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.

——————————————————————————–

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).

Read More

How and Why to Open a Bank Account in Hong Kong

Hong Kong today remains one of the best offshore banking jurisdictions. It offers a great combination of bank secrecy, corporate secrecy, a financially and politically stable environment, and strong banks. But perhaps most importantly, it’s a secure offshore investment haven for those who want to diversify out of sinking western currencies into booming Asian markets, and China in particular.

So how can you go about opening an offshore bank account in Hong Kong? Do you have to travel there? This article will answer these questions and give you some practical hints and tips. But first some background.

A Successful Free Market Experiment For East and West Alike

Hong Kong, in my opinion, is the only practical example in the world of a major city that has been developed from scratch and run as something of an offshore, free market experiment – first by the British, then by the Chinese.

The main Island (and later Kowloon and the New Territories, parts of the mainland) was a British colony for most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. During this time it grew from a fishing village and opium trading hub, into a city-state of seven million people. It became known as a free-wheeling, free market paradise for capitalists, with an economy characterized by low taxation, free trade and no government interference in business.

In 1997 the British returned sovereignty over Hong Kong to China. The former colony became one of China’s two Special Administrative Regions (SARs), the other being Macau. Many people were initially doubtful about one of the world’s capitalist bastions being run by a communist power, and at the time a lot of investors pulled out, many taking their dynamic business acumen heading to places like Singapore and Vancouver.

However, the “one country, two systems” model adopted by Beijing to coincide with free market reforms and the growth of China into an economic superpower has proven very successful. The Basic Law of Hong Kong, the equivalent of the constitution, stipulates that the SAR maintains a “high degree of autonomy” in all matters except foreign relations and defence. The SAR today operates as a major offshore finance center, discreetly oiling the wheels of commerce between East and West.

These days, rather than being put off by the Chinese influence, most international investors who are attracted to Hong Kong are coming precisely because of this Chinese connection. Hong Kong is the point of access to Chinese trade, without the legal and cultural difficulties of doing business in mainland China.

Those who do not trust their own governments are reassured by the fact that under the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s foreign relations are run from Beijing. While most offshore jurisdictions humbly submit to demands from the USA and other western countries, in the case of China, the relationship is definitely reversed. Hong Kong does have a number of Tax Information Exchange Agreements (see below) but these are sensibly policed and do not allow for fishing expeditions.

Offshore Banking in Hong Kong

The region’s population is 95 percent ethnic Chinese and 5 percent from other groups, but English is very widely spoken and is the main language in businesses like banking.

One thing I like about using Hong Kong for offshore bank accounts is the same argument I have used for Panama and Singapore: it’s a ‘real’ country with real trade going on. The Hong Kong dollar is the ninth most traded currency in the world. Compare this to doing business on a small island or other remote banking jurisdiction, where everybody knows your only reason for doing business there is offshore banking. It also means that there is no problem doing your banking in cash, if you so wish.

For now the HKD, the local dollar, still tracks very closely the US dollar, but this appears to be changing as the Chinese Yuan circulates freely in Hong Kong, both in cash and in bank deposits. We think this represents an excellent opportunity to diversify funds out of the US dollar now, gaining exposure to Chinese growth in the meantime. (Of course, you can also hold HKD in banks in other parts of the world too)

Bank accounts in Hong Kong are almost all multi-currency by default, allowing all major local and international currencies to be held under one account number and exchanged freely and instantly within the account at the click of a mouse.

There is no capital gains tax, no tax on bank interest or stock market investments, and no tax on offshore sourced income. This, combined with a welcoming attitude to non-resident clients in the banks (including US citizens by the way, who are generally unwelcome in traditional offshore banking havens like Switzerland), and strong cultural and legal respect for financial privacy, makes Hong Kong one of Asia’s best offshore banking jurisdictions.

For those who want to establish a small offshore account under reporting limits, or simply to have the bank account established in view of future business, Hong Kong is also attractive given the low minimum deposits demanded by the major banks there. The minimum bank account balance can be as low as HK$ 3,000. Of course, you can’t expect red carpet, VIP private banking at this level – but you get a perfectly good functioning bank account with all the technological trimmings.

Offshore Corporate Bank Accounts in Hong Kong – Do’s and Don’ts

Typically, offshore clients choose to open accounts using corporations, as opposed to personal accounts. This not only offers greater privacy, but also flexibility and can – depending of course on how things are structured – offer significant tax and asset protection advantages.

Accounts can easily be opened both for pure offshore companies like Panama, BVI, Nevis or Marshall Islands, or for local Hong Kong companies that are set up using nominee directors and shareholders.

When contacting local corporate service providers in Hong Kong, you’ll find that most of these corporate service providers will recommend you use a Hong Kong company to open the account. The reason they do this is that it’s simpler and more profitable for them. They can incorporate a local company at low cost, opening the bank account is smoother and faster with a local company, and they can carry on billing nominee director fees every year. But it may not be the right thing for you.

