Offshore Banking in St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Today, St. Vincent and the Grenadines is known as a haven of unregulated forex brokers, cheap banking licenses, IBCs, and bare-bones regulations.

And it’s a great example of why you need to be careful. 

Corporate service providers and bank introducers promote horrendous banks in dangerous banking jurisdictions without a care in the world. And then, after you’re in– those same banks fail, lose correspondent banking relationships, go into liquidation, or implode via scandal.

From 2015 to 2017, every bank introducer on the planet with an internet connection was peddling St. Vincent and the Grenadines “as a great place” to open an offshore bank account.

Literally, there were more than 100 companies selling “introductions” to banks online… 

This was sad for two reasons:

1. Introductions weren’t even needed to open accounts here– if you could spell your name, you got in.

2. St. Vincent and the Grenadines was a bad offshore banking jurisdiction even back then… with questionable banks passing out high-commissions to promoters.

Offshore Banking in St. Vincent and the Grenadines

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Offshore banking in St. Vincent and the Grenadines has a… colorful history. In it, you’ll discover some interesting secrets that most people miss when it comes to offshore banking.

Here’s the gist…

In 1979, the former British colony gained independence. 

Then, St. Vincent and the Grenadines did what many poor Caribbean island nations have done: pass a bunch of laws and try to create a bustling offshore financial center… out of bananas and good intentions.

And why not? It seemed to be working for other Caribbean nations.

So, in the 1990s, St. Vincent and the Grenadines passed a flurry of new laws to jumpstart the financial sector. The focus was on IBCs, international banks, trusts, mutual funds, and insurance companies.

By 1999, St. Vincent and the Grenadines had a whopping 28 registered banks (according to the IMF).

Things seemed to be going well…

And for years, St. Vincent and the Grenadines carried on as a relatively unknown tax haven, growing steadily.

But then something horrible happened… 

Correspondent banks started fleeing the country– leaving international banks in St. Vincent and the Grenadines without any way to transact or send money abroad. 

Why were they leaving? 

Because St. Vincent and the Grenadines was a high-risk jurisdiction… bank regulations were weak, compliance standards were poor, and many banks were letting anyone open accounts without basic due diligence checks.

What made the situation worse was that correspondent banks around the world were under intense pressure thanks to a number of high-profile money laundering scandals. 

So these correspondents were forced to take a closer look at the smaller banks they were servicing… like those in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

If those small banks were accepting criminals, tax evaders, and money launderers– the correspondent banks, by default, were too. Why? Because every transaction the small bank made went through the correspondent bank before ending up at its destination.

And as we’ve discussed before in previous articles, when banks don’t conduct basic due diligence and put proper KYC & AML safeguards in place, they become a magnet for unsavory clients and illegal activity.

So overnight, St. Vincent and the Grenadines became the poster-child for why opening an account at a small shoebox bank with shoddy KYC and lazy regulators is a horrible idea. 

And by the way, this isn’t an issue with the Caribbean… there are still solid banks in the region.

Despite having a banking system that turned into a dud, some people still find St. Vincent and the Grenadines wildly attractive for certain non-banking activities…

In this article, we’ll explore some new opportunities, expose a few emerging trends, and reveal a few secrets that governments don’t want you to know. 

More importantly, we’ll also show how to use what happened in St. Vincent and the Grenadines to your advantage.

Why Offshore Banking in St. Vincent and the Grenadines Matters

It’s a great example of what NOT to do, what you should watch out for, and how a country’s banking system can go from decent to bad…fast.

Today, there are about seven banks in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. And there are only THREE international banks (only one has a Class A license). 

Not surprisingly, correspondent banking relationships are unstable here due to de-risking.

And that means St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ entire offshore banking system is vulnerable. It’s 100% reliant on shaky third-party relationships in order to complete basic transactions. You can learn more about how the situation got so bad here.

Today, it can take months just to send one transaction. Well, assuming the bank has a quasi-correspondent relationship intact.

How did things get so bad? 

If you were smart, you probably started seeing the warning signs around 2013 and got out…

But many people didn’t see the writing on the wall.

And, as a result, they got financially stranded. 

It’s a unique situation because even though the banking system didn’t “collapse,” many innocent people were still cut-off from their bank accounts.

Between 2013 to 2019, the country was thrust into the spotlight– and it continued to gain notoriety for all the wrong reasons.

So much bad stuff came to light…

2015: Banks started losing correspondent banking relationships. 

