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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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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The Tower of Basel – Do We Want the Bank For International Settlements Issuing Our Global Currency?

In an April 7 article in The London Telegraph titled “The G20 Moves the World a Step Closer to a Global Currency,” Ambrose Evans-Pritchard wrote:

“A single clause in Point 19 of the communiqué issued by the G20 leaders amounts to revolution in the global financial order.

“‘We have agreed to support a general SDR allocation which will inject $250bn (£170bn) into the world economy and increase global liquidity,’ it said. SDRs are Special Drawing Rights, a synthetic paper currency issued by the International Monetary Fund that has lain dormant for half a century.

“In effect, the G20 leaders have activated the IMF’s power to create money and begin global ‘quantitative easing’. In doing so, they are putting a de facto world currency into play. It is outside the control of any sovereign body. Conspiracy theorists will love it.”

Indeed they will. The article is subtitled, “The world is a step closer to a global currency, backed by a global central bank, running monetary policy for all humanity.” Which naturally raises the question, who or what will serve as this global central bank, cloaked with the power to issue the global currency and police monetary policy for all humanity? When the world’s central bankers met in Washington last September, they discussed what body might be in a position to serve in that awesome and fearful role. A former governor of the Bank of England stated:

“[T]he answer might already be staring us in the face, in the form of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS). . . . The IMF tends to couch its warnings about economic problems in very diplomatic language, but the BIS is more independent and much better placed to deal with this if it is given the power to do so.”1

And if the vision of a global currency outside government control does not set off conspiracy theorists, putting the BIS in charge of it surely will. The BIS has been scandal-ridden ever since it was branded with pro-Nazi leanings in the 1930s. Founded in Basel, Switzerland, in 1930, the BIS has been called “the most exclusive, secretive, and powerful supranational club in the world.” Charles Higham wrote in his book Trading with the Enemy that by the late 1930s, the BIS had assumed an openly pro-Nazi bias, a theme that was expanded on in a BBC Timewatch film titled “Banking with Hitler” broadcast in 1998.2 In 1944, the American government backed a resolution at the Bretton-Woods Conference calling for the liquidation of the BIS, following Czech accusations that it was laundering gold stolen by the Nazis from occupied Europe; but the central bankers succeeded in quietly snuffing out the American resolution.3

In Tragedy and Hope: A History of the World in Our Time (1966), Dr. Carroll Quigley revealed the key role played in global finance by the BIS behind the scenes. Dr. Quigley was Professor of History at Georgetown University, where he was President Bill Clinton’s mentor. He was also an insider, groomed by the powerful clique he called “the international bankers.” His credibility is heightened by the fact that he actually espoused their goals. He wrote:

“I know of the operations of this network because I have studied it for twenty years and was permitted for two years, in the early 1960’s, to examine its papers and secret records. I have no aversion to it or to most of its aims and have, for much of my life, been close to it and to many of its instruments. . . . [I]n general my chief difference of opinion is that it wishes to remain unknown, and I believe its role in history is significant enough to be known.”

Quigley wrote of this international banking network:

“[T]he powers of financial capitalism had another far-reaching aim, nothing less than to create a world system of financial control in private hands able to dominate the political system of each country and the economy of the world as a whole. This system was to be controlled in a feudalist fashion by the central banks of the world acting in concert, by secret agreements arrived at in frequent private meetings and conferences. The apex of the system was to be the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland, a private bank owned and controlled by the world’s central banks which were themselves private corporations.”

The key to their success, said Quigley, was that the international bankers would control and manipulate the money system of a nation while letting it appear to be controlled by the government. The statement echoed one made in the eighteenth century by the patriarch of what would become the most powerful banking dynasty in the world. Mayer Amschel Bauer Rothschild famously said in 1791:

“Allow me to issue and control a nation’s currency, and I care not who makes its laws.”

Mayer’s five sons were sent to the major capitals of Europe – London, Paris, Vienna, Berlin and Naples – with the mission of establishing a banking system that would be outside government control. The economic and political systems of nations would be controlled not by citizens but by bankers, for the benefit of bankers. Eventually, a privately-owned “central bank” was established in nearly every country; and this central banking system has now gained control over the economies of the world. Central banks have the authority to print money in their respective countries, and it is from these banks that governments must borrow money to pay their debts and fund their operations. The result is a global economy in which not only industry but government itself runs on “credit” (or debt) created by a banking monopoly headed by a network of private central banks; and at the top of this network is the BIS, the “central bank of central banks” in Basel.

