Do Panama Multi-Currency Bank Accounts Exist?

for the Q Wealth Report

Do Panamanian banks open multi-currency accounts? The answer is yes, but only in very special circumstances. See below for an explanation.

First, however, I owe an apology to regular readers for our failure to update the blog in a long time. Frankly, things have been very hectic over the summer. What with my research into Montenegro’s new economic citizenship (second passport) program, our upcoming event in Ireland and keeping on top of numerous requests from consulting clients concerned about capital preservation and international asset protection, I simply haven’t found the time to blog. From now on, things should be a little more back to normal – as far as is possible in this financially topsy-turvy world!

Anyway, readers know we are still keen on Panama as an offshore financial centre. Panama’s Private Interest Foundations offer some of the best asset protection there is. But a recurring concern of readers is Panama’s dependence on the US dollar. Whilst in theory Panama has its own national currency, the Balboa (currency code PAB) this has not had much financial significance for years.

Panama used to mint real silver and gold balboa coins, but the Balboa has always been at parity (one to one) with the US dollar, and balboa coins today only exist in the form of small change. Up until recently, dollarization was seen as a sign of the stability of Panama. No doubt the stability and low interest rates afforded by the dollar have contributed a lot to Panama’s success in the past. Today, however, it is seen as a threat by those who are going offshore for capital preservation.

Many clients have asked me how I can recommend Panama, considering its economy is based on the dollar, that is losing its value so fast. The answer is that I recommend the country, not the currency. Panama has a productive and diversified economy, and a good legal system. Panama corporation laws have stood the test of time since the 1920s and still provide great privacy and protection today.

But what about multi currency bank accounts in Panama? Up until recently, the dollar was king on the entire American continent. Banks simply did not have much demand for accounts in other currencies. Even currency exchange businesses like casas de cambio are rather thin on the ground in Panama.

In recent years, demand for banking services in other currencies in Panama has soared. Some of the larger retail banks, particularly Multibank and HSBC, are now routinely offering accounts in major world currencies like the euro, the yen, the pound sterling and the Swiss franc.

Unfortunately, foreign currency bank accounts are still far from the standard of sophistication you might expect if you are used to banking in Europe. Each account has a separate number, and in the case of HSBC, I was shocked to learn that the accounts can’t even be linked! That is, if you have a dollar account and want to open a euro account, you have to submit a whole sheaf of paperwork again – passport copies, bank references and the lot, just as if you were a new client walking through the door for the first time. If their IT system really can’t link accounts, it sounds like a criminal money launderer’s dream to me!

But things are changing. In the past year I’ve found three Panamanian banks that will open real multi-currency bank accounts. By this, I mean one account number you can log in to via internet banking, and in which you can keep different balances in different currencies. Switching currency or adding a new one to your portfolio is a matter of a simple mouse-click or two.

All three are Panamanian subsidiaries of established European banks. They will even open accounts where the beneficial owners are US citizens – something undoubtedly of value to our American cousins who are being turned away more and more from banks around the world – always provided that a Panamanian corporation or foundation is the legal owner.

The downside is that none of these three institutions are interested in small accounts. These are not accounts you can open with a small balance ‘in case you need them.’ You’re expected to put at least six figures on deposit, possibly more. If you are looking for an offshore safe haven, however, you couldn’t do much better.

Whether you are looking for a private banking experience such as these financial institutions offer, or a more run-of-the-mill offshore bank account, remember that your Q Wealth membership (click here to see the benefits and costs of joining) comes with a copy of the Practical Offshore Banking Guide 2010. At the back of that guide you’ll discover how you can take advantage of our free personalized banking referral service.

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