Offshore Banking Services

It is possible to obtain the full spectrum of financial services from offshore banks, including:
Deposit Taking
Money Transmissions
Foreign Exchange
Letters of credit and trade finance
Investment Custody
Investment Management
Fund Management
Trustee Services
Corporate Administration

Not every bank provides each service. Banks tend to polarise between retail services and private banking services. Retail services tend to be low cost and undifferentiated, whereas private banking services tend to bring a personalised suite of services to the client.

Regulation of offshore banks

In the 21st century, the majority of offshore banks operate within highly regulated environments. The quality of the regulation in monitored by supra-national bodies such as the IMF. Banks are generally required to maintain capital adequacy in accordance with international standards. They must report at least quarterly to the regulator on the current state of the business.

Whilst offshore banking has a historic association with tax evasion or organized crime, it is an important part of the international financial system. For example, Swiss banks hold an estimated 35 percent of the world's private and institutional funds, and the Cayman Islands are the fifth largest banking centre globally in terms of deposits.

Since the late 1990s there has been a number of initiatives to increase the transparency of offshore banking. A few examples of these are:
The tightening of anti-money laundering regulations in many countries including most popular offshore banking locations means that bankers are required to report suspicion of money laundering to the local police authority, regardless of banking secrecy rules. There is more international co-operation between police authorities. In the USA the IRS introduced Qualifying Intermediary requirements which mean that the names of the recipients of US source investment income are passed to the IRS. Following 9/11 the USA introduced the USA PATRIOT Act, which authorises the US authorities to seize the assets of a bank, where it is believed that the bank holds assets for a suspected criminal. Similar measures have been introduced in some other countries.

The EU has introduced sharing of information between certain jurisdictions, and enforced this in respect of certain controlled centres, such as the UK Offshore Islands, so that tax information is able to be shared in respect of interest.

Offshore financial centres

Offshore financial centres include:

British Virgin Islands
Cayman Islands
Channel Islands (Jersey and Guernsey)
Hong Kong
Isle of Man
Labuan, Malaysia
Saint Kitts and Nevis
Turks and Caicos Islands

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