BEHIND THE CURTAIN

For many years the BIS kept a very low profile, operating behind the scenes in an abandoned hotel. It was here that decisions were reached to devalue or defend currencies, fix the price of gold, regulate offshore banking, and raise or lower short-term interest rates. In 1977, however, the BIS gave up its anonymity in exchange for more efficient headquarters. The new building has been described as “an eighteen story-high circular skyscraper that rises above the medieval city like some misplaced nuclear reactor.” It quickly became known as the “Tower of Basel.” Today the BIS has governmental immunity, pays no taxes, and has its own private police force.4 It is, as Mayer Rothschild envisioned, above the law.

The BIS is now composed of 55 member nations, but the club that meets regularly in Basel is a much smaller group; and even within it, there is a hierarchy. In a 1983 article in Harper’s Magazine called “Ruling the World of Money,” Edward Jay Epstein wrote that where the real business gets done is in “a sort of inner club made up of the half dozen or so powerful central bankers who find themselves more or less in the same monetary boat” – those from Germany, the United States, Switzerland, Italy, Japan and England. Epstein said:

“The prime value, which also seems to demarcate the inner club from the rest of the BIS members, is the firm belief that central banks should act independently of their home governments. . . . A second and closely related belief of the inner club is that politicians should not be trusted to decide the fate of the international monetary system.”

In 1974, the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision was created by the central bank Governors of the Group of Ten nations (now expanded to twenty). The BIS provides the twelve-member Secretariat for the Committee. The Committee, in turn, sets the rules for banking globally, including capital requirements and reserve controls. In a 2003 article titled “The Bank for International Settlements Calls for Global Currency,” Joan Veon wrote:

“The BIS is where all of the world’s central banks meet to analyze the global economy and determine what course of action they will take next to put more money in their pockets, since they control the amount of money in circulation and how much interest they are going to charge governments and banks for borrowing from them. . . .

“When you understand that the BIS pulls the strings of the world’s monetary system, you then understand that they have the ability to create a financial boom or bust in a country. If that country is not doing what the money lenders want, then all they have to do is sell its currency.”5

THE CONTROVERSIAL BASEL ACCORDS

The power of the BIS to make or break economies was demonstrated in 1988, when it issued a Basel Accord raising bank capital requirements from 6% to 8%. By then, Japan had emerged as the world’s largest creditor; but Japan’s banks were less well capitalized than other major international banks. Raising the capital requirement forced them to cut back on lending, creating a recession in Japan like that suffered in the U.S. today. Property prices fell and loans went into default as the security for them shriveled up. A downward spiral followed, ending with the total bankruptcy of the banks. The banks had to be nationalized, although that word was not used in order to avoid criticism.6

Among other collateral damage produced by the Basel Accords was a spate of suicides among Indian farmers unable to get loans. The BIS capital adequacy standards required loans to private borrowers to be “risk-weighted,” with the degree of risk determined by private rating agencies; and farmers and small business owners could not afford the agencies’ fees. Banks therefore assigned 100 percent risk to the loans, and then resisted extending credit to these “high-risk” borrowers because more capital was required to cover the loans. When the conscience of the nation was aroused by the Indian suicides, the government, lamenting the neglect of farmers by commercial banks, established a policy of ending the “financial exclusion” of the weak; but this step had little real effect on lending practices, due largely to the strictures imposed by the BIS from abroad.7

Similar complaints have come from Korea. An article in the December 12, 2008 Korea Times titled “BIS Calls Trigger Vicious Cycle” described how Korean entrepreneurs with good collateral cannot get operational loans from Korean banks, at a time when the economic downturn requires increased investment and easier credit:

“‘The Bank of Korea has provided more than 35 trillion won to banks since September when the global financial crisis went full throttle,’ said a Seoul analyst, who declined to be named. ‘But the effect is not seen at all with the banks keeping the liquidity in their safes. They simply don’t lend and one of the biggest reasons is to keep the BIS ratio high enough to survive,’ he said. . . .

“Chang Ha-joon, an economics professor at Cambridge University, concurs with the analyst. ‘What banks do for their own interests, or to improve the BIS ratio, is against the interests of the whole society. This is a bad idea,’ Chang said in a recent telephone interview with Korea Times.”

In a May 2002 article in The Asia Times titled “Global Economy: The BIS vs. National Banks,” economist Henry C K Liu observed that the Basel Accords have forced national banking systems “to march to the same tune, designed to serve the needs of highly sophisticated global financial markets, regardless of the developmental needs of their national economies.” He wrote:

“[N]ational banking systems are suddenly thrown into the rigid arms of the Basel Capital Accord sponsored by the Bank of International Settlement (BIS), or to face the penalty of usurious risk premium in securing international interbank loans. . . . National policies suddenly are subjected to profit incentives of private financial institutions, all members of a hierarchical system controlled and directed from the money center banks in New York. The result is to force national banking systems to privatize . . . .