Whilst it is true that Hong Kong companies do not have to pay any tax provided they do not make any local source income, administering such a company is not so simple. For example, Hong Kong companies are required to file audited accounts every year. They must file pages and pages of documents to convince the Inland Revenue Department (HKIRD) that they don’t have any local business, and, from practical experience, the HKIRD is getting much stickier about this. Long-established companies are normally left unmolested but newly established companies can expect a lot of compliance work in their first few years. Again, this suits the Hong Kong corporate service providers who charge handsomely for such services.

Another factor to consider is Controlled Foreign Corporation (CFC) legislation in your home country. (For an explanation see Wikipedia ) Many clients choose to set up LLCs as they can be treated as passthrough entities, vastly simplifying reporting requirements in some countries like the USA. Hong Kong corporations are not LLCs and cannot be treated as passthroughs for tax purposes.

My advice – assuming you don’t intend to do any business in Hong Kong besides banking and perhaps the occasional trip to visit your money – would be to open the account in the name of a company from a foreign offshore tax haven. It’s a little more work and expense at the beginning, and the bank might ask you more questions, but it will save you a lot of money and headaches in the long term. If you want a local look and feel for your company, numerous virtual office services are available.

Hong Kong Tax Information Exchange Agreements

Contrary to what you will read on some out-of-date websites, Hong Kong has signed a number of Tax Information Exchange Agreements (TIEAs). However, the HKIRD is at pains to point out that fishing expeditions are not going to be tolerated.

The HKIRD has issued Practice Note 47, available on the internet, which usefully explains how the HKIRD seek to achieve a balance between the requirements of compliance with the OECD requirements, whilst providing checks and balances to protect the rights of businesspeople.

The HKIRD are professionals and should be well positioned to deal with TIEA requests properly and justly in accordance with the treaties and guidelines. I am confident not going to allow their ‘clients’ rights to be trampled on.

Regulation of Banks in Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s Banking Ordinance was revamped in 1986. It has since undergone several amendments to improve prudential supervision. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) was formed in 1993 as a one-stop financial regulator, responsible for everything from banks to stored value anonymous debit cards.

The SAR maintains a three-tier system of deposit-taking institutions, comprising licensed banks, restricted license banks, and deposit-taking companies. Only licensed banks may operate current and savings accounts, and accept deposits of any size and maturity. RLBs are only allowed to accept deposits of HK$500,000 and above, while DTCs are only permitted to accept deposits of a minimum of HK$100,000 with original maturity of not less than three months.

Both these latter categories provide an opportunity for overseas banks to conduct wholesale, investment or private banking activities in Hong Kong without having to jump through the hoops of applying for a full banking license. In addition, some foreign banks have chosen to open representative offices in Hong Kong, which are not allowed to take deposits but can assist in opening accounts at other offices within their groups.

As Hong Kong is an international financial centre, it is an explicit policy of the HKMA that the regulatory framework in Hong Kong should conform as much as possible with international standards, in particular those recommended by the Basel Committee.

Hong Kong’s five largest banks, in terms of total assets, are as follows:

– Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC)

– Bank of China (Hong Kong)

– Hang Seng Bank Ltd

– Standard Chartered Bank

– Bank of East Asia Ltd.

A full list of updated Hong Kong banks can be found on Wikipedia.

Visiting Hong Kong to Open a Bank Account

If you are visiting Hong Kong to open your account, it can normally be opened the same day provided you have made some arrangements with a local service provider, or directly with the bank, in advance. This is assuming you use one of the major banks, that nearly everybody does. You can then simply visit the bank, sign documents and receive the bank account number immediately. This will be a full multi-currency account and you will typically receive a digital token for internet banking, a password and a debit card.

The documents required for opening offshore bank account are:

1) Formation documents (in the case of corporate accounts. Apostilles are required in the case of foreign corporate accounts – your offshore provider will know how to obtain these.)

2) Bank forms and business plan/expected activity (a corporate service provider will normally supply these as part of the service)

3) Passport copies of each director, signatory and shareholder (take special note of this requirement if you are using nominee directors – if the persons are not present, copies will have to be notarized.)

4) Proof of address (such as updated bill statement which shows up your name and address) and signed (of each director and shareholder)

A bank reference is generally required if you are dealing direct with the bank. If you go through a corporate service provider, they normally write a reference so you do not need to supply a bank reference. However, if you can obtain a bank reference it is better.

Opening an account without visiting Hong Kong

It is also perfectly possible to open accounts without visiting Hong Kong (known as ‘remote account opening’) though this process tends to take substantially longer as banks will ask a lot more questions. In this case, your bank or service provider will generally e-mail you the forms, that you will need to print out and sign.

Depending on the bank, there may well be certain special instructions about how and where to sign – for example, HSBC in Hong Kong will typically request that you have your signature witnessed in the HSBC Bank nearest to you. As with all foreign bank accounts, you should be sure to use the same signature that appears in your passport, otherwise the documents will be rejected.

In the case of remote account opening the bank will normally courier the password, debit card, and token direct to your address in your home country. Then you need to activate them via the bank’s website.

Conclusion

Hong Kong competes very favorably with Singapore, the other Asian banking jurisdiction we favor. If you have not yet diversified your offshore holdings into Asia, you should seriously consider doing so. I hope this article will be helpful in this regard.