2016: The Panama Papers hit. Turns out, Loyal Bank was opening accounts without verifying the ultimate beneficial owner (UBO).

2017: Paul Manafort was exposed for stashing millions here (he got busted for money laundering).

2017: Banks with any concern for what was left of their reputation redomiciled their operations. And that’s exactly what Euro Pacific Bank did when they acquired an IFE license in Puerto Rico.

2018: The first banking executive was criminally convicted by the US government for thwarting FATCA and helping Americans hide money (he served time in a Hungarian prison & paid a fine).

2018: Loyal Bank lost all of its correspondent banking relationships (CBRs), was indicted by the US government for securities fraud and money laundering, and imploded.

So, it’s been a rough ride. The optics aren’t great. And, there’s been some reputational damage to the banking sector.

Benefits of Offshore Banking in St. Vincent and the Grenadines

We don’t recommend banking here. In fact, the benefits are few and far between.

The banking sector is small. The banks are weak, don’t have stable correspondent banking relationships, and have notoriously bad customer service. On top of that, the island can be easily pressured by other countries and international authorities.

For instance, the US government charged Loyal Bank with money laundering, securities fraud, and FATCA violations. Then, Mastercard revoked the bank’s debit card license. And with no correspondent banking relationships and no debit cards– customer money was trapped.

Years ago, when Loyal Bank was still functioning and Euro Pacific Bank still had a presence, companies were attracted to St. Vincent and the Grenadines because it was super easy to open accounts. You didn’t need a lot of money either. Requirements were light, no minimum deposit was required, and you didn’t have to visit the bank in person to open an account. 

Plus, banks here would accept anybody– offshore companies, high-risk businesses, it didn’t matter.

Why Are People Attracted to St. Vincent and the Grenadines?

Today, people come to St. Vincent and the Grenadines for cheap, loosely regulated IBCs and trusts. 

The country also has some of the cheapest banking licenses in the world.

Beyond that, St. Vincent and the Grenadines has welcomed unregulated FOREX brokers fleeing stricter regulation in other countries. Nearly every other country in the world (besides St. Vincent and the Grenadines) has tough licensing, strict capitalization requirements, and trading restrictions. 

In other words, if you want to start up a regulated FOREX brokerage in any other country, you’ll spend at least US $20,000 – US $50,000 just to acquire the license to operate… and that’s for the cheapest possible options in low-quality jurisdictions. In Europe and developed markets, it’s much higher.

Point is, FOREX licenses are expensive to acquire and maintain. And FOREX brokers in regulated markets are hit with all sorts of new rules. Plus, there’s the burden of compliance, reporting, leverage limits, trading restrictions, etc.

But not in St. Vincent and the Grenadines… 

Instead, people are just buying a St. Vincent and the Grenadines IBC and calling themselves a FOREX broker.

Now, you might be wondering, “What about the license?”

Well, remember that “secret” no one wants you to know about… 

Here it is. What’s happening is that people are creating unregulated FOREX businesses out of thin air. Then they’re getting a legal opinion from an attorney stating that “the company doesn’t need a license according to St Vincent and the Grenadines laws.”

In fact, the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Financial Services Authority (VSG FSA) doesn’t even offer any licenses for FOREX brokers at all.

People are buying an IBC, slapping together a website, figuring out their banking and payment processing relationships, and starting an unregulated FOREX business.

They tend to target customers in undeveloped markets (usually Asia and Latin America), offer absurd terms, and execute trades that would never be allowed in any country with an ounce of common sense.

In fact, many large brokers in regulated markets will sometimes set up unregulated brokerage arms in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Then, when they have customers who want significant amounts of leverage, they redirect them to their entity on the island.

To be clear, we’re not recommending any of the above. We’re just sharing what we’re seeing in the market. And if you’re looking to trade FOREX, we’d highly recommend using regulated brokers, in decent jurisdictions, that offer basic customer protections.

Conclusion

If you’re looking to open offshore bank accounts in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, there are better options elsewhere.

If you need more help or want to know which specific banks will accept you, which account opening strategies to use, how to avoid high fees, and overcome tough paperwork requirements, then we’d be happy to help you on your journey.

When you join GlobalBanks, you’ll also get instant access to our entire archive of Banking Intelligence Reports. These include proven strategies for opening accounts. We also share contact information for specific banks and bankers. And to make sure you don’t waste time, we provide details on each bank’s preferences and sensitivities.

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Plus, you’ll get real-time analyst support through chat and email, and get answers to your most pressing banking questions.

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