February 1, 2021

When an Offshore Bank Fails

Introduction – What we are going to do is describe the legal and mechanical process relating to offshore bank failures. We will discuss what leads up to them, what happens if they fail, and how do the depositors get their money back. The terms and scenarios we depict are generally what happens in the world of offshore banking. In some banco Venezuela the terminology and procedures may be slightly different but the general way things proceed will be in line with the scenarios depicted in this article.

Offshore Banks – A brief definition of this term is in order. These are banks that are located in various countries around the world many being in Caribbean Island Nations. These banks have a license that enables them to only do business with people and entities (trusts and corporations) that are not from that country. The offshore jurisdiction does not trust the offshore bank to accept deposits from its citizens or corporation filed in that country. This right away should tell a moderately astute investor that he or she is perhaps not exercising the correct amount of caution when it comes to selecting a bank and an offshore jurisdiction. So the first warning sign is be careful of offshore banking licenses. A bank can be in an offshore jurisdiction and not have an offshore banking license, instead be a regularly licensed bank. Offshore bank licenses can be had in some jurisdictions with as little as a $50,000 deposit with the country issuing the license. Usually this amount is never more than $500,000 and many countries require less. As a point of comparison a regular bank operating in Panama is required to post $10,000,000 cash deposit and the owners go through a rigorous background investigation.

Bank Failure – This is a term relating to the offshore bank being unable to fulfill the demand for funds from their depositors. This can occur for a number of reasons, some bad and some not so bad. The offshore bank may have been found to be below its protective ratios and the government bank auditors or financial ministry may decide to shut the bank down in terms of money going out for a limited period of time to see if the bank can return their ratios quickly to an acceptable level. In the event the ratios return to an acceptable level the bank operation resumes normally and the depositors may not even know anything occurred.

Complaints – The way offshore bank failures generally start is with complaints to the licensing authority of the country where the bank is located stating that requests to withdraw funds are not being met by the bank. To document this the account holder generally retains legal counsel in the country where the offshore bank is located and files a formal demand for the funds to bank with a very short deadline. When this demand is not met the law firm will file a formal complaint to the offshore bank licensing authority who will generally conduct an investigation. They may have their own auditors or hire an independent team of auditors to go through the offshore bank records. They will look to see if there are any loans on the books that do not meet the guidelines for lending such as writing uncollateralized loans is usually considered an offense. Loans to the principals of the bank are another red flag. Real estate acquisitions like mansions on the island where the offshore bank is located for the bank executives to live in is another red flag as well. Usually without loans the bank would not fail to meet its ratios. When these loans go bad and there is no collateral to go after then the banks get into trouble. The complaint process is possibly the only way the government is going to know their offshore bank is in trouble and by then it may be too late, but it may not be too late. Remember we are talking about offshore banks here, not regularly licensed regular banks which are audited and watched way more closely by the government and usually by a different government agency than the agency supervising offshore banks. We as a Panama Law firm do not introduce clients to offshore banks which should tell you something.

Loss of Correspondent Bank – Sometimes the offshore bank has just lost one or more of its correspondent banks and can not execute wire transfers until it replaces the correspondent with another correspondent bank which may take several weeks. When the complaints hit the government they will investigate, see that the funds are in place and allow the offshore bank a reasonable period of time to secure another correspondent bank, checking with them for progress reports. This is a not so bad problem that will only serve to scare and inconvenience the depositors.

Offshore Bank Receivership – This is a process whereby the government agency that licenses the offshore bank takes over the offshore bank to control its operation with an eye towards saving the bank. Sometimes they are successful and well sometimes not. Often a team of professionals from a large auditing or accounting firm are brought in. Receivership practices can frequently mean that a percentage of your funds will be unavailable for withdrawal for sometime. This is to prevent a run on the offshore bank which would for sure topple it and thus cost the depositors substantial losses. You may be only able to take out say 25% of your funds. What can often happen is the depositors lose faith and take as much money out as they can and avoid putting in any more money. This usually results in the offshore bank failing totally and being shut down.

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