Read More

Offshore Internet Banking Advantages and Disadvantages

The topic of offshore internet banking is a hot one and one that is increasingly growing in popularity not only within the consumer banking community, but also the business or corporate banking sector.

The beauty of offshore online banking is that in addition to enabling you to conduct banking activities allowed by traditional and local brick and mortar businesses, it allows you more variety and flexibility in terms of your banking needs. For example, if you travel often, offshore online banking gives you the flexibility to conduct business on to go from anywhere, while ensuring that you have access to the type of currency if you need at a time you need it.

Having said that, not all banks offer online or internet banking services as this service costs the banks a significant amount of money. Programming sophisticated and secure systems require the effort of several full time computer engineers, full security and compliance departments, as well as heavy overhead to support the service on an ongoing basis.

Because there are so many variables involved in offering this service, offshore internet banking services vary from one financial institution to another. Some have better systems while others have work to do. A lot of this is predicated on the resources the bank has dedicated to this initiative, both in terms of quantity and quality.

Opening an Offshore Bank Account

Before diving further into this topic, I want to clarify that engaging in offshore internet banking is not about evading taxes. It is about mitigating risk of capital loss due to no fault of your own. So when considering a foreign jurisdiction in which to establish an offshore bank account, consider one that is politically stable and financially strong. In addition, it helps to select a jurisdiction that pays an attractive interest rate and has low to no income tax. Some of the most preferred jurisdictions over the years have been Switzerland, Cayman Islands, Singapore, Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Opening a personal bank account is usually a very personal activity. With offshore internet banking however, there are ways you can get started remotely without having to show up to the bank’s local office, saving a ton of time, money and mainly frustration.

One such way is by visiting a local bank’s branch in your domicile state, or home country. Many big banks that offer internet banking have a multi-national presence. Chances are good that your selected bank has a local branch near where you live, despite being headquartered in another offshore jurisdiction.

In other cases, there are international banks that may not have local branches near where you live, but are willing and able to establish an offshore bank account for you through email, snail mail, fax and telephone. There are usually a set of documents required by banks in order to execute this process. Therefore you can still open a foreign bank account with an offshore bank without having to leave your country, but it may come with a little more effort, and sometimes the struggle involved in communicating with someone overseas.

The Advantages of Offshore Internet Banking

Here are some advantages of offshore internet banking that you should know about.

Protection from sovereign risk – as mention already above, parking funds in foreign bank accounts mitigates the risk of loss of capital resulting from freeze or confiscation of funds by Governments without any fault of your own. This risk is less of a concern in a developed economy with a solid banking infrastructure such as the United States, but it is nonetheless an inherent risk that exists.

Tax benefits – many offshore jurisdictions have low to no income tax implications on interest income, or income from business activities.

Higher Interest Rates – because many offshore banks operate with low costs, they can afford to offer higher interest rates compared to larger multi-national names. In fact, in developed economies like in Europe and North America, regulatory compliance requirements is seen by many as form of taxation on banks, thereby increasing overhead costs and lowering interest rates.

On Demand Access to Statements – offshore internet banking gives you instant access to your statements where you can view your activities on a real time basis. This includes past and pending deposits and withdrawals. You can therefore access your account balance at anytime.

Money Management – with offshore internet banking you can transfer funds between accounts across the globe instantly. Offshore banks have inventories of various currencies and can help you fulfill banking transactions in multiple countries. You can schedule automatic payments to vendors to release automatically.

There are several other advantages to offshore internet banking. You can open offshore trading accounts and establish offshore brokerage accounts to conduct trading and investment activity (there can be tax advantages to this). Conducting transactions online is not only mostly free, but also very efficient. Transaction time online is simply much less. You can also have streams of income potentially directly deposited straight into your offshore online bank account.

From a personal finance perspective, downloading banking activity from your offshore online bank account is easy and can be done instantly. Most online banking platforms are designed to feed information into financial or personal accounting software or to spreadsheets like Excel. Individuals can save a significant amount on accountant fees just by utilizing this feature. Not to mention more intimate knowledge and management of their own finances.

For those looking for anonymity, offshore online bank accounts also allow you to conduct banking anonymously as per bank secrecy guidelines.

The Disadvantages of Offshore Internet Banking

Merely establishing an offshore bank account can be a reason for the Government to put more focus on your activities. After all, many use offshore internet banking as a mechanism to conduct illegal activity and evade taxes. Some specific disadvantages of offshore internet banking as a result of conducting business through foreign bank accounts are the following:

Knowledge of Internet – There is a certain level of internet savvy required to be able to navigate your way through offshore internet banking platforms to ensure you are getting exactly what you want. This is a big reason why some elderly shy away from conducting banking online.

Deposit Timeline – Because many banks do not have the technology to be able to collect deposits remotely, you may have difficulty depositing all your proceeds. While many banks have developed electronic scanning technology, others have yet to catch up. There is no consistency to say the least.

Security / Fraud Implications – because banking is conducted online, offshore internet banking exposes you to the risk of network intrusion or breach. Because information is transferred electronically and stored in various databases, breaches can cause private and sensitive information to leak out into the wrong hands. But then again, this is no different than losing your check book if compared to traditional brick and mortar banking.

