, Joint Editor
Most continental Europeans like to take an extended vacation in August. But for those of us in the offshore banking and asset protection business, that just hasn’t been possible this year. I’ve also been relatively quiet in terms of my blogs recently, but it’s not because I’ve been on holiday. Quite the opposite. I’ve been beavering a way at full inboxes and stacks of paperwork from clients. In fact, business this August has been busier than most busy months in other years. It seems people are finally getting the message. Your assets are safer offshore! This in spite of a huge publicity campaign suggesting the opposite and backed by all the media resources the government could muster.
One of the main focuses has been the war of words this summer between Switzerland and the United States. But what practicaln implications does this have for those who already have Swiss bank accounts, or for those who are considering opening a Swiss account for the first time? That is what I will examine in this article.
Last week we heard the news from Swiss private banking giant UBS that they had finally reached agreement with the US IRS. Of course, nobody seriously expected a banking, watches and chocolate trade war – an agreement had to be made after appropriate posturing for a while on both sides. The terms of the agreement are still unclear – probably as part of a face-saving exercise for the IRS. My guess is they really didn’t get much actual data on account holders. Maybe a few thousand blatant tax evaders who had been stupid and lazy enough to evade taxes by holding assets in their personal names in undeclared accounts were turned over. If these people had been following our advice from even ten years ago they wouldn’t have had a problem!
However, the IRS got exactly what they set out to get in the first place. This case wasn’t really about information at all. It was about publicity.
Appropriately for those who speak with forked tongues, the IRS sent out a two-pronged warning message: first, to the US public and the world at large, that ‘Big Brother’ doesn’t approve of offshore banking. Thousands of American citizens with accounts at UBS suffered a lot of sleepless nights, and perhaps quite a few have decided to ‘turn themselves’ in anyway via the current tax amnesty arrangements even though their information never had been revealed and never would be. That is why it is so important, if you want to go offshore, to make sure you have access to the right information (shameless plug for our services here!) Those Americans who still believe and trust their own government – a fast shrinking minority – might be dissuaded from opening further offshore accounts.
The other prong of the IRS war of words was a message to Swiss banks, and to a lesser extent offshore banks in general. Banks across Switzerland and elsewhere have been busy closing the accounts of US citizens, based on ‘policy decisions.’ This again, of course, was part of the IRS’ plan all along. Other banks and governments have been taking note too: for example I’ve been hearing reports from Singapore and Hong Kong of banks closing offshore accounts belonging to Australian citizens, as the Australian government is showing of every sign of stepping up the attacks… probably emboldened by the success of the IRS publicity machine.
UBS was taught a lesson. An interesting article in this week’s Economist entitled Offshore Private Banking: Bourne to Survive, “UBS has been haemorrhaging funds, with an outflow of SFr30 billion ($28 billion) so far this year. But the country’s next four biggest listed banks, Credit Suisse among them, have had private-bank inflows of SFr31 billion.” A point of the Economist article is that people have abandoned the bank (UBS) but not the country or the concept.
Another of the Economist’s points is that most people are not actually in Swiss banks for tax reasons. I’ve long written that tax stopped being the major factor in driving people offshore years ago. Sure, people don’t like to hand over half of the fruits of their labour to the state. I can understand that and I’m sure you can too. But in the bigger picture, it is the distrust of big government that is driving people to protect their wealth offshore.
Tax, just like say electricity or salaries, is an expense people will pay if the environment for doing business is right. It would be a stupid person who would lose 100% of something just to save 50% of it. But what governments don’t get is that they have to make the whole business environment attractive. And the way the government should do this? Just keep their noses out of people’s private business and lives!
As more and more business can be done from anywhere on the planet, why would people stay in a hostile business environment? It’s not just money that economies like the USA, UK and Australia are haemorrhaging at the moment. It’s the smart people like you and me who follow the money.
These days as the Economist says, banking clients are “mainly in Switzerland for its political stability and well-run banks.” (Since early 2007, 135 banks have “imploded” in the USA, but not one in Switzerland) Nothing to do with taxes. They are trying to escape an unhealthy business environment with factors like inflation, devaluation, bank collapses, civil asset forfeitures and the like.
Why oh why then, and this pains me… would people move their assets into the four largest banks? I’m on record as saying Credit Suisse will likely be the next target. It may be this year, or next year, I don’t know. But Credit Suisse already agreed, for example, to some information exchange with the French government. If you are a new reader here, I invite you to explore this blog and the related articles and you’ll find some of my advice on alternatives to UBS for Swiss private banking. For example my articles on the Best and Safest Offshore Banks and Countries and Alternatives to Swiss Banks for Wealth Management.
The bottom line, however, is that there are better alternatives than big Swiss banks like UBS and Credit Suisse for your offshore accounts – whether you are looking for an active business account, an online trading account, or a more hands-off style traditional Swiss wealth management account. If you would like to know more, that is what we are here for. Our membership costs just $87 per year and entitles you to immediate access to a number of informative downloads – for example our recently updated Practical Offshore Banking Guide. If you are not yet a member, go ahead and sign up right now. Or if you are not yet ready to make that commitment, sign up for our Free Five Part Course on Offshore Banking and Asset Protection first of all to get a feel for our material…
Anyway… I’ve gone on long enough, but for sure we will be hearing more about this topic. A lot more! I’m just on the way over to Panama City, Panama now and will shortly be reporting more from there on some interesting developments in the way the Panamanian government and banking system is handling the heavy-handed OECD and G20 threats. If you would like to receive this update on the offshore scene in Panama, sign up for our special Free Panama Offshore Report and I’ll be sure to get it to you. There’s no charge – all you need to give us is your e-mail address!