“BIS regulations serve only the single purpose of strengthening the international private banking system, even at the peril of national economies. . . . The IMF and the international banks regulated by the BIS are a team: the international banks lend recklessly to borrowers in emerging economies to create a foreign currency debt crisis, the IMF arrives as a carrier of monetary virus in the name of sound monetary policy, then the international banks come as vulture investors in the name of financial rescue to acquire national banks deemed capital inadequate and insolvent by the BIS.”

Ironically, noted Liu, developing countries with their own natural resources did not actually need the foreign investment that trapped them in debt to outsiders:

“Applying the State Theory of Money [which assumes that a sovereign nation has the power to issue its own money], any government can fund with its own currency all its domestic developmental needs to maintain full employment without inflation.”

When governments fall into the trap of accepting loans in foreign currencies, however, they become “debtor nations” subject to IMF and BIS regulation. They are forced to divert their production to exports, just to earn the foreign currency necessary to pay the interest on their loans. National banks deemed “capital inadequate” have to deal with strictures comparable to the “conditionalities” imposed by the IMF on debtor nations: “escalating capital requirement, loan writeoffs and liquidation, and restructuring through selloffs, layoffs, downsizing, cost-cutting and freeze on capital spending.” Liu wrote:

“Reversing the logic that a sound banking system should lead to full employment and developmental growth, BIS regulations demand high unemployment and developmental degradation in national economies as the fair price for a sound global private banking system.”

THE LAST DOMINO TO FALL?

While banks in developing nations were being penalized for falling short of the BIS capital requirements, large international banks managed to escape the rules, although they actually carried enormous risk because of their derivative exposure. The mega-banks succeeded in avoiding the Basel rules by separating the “risk” of default out from the loans and selling it off to investors, using a form of derivative known as “credit default swaps.”

However, it was not in the game plan that U.S. banks should escape the BIS net. When they managed to sidestep the first Basel Accord, a second set of rules was imposed known as Basel II. The new rules were established in 2004, but they were not levied on U.S. banks until November 2007, the month after the Dow passed 14,000 to reach its all-time high. It has been all downhill from there. Basel II had the same effect on U.S. banks that Basel I had on Japanese banks: they have been struggling ever since to survive.8

Basel II requires banks to adjust the value of their marketable securities to the “market price” of the security, a rule called “mark to market.”9 The rule has theoretical merit, but the problem is timing: it was imposed ex post facto, after the banks already had the hard-to-market assets on their books. Lenders that had been considered sufficiently well capitalized to make new loans suddenly found they were insolvent. At least, they would have been insolvent if they had tried to sell their assets, an assumption required by the new rule. Financial analyst John Berlau complained:

“The crisis is often called a ‘market failure,’ and the term ‘mark-to-market’ seems to reinforce that. But the mark-to-market rules are profoundly anti-market and hinder the free-market function of price discovery. . . . In this case, the accounting rules fail to allow the market players to hold on to an asset if they don’t like what the market is currently fetching, an important market action that affects price discovery in areas from agriculture to antiques.”10

Imposing the mark-to-market rule on U.S. banks caused an instant credit freeze, which proceeded to take down the economies not only of the U.S. but of countries worldwide. In early April 2009, the mark-to-market rule was finally softened by the U.S. Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB); but critics said the modification did not go far enough, and it was done in response to pressure from politicians and bankers, not out of any fundamental change of heart or policies by the BIS.

And that is where the conspiracy theorists come in. Why did the BIS not retract or at least modify Basel II after seeing the devastation it had caused? Why did it sit idly by as the global economy came crashing down? Was the goal to create so much economic havoc that the world would rush with relief into the waiting arms of the BIS with its privately-created global currency? The plot thickens . . . .

Originally posted on Global Research on April 18, 2009.

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1. Andrew Marshall, “The Financial New World Order: Towards a Global Currency and World Government,” Global Research (April 6, 2009).

2. Alfred Mendez, “The Network,” in “The World Central Bank: The Bank for International Settlements.”

3. “BIS – Bank of International Settlement: The Mother of All Central Banks,” Hubpages (2009).

4. Ibid.

5. Joan Veon, “The Bank for International Settlements Calls for Global Currency,” News with Views (August 26, 2003).

6. Peter Myers, “The 1988 Basle Accord – Destroyer of Japan’s Finance System” (updated September 9, 2008).

7. Nirmal Chandra, “Is Inclusive Growth Feasible in Neoliberal India?”, Network Ideas (September 2008).

8. Bruce Wiseman, “The Financial Crisis: A look Behind the Wizard’s Curtain,” Canada Free Press (March 19, 2009).

9. See Ellen Brown, “Credit Where Credit Is Due,” webofdebt.com/articles/creditcrunch.php (January 11, 2009).

10. John Berlau, “The International Mark-to-market Contagion,” Open Market (October 10, 2008).

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