Spam Mail – offshore online banking also means that you will receive emails from the foreign bank you have your offshore bank accounts with. Internet predators recognize this as an opportunity for phishing, or fish for private and sensitive information. Many times you may see an email in your inbox from what seems like your foreign banking institution. However it is not. These are phishing emails hoping for you to login and enter your personal information such as login and password.

TIPS: Here are a few tips to avoid falling for phishing scams. First, when you receive an email from your bank, call them to verify that they sent the email. Second, instead of opening the email they sent you, visit the bank’s website directly and see if you can conduct what’s asked of you on their site by you logging in directly rather than clicking a login link in an email message.

Third, if you were to open the email and click on any link in it for whatever reason, once the link takes you to a website where you are required to enter personal information, look for security symbols such as an https URL address or a padlock on the lower right hand side corner of the web browser. There are other security measures as well that can be visible spotted. Read online for more on this topic.

Financial Security – some offshore bank locations are not very financially secure or stable. For example, during the global economic crisis of 2008, many savers lost money parked in offshore bank accounts in some destinations such as Iceland. I don’t mean to scare you by any means as this situation is rare, and in most cases those who suffer losses are compensated in some way over time. However, know that this inherent risk exists. Always look for deposit insurance. The bigger the allowance the better.

Credibility by Association – as I’ve already mentioned, offshore internet banking has negative connotations attached to it, often associated with money laundering, use of illegal monies, untaxed monies and support of illegal causes. Offshore bank accounts at times are tied to crime rings and terrorists. What does this mean for you? Although you may engage in offshore banking legally and legitimately, understand that there will be closer scrutiny over you by the Governments.

Access Restrictions – offshore banks are in destinations far away from you, therefore more difficult and expensive to access. In many countries, communication in person is preferred to communicating over phone, email and snail mail, therefore internet banking can get a bit difficult and frustrating. I see this trend slowly changing with banks understanding the need to communicate at all levels and mediums to satisfy a global audience.

Expensive – offshore internet banking is usually more expensive to set up and administer and thus more accessible and feasible for those more affluent or high income earners. It’s not so much that it is expensive to open a foreign bank account. It is not. However, many times you will need to go through a firm that specializes in helping expatriates establish and manage foreign bank accounts. All these activities cost money.

Internet banking today is very convenient and is accessible to almost everyone. For the average individual it can be a great offshore tax planning tool to add to the mix. For those that travel, foreign internet banking can provide all sorts of convenience, allowing one to transact anywhere and with anyone. So if you liked what you read about offshore online banking, I highly recommend you look into it further to see how it can help you meet your objectives.

Read More

Royal Entrepreneurship – The Case of Royal Bank Zimbabwe Ltd Formation

The deregulation of the financial services in the late 1990s resulted in an explosion of entrepreneurial activity leading to the formation of banking institutions. This chapter presents a case study of Royal Bank Zimbabwe, tracing its origins, establishment, and the challenges that the founders faced on the journey. The Bank was established in 2002 but compulsorily amalgamated into another financial institution at the behest of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe in January 2005.

Entrepreneurial Origins
Any entrepreneurial venture originates in the mind of the entrepreneur. As Stephen Covey states in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, all things are created twice. Royal Bank was created first in the mind of Jeffrey Mzwimbi, the founder, and was thus shaped by his experiences and philosophy.

Jeff Mzwimbi grew up in the high density suburb of Highfield, Harare. On completion of his Advanced Level he secured a place at the University of Botswana. However he decided against the academic route at that time since his family faced financial challenges in terms of his tuition. He therefore opted to join the work force. In 1977 he was offered a job in Barclays Bank as one of the first blacks to penetrate that industry. At that time the banking industry, which had been the preserve of whites, was opening up to blacks. Barclays had a new General Manager, John Mudd, who had been involved in the Africanisation of Barclays Bank Nigeria. On his secondment to Zimbabwe he embarked on the inclusion of blacks into the bank. Mzwimbi’s first placement with Barclays was in the small farming town of Chegutu.

In 1981, a year after Independence, Jeff moved to Syfrets Merchant Bank. Mzwimbi, together with Simba Durajadi and Rindai Jaravaza, were the first black bankers to break into merchant banking department. He rose through the ranks until he was transferred to the head office of Zimbank – the principal shareholder of Syfrets – where he headed the international division until 1989.

The United Nations co-opted him as an advisor to the Reserve Bank in Burundi and thereafter, having been pleased by his performance, appointed him a consultant in 1990. In this capacity he advised on the launch of the PTA Bank travellers’ cheques. After the consultancy project the bank appointed him to head the implementation of the programme. He once again excelled and rose to become the Director of Trade Finance with a mandate of advising the bank on ways to improve trade among member states. The member states were considering issues of a common currency and common market in line with the European model. Because the IFC and World Bank had unsuccessfully sunk gigantic sums of funds into development in the region, they were advocating a move from development finance to trade finance. Consequently PTA Bank, though predominantly a development bank, created a trade finance department. To craft a strategy for trade finance at a regional level, Mzwimbi and his team visited Panama where the Central Americans had created a trade finance institution. They studied its models and used it as a basis to craft the PTA’s own strategy.

