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How to open an offshore
company bank account

Your account application

What you face today
Opening closed doors
Your account application
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Get the right paperwork ready, then open your offshore company bank account with ease. Here are the rules that open doors - and accounts - in most offshore banks.

with Peter Widder

Many banks these days require a physical interview but by no means all. It is still largely posible to open your offshore account by mail, even without the assistance of a local agent.

However, your account opening paperwork should be in perfect order, conforming to standards used by major legal firms; remember that the documents you submit will likely be reviewed by the bank's compliance officer.

If you just hastily send whatever pieces of your company documentation you find, in a bundle with the bank's application form, you will be saying one thing: that you are unaware of protocols concerning the operation of companies. This may indicate that your company is itself a sham, and hence it could be used for something that the bank would rather not be involved in.

Conducting yourself as a professional, responsible and therefore valued client starts at the account opening.

Your bank will always be happy to find the following documents included in your account-opening package:

  • Bank Account Purpose. Draw up a letter describing the purpose of your offshore company and the use to which its offshore account will be put, including intended annual turnover and information regarding the origin of the funds deposited in the account.
    You should provide this information even if your bank has not asked; an upfront explanation might help avoid tiresome scrutiny later on.
  • Company Existence. Provide evidence of your offshore company's legal existence. This can take the form of a Certificate of Incorporation or -- if the company was incorporated over a year ago -- a Certificate of Good Standing.
    Make the effort to have these documents either apostilled or legalised by consular authentication -- unless, of course, you are opening an account in the same country where your company is registered.
  • Company Charter. Include a copy of your company's Memorandum and Articles of Association, By-Laws or another form of your company's charter.
  • Directors' Mandate. Include a resolution by the company's board of directors to open the bank account. Some banks provide their own resolutions for the directors to sign; if not, be sure to draw up a resolution clearly authorising the bank to act as depository for the company's funds, and delegate signing powers over the account.
  • Directors' Legal Capacity. Provide firm evidence of the current directorships. Non-anonymous companies (those that place their directors on public file) can provide an officially certified copy of the relevant register for this purpose. Anonymous companies (those that only maintain a private, internal register of directors) must sometimes provide other evidence.
    If your bank does not accept the internal register alone, you can supply incorporators' resolution that originally appointed the first director(s) of the company -- if they are still acting. If directors have changed since, be sure to also provide further documents evidencing any changes (letters of resignation, resolutions to appoint new directors, etc.) It is wise to have all such documents notarised and apostilled.
    You  are advised to understand and accept the bank's position in this matter; you probably would not want anybody who might get hold of your company's paperwork by chance to be able to go around opening accounts for it.
  • Shareholders. Many banks require information about the shareholders of any company seeking a banking relationship with them. Most often, this can take the form of a copy of the company's register of shareholders.
    Some banks provide their own-format declaration regarding ownership; if they do, you have to complete and sign that, too. In an increasing number of jurisdictions, banks have legal responsibility to have this information.
    It is up to you to decide whether or not you see demands for ownership information as unnecessary scrutiny or not.
  • Confirmation of identity. Virtually all banks want to receive some form of evidence of the account signatories' identity. This is can be a copy of a passport or a driving licence.
    Depending on the bank, photocopies might have to be notarised. In addition, there are banks that request proofs of identity not only for the actual account signatories, but for all directors and owners of the company as well (if different).
    Again, you might or might not deem this to be unreasonably intrusive; if you do, take your business to a more welcoming institution.
  • Bank references. Many banks -- but not all -- request that letters of reference from another bank be provided by account signatories.
    Some banks go even further: they demand that a bank reference each be given by all directors and shareholders of the company. There even are a few that will contact the issuing bank to verify references.
    References are sometimes needed instead of, and sometimes in addition to, the confirmation of identity. There are jurisdictions where banks are under legal obligations to seek references, and there are banks that request references despite any legal obligation to do so.
    Sometimes an introduction by a party known to the bank (such as an existing customer) is accepted instead of a reference. A fair number of banks still happily open company accounts without any references at all -- including some in Switzerland.
    Policies vary greatly across banks and jurisdictions, so make a choice that is acceptable to you. Judge if providing a bank reference -- and so revealing an existing banking relationship -- compromises your privacy or gives rise to other implications.


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