April 1, 2000 - GIBRALTER The Bank Without Cash
GIBRALTER- The Bank Without CashWe don't accept cash-repeated the bank manager, with a smile but firmly. "But if I had , say $30,000 in cash to deposit?" I enquired, finding it difficult to believe I had heard her correctly. "Take it to another bank, deposit it there, and bring us a cheque," she replied. This cashless Bank was the Newcastle Bank in Gibraltar, but they are not unique, and it is not their fault.
Like many other banks they have decided it is safer and less hassle to give up cash completely. This eliminates the risk of being accused by the authorities of not reporting suspected money laundering. Just to be absolutely sure, they require a reference from another bank and may request proof of identity. In return they offer interest rates substantially higher than other banks along Main Street, Gibraltar, and there is a minimum deposit of only £1,000. Deposits can be made by sterling or non-sterling cheque or banker's draft, or by telegraphic transfer. No chequebook, credit or debit card, or passbook is available. Withdrawals are made in the form of a cheque issued by the bank or by transfer, and are possible only using a password, whether you call at the bank personally or give instructions by letter, fax or phone. Surprisingly, the Newcastle Bank requires very little information on its application form.
Most British Banks stop just short of requesting the colour of your maternal grandmother's eyes. The NatWest, even in Gibraltar, has a three-page form with thirty questions. This form also states: proof of identity is a legal requirement under the Money Laundering Regulations 1993" (even in Gibraltar?) and the identity document you provide must normally have a signature and a photograph.
During my survey of Gibraltar banks I discovered interesting national characteristics, which no doubt apply in other jurisdictions. British Banks require at least one bank reference, and sometimes two. Normally they also expect you to provide a mass of irrelevant information on your private life, which quite bluntly is none of their business.
Anyone who doubts this should go to one of the Spanish banks in Gibraltar. There all that is required is your name, address and phone number, a copy of your passport or national identity card, and your signature. If this satisfies the Spaniards, why not the British?
But you must visit a Spanish bank in person to open an account. At BBV (Banco Bilbao Vizcaya) the manager was approachable and friendly, but would not even let me take away a copy of the short application form. The Spanish have an unnatural respect for official forms.
At another Spanish bank, Banco Atlantico, I was told: "We like to know our customers," but again the formalities were minimal. Spanish banks do not normally give references and therefore do not expect them, unlike those of many countries.
The Danish Jyske Bank and the Dutch ABN AMRO Bank have a more flexible attitude somewhere between the British and the Spanish banks. Accounts do not necessarily have to be opened in person as long as you send a copy of your passport, and any subsequent signature matched that on the copy. Slightly more information is required than by the Spanish banks, but not a lot.
For instance, ABN AMRO wants a declaration that you are not resident in Gibraltar or liable for tax there. Both ABN AMRO and Jyske Bank require a bank reference, although the later might accept a "to whom it may concern" reference, rather than insisting on writing to your bank.
But what if I gave $30,000 in cash to deposit? All the banks I visited in Gibraltar would want proof of its source for this amount. The Spanish Banco Atlantico doesn't ask questions about cash deposits under $15,000 (US$15,000. I was told $15,000 yes- $14,999 NO! The other non-British banks have lower limits- £7,500 and £5,000- before the second degree starts.
But Barclays Bank wins the prize as snoopers of the year. It's "Offshore Financial services" branch in regal House, Queensway (not to be confused with the ordinary one in Main Street) at first looks promising. A leaflet boasts: "We maintain our customers' account, which operates in Gibraltar without any book-keeping dependence upon the UK." However, when I enquired about their limits on cash deposits, I was told: "We need to know the source of all cash deposited." "What if it was just £100?" I replied. "All deposits," was the answer.
Although I made it clear that I was making enquiries on behalf of a friend who simply wanted to move money out of the reach of his estranged wife, they wouldn't budge. I was puzzled-until I read a report in the Spanish newspaper "Sur" soon afterwards with the headline "Funds possibly laundered through Barclays." According to this Malaga daily newspaper which covers the Costa del Sol, lawyers arranging the sale of a textile factory may have siphoned off 400 million pesetas (about £4mil). Barclay's managers from Marbella and Gibraltar were summoned by a judge to give evidence.
It is nice to know that it wasn't me they suspected of being a money launderer. Editor's note: We have located a Spanish, i.e. Western European bank that will allow you to open an account via mail or the Internet with a true copy of your passport (no camouflage PP's,) an address and a phone number. You receive a Visa Card, Internet Banking with $50 placed onto your Visa card. Cost is just US$499 or US$599 for a corporate account. We strongly recommend that our readers obtain one of these accounts before, once again, an opportunity like this closes its doors' as it surely will sooner or later. Click Here. and place EUB in the subject heading.
Yours for Freedom