Mzwimbi returned to Zimbabwe at the conclusion of his contract. He weighed his options. He could rejoin Barclays Bank, but recent developments presented another option. At that time Nick Vingirai had just returned home after successfully launching a discount house in Ghana. Vingirai, inspired by his Ghanaian experience, established Intermarket Discount House as the first indigenous financial institution. A few years later NMB was set up with William Nyemba, Francis Zimuto and James Mushore being on the ground while one of the major forces behind the bank, Julias Makoni, was still outside the country. Makoni had just moved from IFC to Bankers’ Trust, to facilitate his ownership of a financial institution. Inspired by fellow bankers, a dream took shape in Mzwimbi’s mind. Why become an employee when he could become a bank owner? After all by this time he had valuable international experience.

The above experience shows how the entrepreneurial dream can originate from viewing the successes of others like you. The valuable experiences acquired by Mzwimbi would be critical on the entrepreneurial journey. An entrepreneurial idea builds on the experiences of the entrepreneur.
First Attempts

In 1990 Jeff Mzwimbi was approached by Nick Vingirai, who was then Chairman of the newly resuscitated CBZ, for the CEO position. Mzwimbi turned down the offer since he still had some contractual obligations. The post was later offered to Gideon Gono, the current RBZ governor.

Around 1994, Julias Makoni (then with IFC), who was a close friend of Roger Boka, encouraged Boka to start a merchant bank. At this time Makoni was working at setting up his own NMB. It is possible that, by encouraging Boka to start, he was trying to test the waters. Then Mzwimbi was seeing out the last of his contract at PTA. Boka approached him at the recommendation of Julias Makoni and asked him to help set up United Merchant Bank (UMB). On careful consideration, the banker in Mzwimbi accepted the offer. He reasoned that it would be an interesting option and at the same time he did not want to turn down another opportunity. He worked on the project with a view to its licensing but quit three months down the line. Some of the methods used by the promoter of UMB were deemed less than ethical for the banking executive, which led to disagreement. He left and accepted an offer from Econet to help restructure its debt portfolio.

While still at Econet, he teamed up with the late minister Dr Swithun Mombeshora and others with the intent of setting up a commercial bank. The only commercial banks in the country at that point were Standard Chartered, Barclays Bank, Zimbank, Stanbic and an ailing CBZ. The project was audited by KPMG and had gained the interest of institutional investors like Zimnat and Mining Industry Pension Fund. However, the Registrar of Banks in the Ministry of Finance, made impossible demands. The timing of their application for a licence was unfortunate because it coincided with a saga at Prime Bank in which some politicians had been involved, leading to accusations of influence peddling. Mombeshora, after unsuccessfully trying to influence the Registrar, asked that they slow down on the project as he felt that he might be construed as putting unnecessary political pressure on her. Mzwimbi argues that the impossible stance of the Registrar was the reason for backing off that project.

However other sources indicate that when the project was about to be licensed, the late minister
demanded that his shareholding be increased to a point where he would be the majority shareholder. It is alleged that he contended this was due to his ability to leverage his political muscle for the issuance of the licence.

Entrepreneurs do not give up at the first sign of resistance but they view obstacles in starting up as learning experiences. Entrepreneurs develop a “don’t quit” mind-set. These experiences increase their self -efficacy. Perseverance is critical, as failure can occur at any time.

Econet Wireless
The aspiring banker was approached, in 1994 by a budding telecommunication entrepreneur, Strive Masiyiwa of Econet Wireless, to advise on financial matters and help restructure the company’s debt. At that time Mzwimbi thought that he would be with Econet probably for only four months and then return to his banking passion. While at Econet it became apparent that, once licensed, the major drawback for the telecommunication company’s growth would be the cost of cell phone handsets. This presented an opportunity for the banker, as he saw a strategic option of setting up a leasing finance division within Econet that would lease out handsets to subscribers. The anticipated four months to licensing of Econet dragged into four years, which encompassed a bruising legal struggle that finally enabled the licensing against the State’s will. Mzwimbi’s experience with merchant banking proved useful for his role in Econet’s formation. With the explosive growth of Econet after an IPO, Mzwimbi assisted in the launch of the Botswana operations in 1999. After that, Econet pursued the Morocco licence. At this stage, the dream of owning a bank proved stronger than the appeal of telecoms. The banker faced some tough decisions, as financially he was well covered in Econet with an assured executive position that would expand with the expansion of the network. However the dream prevailed and he resigned from Econet and headed back home from RSA, where he was then domiciled.

His Econet days bestowed on him a substantial shareholding in the company, expanded his worldview and taught him vital lessons in creating an entrepreneurial venture. The persistence of Masiyiwa against severe government resistance taught Mzwimbi critical lessons in pursuing his dream in spite of obstacles. No doubt he learnt a lot from the enterprising founder of Econet.

Debut Royal Bank
On his return in March 2000, Mzwimbi regrouped with some of his friends, Chakanyuka Karase and Simba Durajadi, with whom he had worked on the last attempt at launching a bank. In 1998 the Banking Act was updated and a new statutory instrument called the Banking Regulations had been enacted in the light of the UMB and Prime Bank failures.

These required that one should have the shareholders, the premises and equipment all in place before licensing. Previously one needed only to set up an office and hire a secretary to acquire a banking license. The licence would be the basis for approaching potential investors. In other words it was now required that one should incur the risk of setting up and purchasing the IT infrastructure, hire personnel and lease premises without any assurance that one would acquire the licence. Consequently it was virtually impossible to invite outside investors into the project at this stage.

Without recourse to outside shareholders injecting funds, and with minimal financial capacity on the part of his partners, Mzwimbi fortuitously benefited from his substantial Econet shares. He used them as collateral to access funds from Intermarket Discount House to finance the start up – acquired equipment like ATMs, hired staff, and leased premises. Mzwimbi recalls pleading with the Central Bank and the Registrar of Banks about the oddity of having to apply for a licence only when he had spent significant amounts on capital expenditure – but the Registrar was adamant.

Finally, Royal Bank was licensed in March 2002 and, after the prerequisite pre-opening inspections by the Central Bank, opened its doors to the public four months later.

Entrepreneurial Challenges
The challenges of financing the new venture and the earlier disappointments did not deter Mzwimbi. The risk of using his own resources, whereas in other places one would fund a significant venture using institutional shareholders’ capital, has already been discussed. This section discusses other challenges that the entrepreneurial banker had to overcome.

Regulatory Challenges and Capital Structure
The new banking regulations placed shareholding restrictions on banks as follows:

*Individuals could hold a maximum of 25% of a financial institution’s equity
*Non-financial institutions could hold a maximum of 10% only
*A financial institution however could hold up to a maximum of 100%.

This posed a problem for the Royal Bank sponsors because they had envisaged Royal Financial Holdings (a non-financial corporate) as the major shareholder for the bank. Under the new regulations this could hold only 10% maximum. The sponsors argued with the Registrar of Banks about these regulations to no avail. If they needed to hold the shares as corporate bodies it meant that they needed at least ten companies, each holding 10% each. The argument for having financial institutions holding up to 100% was shocking as it meant that an asset manager with a required capitalisation of $1 million would be allowed by the new law to hold 100% shareholding in a bank which had a $100 million capitalisation yet a non-banking institution, which may have had a higher capitalisation, could not control more than 10%. Mzwimbi and team were advised by the Registrar of Banks to invest in their personal capacities. At this point the Reserve Bank (RBZ) was simply involved in the registration process on an advisory basis with the main responsibility resting with the Registrar of Banks. Although the RBZ agreed with Mzwimbi’s team on the need to have corporations as major shareholders due to the long term existence of a corporation as compared to individuals, the Registrar insisted on her terms. Finally, Royal Bank promoters chose the path of satisficing- and hence opted to invest as individuals, resulting in the following shareholding structure:

*Jeff Mzwimbi – 25%
*Victor Chando – 25%
*Simba Durajadi- 20%
*Hardwork Pemhiwa- 20%
*Intermarket Unit Trust – 2% (the only institutional investor)
*Other individuals – less than 2% each.
The challenge to acquire institutional investors was due to the restrictions cited above and the requirement to pump money into the project before the licence was issued. They negotiated with TA Holdings, which was prepared to take equity holding in Royal Bank.

So tentatively the sponsors had allocated 25% equity for Zimnat, a subsidiary to TA Holdings. Close to the registration date, the Zimnat negotiators were changed. The incoming negotiators changed the terms and conditions for their investment as follows:

*They wanted at least a 35% stake
*The Board chairmanship and chairmanship of key committees – in perpetuity.

The promoters read this to mean their project was being usurped and so turned TA Holdings down. However, in retrospect Mzwimbi feels that the decision to release the TA investment was emotional and believes that they should have compromised and found a way to accommodate them as institutional investors. This could have strengthened the capital base of Royal Bank.

Credibility Challenges
The main sponsors and senior managers of the bank were well known players in the industry. This reduced the credibility gap. However some corporate customers were concerned about the shareholding of the bank being entirely in the hands of individuals. They preferred the bank risk to be reduced by having institutional investors. The new licensing process adversely affected access to institutional investors. Consequently the bank had institutional shareholders in mind for the long term. They claim that even the then head of supervision and licensing at RBZ, agreed with the promoters’ concern about the need for institutional investors but the Registrar of Banks overruled her.

Challenges of Explosive Growth
The strategic plan of Royal Bank was to open ten branch offices within five years. They planned to open three branches in Harare in the first year, followed by branches in Bulawayo, Masvingo, Mutare and Gweru within the next year. This would have been followed by an increase in the number of Harare branches.

From their analysis they believed that there was room for at least four more commercial banks in Zimbabwe. A competitor analysis of the industry indicated that the government controlled Zimbank was the major competitor, CBZ was struggling and Stanbic was not likely to grow rapidly. The bigger banks, Barclays and Standard Chartered, were likely to scale down operations. The promoters of the bank project had observed in their extensive international experie nce that whenever the economy was indigenised in Africa, these multinational banks would dispose of their rural branches. They were therefore positioning themselves to exploit this scenario once it presented itself.

The anticipated opportunity presented itself earlier than expected. On an international flight with the Standard Chartered Bank CEO, Mzwimbi, confirmed his interest in a stake of the bank’s disinvestments which was making rounds on the rumour mill. Although surprised, the multinational banker agreed to give the two month old entrepreneurial bank the right of first refusal on the fifteen branches that were being disposed of.

The deal was negotiated on a lock, stock and barrel basis. When the announcement of the deal was made internally, some employees resisted and politicised the issue. The Standard Chartered CEO then offered to proceed on a phased basis with the first seven banks going through, followed by the others later. Due to Mzwimbi’s savvy negotiating skills and the determination by Standard Chartered to dispose of the branches, the deal was successfully concluded, resulting in Royal Bank growing from one branch to seven outlets within the first year of operation. It had exceeded their projected growth plan.

Due to what Mzwimbi calls divine favour, the deal included the real estate belonging to the bank. Interestingly, Standard Chartered had failed to get bank buildings on lease and so in all small towns they had built their own buildings. These were thus transferred within the deal to Royal Bank. Inherent in the deal was an inbuilt equity from the properties since the purchase price of $400 million was heavily discounted.

Shortly after that, Alex Jongwe, the CEO of Barclays Bank, approached Royal Bank to offer a similar deal to the Standard Chartered acquisition of rural branches. Barclays offered eight branches, of which Royal initially accepted six. Chegutu and Chipinge were excluded, since Royal already had a presence there.

However after failing to dispose of those two branches, Barclays came back and asked Royal “to take them for a song”. Mzwimbi accepted these for two strategic reasons, namely the acquisitions gave him physical assets (the buildings) that he could lease out to anyone who decided to expand into those areas and secondly, that created a monopoly in those towns. With time, the fortuitous inclusion of real estate into the deal increased the wealth of Royal Bank as the prices of properties skyrocketed with hyperinflation.

One of the major key drivers of the Zimbabwean economy is agriculture. After the failed Land Donors Conference in 1998 and the subsequent land reform programme, it was evident to the established banks that commercial farming would be significantly affected.

They sought to quit the small towns since their major clients were commercial farmers. Strategically to acquire these branches when the major source of their revenue was under threat would have required that Royal Bank should have put in place an alternative source of revenue from farming. It is not clear whether this had been considered during these acquisitions.

The acquisition increased Royal’s branch network to 20 and the staff complement by 50. Incidentally, the growth created problems of managing the system as well as cultural issues. The highly unionised Standard Chartered employees were antagonistic to management as compared to the trusting Royal culture. This acquisition resulted in potential culture challenges. Management controlled this by introducing Norton and Kaplan’s Balanced Scorecard system in an effort to manage the cultural clashes of the three systems.

The Challenge of Financing Acquisition
A major challenge in acquisitions is the financing structure. During licensing the Registrar of Banks refused to accept the nearly $200 million that had been spent by the promoters of Royal Bank as capital. She insisted that this be recognised as pre-operating expenses and therefore wanted to see fresh capital amounting to $100 million. The change of rules posed a challenge for Mzwimbi’s team. However, being an astute deal maker he strategically conceptualised an arrangement whereby the $170 million worth of equipment purchased be accounted for as belonging to Royal Financial Holdings and made available to Royal Bank on a lease basis. This would then be sold to the bank as it grew. The RBZ was appraised of this decision and accepted it, and even noted in the inspection report the amount of expenditure spent pre-operatively by the promoters. The remainder of the pre-operative expenses were converted into nonvoting non-convertible preference shares of Royal Bank.

In January 2003 commercial bank capitalisation was increased to $500 million by the regulator and hence there was a need for recapitalisation. This coincided with the branch acquisition deals. At this stage the Royal Bank team decided to partially fund the acquisition through a conversion of the preference shares into ordinary shares and partially from fresh capital injected by the shareholders. Since the bank was now performing well, it purchased the capital equipment, owned by Royal Financial Holdings, which it had been leasing. This deal included the redistribution and balancing of shareholdings in Royal Bank to conform to the statutory requirements. Retrospectively it may be viewed as a strategic blunder to have moved the equipment into the bank ownership. Considering the “sale” of Royal Bank assets to ZABG, if these and the real estate had been warehoused into RFH the take-over may have been difficult. This highlights the failure sometimes by entrepreneurs to appreciate the importance of asset protection mechanisms while still small.

However the RBZ accused the shareholders of using depositors’ funds for the recapitalisation of the bank. Partly this is due to a misunderstanding that RFH is the holding company of Royal Bank and so sometimes accounts flowing from Royal Financial Holdings were accounted by RBZ investigators as Royal Bank funds. These allegations formed part of the allegations of fraud against Mzwimbi and Durajadi when they were arrested in September 2004. Subsequently the courts cleared them of any fraudulent activities in January 2007.

Managerial Challenges
Retrospectively, Mzwimbi views his managerial team as being excellent apart from some “weaknesses in the finance department”. He assembled a solid team from various banking backgrounds. The most significant ones became founding shareholders like Durajadi Simba at treasury, the late Sibanda in charge of the lending department. Faith Ngwabi-Bhebhe, then with Kingdom, helped lay a solid foundation of human resource systems for the bank.

However, they had a challenge finding a financial director. The new statutory instrument required that CVs of all corporate officers be made available for vetting when the licence was applied for. Without a licence one could not promise someone in current employment a job and submit his CV as this would reflect badly on the promoters. Eventually they hired a chartered accountant without banking experience. Initially they thought this was a stop-gap measure.

With the unanticipated growth, they forgot to revisit this department to strengthen it. Because of these weaknesses the bank continued to face challenges in the treasury department, despite the gallant efforts of the financial director. Strangely, when other executive directors were arrested the FD was left untouched and yet all the issues at stake arose from treasury activities. It would appear in retrospect that the FD was intimidated into providing incriminating evidence for the others. She too was threatened with arrest.

Successful entrepreneurial ventures in a growth phase need both strong leaders and strong managers. It’s not enough to have strong leadership skills. As Ed Cole said, “It’s easier to obtain than to maintain.” The role of strong managers is to create the capacity to maintain what strong entrepreneurial leaders acquire. Interestingly a new field of research, Strategic Entrepreneurship now recognises the need for both entrepreneurial and strategic management competences for successful ventures.

Strategic Growth Plans
Royal Bank’s strategic intent was to create a full house of financial services. The plan included a commercial bank, a discount house, an insurance company, a building society and an asset management service. However the vision was later refined and the plans for a discount house were dropped, since a strong commercial bank with a powerful dealing room would serve the same purpose. A strong asset manager would also relieve the need for a discount house.

With the significant branch network, the commercial bank was solid but needed a presence in a few major centres e.g. Masvingo and Gweru. In Gweru they could not locate suitable premises.

In Masvingo, after a struggle they were offered premises which had previously been earmarked for Trust Bank. With Trust Bank facing challenges, it abandoned Masvingo. However, Royal was placed under a curator when it was about to move in.

Royal Bank courted Finsreal Asset Managers for a potential acquisition since there were synergies and shared beliefs. It had a solid corporate customer base and very good growth prospects since an astute entrepreneur led it. Unfortunately the deal was aborted at the last minute when the owner opted out. After the Finsreal flop, Mzwimbi and his team pursued the asset manager through organic growth. They developed their own company -Regal Asset Managers – during the last quarter of 2003. At this stage the capital requirements and licensing process of asset managers was fairly easy. Asset managers were quite profitable, with minimal regulatory controls. Regal Asset Managers completed two good deals, namely: a management buyout of Screen Litho, a printing concern, and a big deal for First Mutual at its demutualisation.

The Screen Litho deal had been offered to venture capitalists but their demands were excessive. That is when Regal Asset Managers was set up and concluded a funding deal through Royal Financial Holdings (RFH), resulting in RFH holding 99% of Screen Litho which was to be off- loaded once management was in a solid financial position. Screen Litho is performing very well and hence this investment has proven successful. The entrepreneurial Mzwimbi thus diversified his financial portfolio through this deal.

For the building society, Royal eyed First National Building Society (FNBS) and almost signed a memorandum of agreement. Royal Bank was almost ready to transfer its staff mortgage facility to FNBS, when a close friend with a powerful position in the Society discouraged it from committing to the deal without divulging the reasons. A short while later FNBS was placed under a curator, with the RBZ citing cases of fraud by the top executives. The increasingly acquisitive Royal Bank entrepreneurs shifted and trained their guns at Beverly Building Society. Intermarket had already failed to consummate a deal with Beverley. Royal Bank was now competing with African Banking Corporation (ABC), which beat it to an agreement but was denied shareholder authority to complete the deal. Royal Bank then went back to wooing Shingai Mutasa of TA Holdings in an effort to increase its institutional shareholder base. He was keen on the deal.

Mutasa was acquainted with the two British owners of Beverley and one of his board members sat on the Beverley Building Society board. His support would have been crucial in the deal. However this process was overtaken by events, as the incoming RBZ governor superintended a monetary policy which led the financial sector into a tailspin.

Some young entrepreneurs approached Royal Bank seeking for support to establish an insurance company. Since this was in line with Royal’s strategic plan it consented and helped start Regal Insurance Company. Royal Bank originated the name Regal Insurance.

Once the licence was acquired there were some shareholder disputes and Royal Bank distanced itself from the deal. The young entrepreneurs who had been supported by Royal Bank lost the company to the other shareholders.

The final thrust in the strategic plan was establishing a stock broking firm. An idiosyncrasy with stock broking licences is that they are not issued to an institution but to a person. Intermarket had the highest number of stock broking licences. Mzwimbi approached the Intermarket stock broking CEO, who was a friend, about the prospects of acquiring one of the stockbrokers and he did not seem to have a problem with that. At the same time Victor Chando, a major shareholder in Royal Bank, brought to the table his interest in acquiring Barnfords Securities. He was encouraged to pursue the deal with the help of Royal Bank with the plan of bringing it in-house as soon as possible. All Royal Bank deals would now be channelled through Barnfords.

It appears that Royal bank developed a strong appetite for deals. One wonders what it would have been like if it had taken time to develop strong systems and capacity before attempting so many deals. What could have been avoided if the appetite for deals had been controlled? Entrepreneurs may need to exercise restrain in their expansion in order to create capacities to absorb and consolidate the growth.

Read More