Plus the latest banking news, resources, and solutions for your e-Residency business
On 1 December 2019, e-Residency celebrates its 5th birthday. The program is the first of its kind to offer a digital identity to people outside the borders of a country, Estonia, and provide access to its unparalleled e-governance services.
In its 5 years of existence, e-Residency has welcomed over 60,000 e-residents from over 165 countries. E-residents have started around 7,500 companies, providing products and services as varied as online mapping software, tools for consumers to save them from buying fake, dangerous or illicit products online, and software to support sustainable precision farming.
It has not been all smooth sailing though. Like any business, e-residents need the right banking and payment solutions for their companies. Ensuring that they continue to have options has been a fundamental challenge for e-Residency given that many banks across the EU have considerably tightened access to non-residents in recent years.
But right now we are proud to say that there have never been more business banking options for e-residents.
From traditional banks to online fintechs, most e-residents have numerous options to choose from for their business banking needs.
Still, given that banking remains a hot topic in our community, we thought it was about time for an e-Residency banking update.
This article therefore provides an update on banking news and resources available to e-residents to support you in making decisions on banking for your businesses. The article covers:
- Introduction to the business banking environment in Estonia for limited companies
- A brief outline of the different types of banking and payment solutions available to e-residents
- Latest news about banking and payment service providers in the e-Residency Marketplace: including a warm welcome to Stripe, Transferwise, and Paysera!
- A short discussion about the challenges remaining for some e-residents due to their location or business activities.
Business banking: a hot topic in the e-resident community
The e-Residency team receives a huge number of questions about banking from potential and existing e-residents. Along with tax questions, they form a high proportion of queries received by our support centre and during our live Q&A Zoom sessions, and we also see numerous discussions about banking solutions in the E-residents of Estonia Facebook group and our other social media accounts.
The fact that banking is such a hot topic in our community is unsurprising for several reasons. Firstly and most obviously, a bank account provides an e-resident with the infrastructure to store money, make transactions, and generate profits for their business.
Secondly, banks across the EU have in recent years considerably tightened access to their accounts to non-residents in the face of higher levels of regulatory scrutiny over cross-border money transfers. This trend is frustrating given that the Estonian business environment is one of the most secure and transparent in the world.
Estonia is regularly rated among the best performing countries in independent global rankings related to transparency and preventing corruption. For example, in the 2019 Basel AML Index, Estonia was ranked the lowest risk country for money laundering and terrorism financing in the world. Estonia was also announced in January 2019 as the least corrupt country in emerging Europe and ranked 18th worldwide in the Corruption Perceptions Index by Transparency International.
Thirdly, Estonian law has implications for the type of banking solutions that can be used by companies. A private limited Estonian company (known as an ‘osaühing’ or ‘oü’ in Estonian, and the most frequently used company structure of e-residents) is required to pay a minimum share capital contribution of 2,500 euros into its bank account and register this in the Estonian Business Register. Read more about this requirement here.
Before 2019, Estonian law required limited companies to use an Estonian bank account when registering their share capital contribution. In practice, however, this law and how it was implemented was ambiguous for financial technology (‘fintech’) companies. In some instances, we were aware that e-residents successfully registered their share capital contributions in a fintech account. But we also heard that other e-residents were refused registration even with the exact same model.
This ambiguity created confusion and led to understandable frustration and a barrage of feedback from e-residents.
The Estonian Government heard you loud and clear! And made a key change to this law. Since 1 January 2019, limited companies can use a business account at any credit or payment institution in Estonia or the wider EEA to pay their share capital contribution.
This was welcome news indeed for e-residents with limited companies as it removed any uncertainty regarding fintechs and expanded the universe of available banking and payment providers to other countries in the EEA.
E-residents can now employ both fintechs, such as Transferwise and Paypal, as well as traditional banks based in other EEA countries.
What business banking options are available to e-residents?
Now, e-residents can use a wide range and combination of payment institutions for their business banking needs. The solution they choose varies depending on physical location, business needs and prior experience using payment institution services.
Many e-residents find EU/EEA-based payment institutions, or fintech companies, to offer the most flexible and easy to access services for running a location-independent company. Payment institutions such as Transferwise, Stripe, Paysera, and Payoneer, can offer accounts with many of the same features of traditional banking, including an International Bank Account Number (IBAN), entirely online.
E-residents could also make use of a traditional bank in the EU/EEA for their business banking needs. These banks may not be familiar with e-Residency, or location-independent entrepreneurship, but there might be other favourable factors, such as simpler due diligence, familiarity if there is an existing banking relationship already, and convenience.
Some e-resident companies may qualify for a business account with an Estonian bank. There are two types of companies that could be eligible: (1) those with a “connection to Estonia” (which could include employees, relationships with partners and suppliers, or actually serving the Estonian market); and (2) “single shareholder” companies (such as independent freelancers, digital nomads, or contractors).
Estonian banks will be less inclined to open an account for non-residents where they cannot show the benefit of e-Residency for their business model (e.g. if their company is large, operates in manufacturing or wholesaling, does not operate in the Estonian or EU market, or has unclear goals).
Opening a business account with an Estonian bank will require travel to Estonia. The Estonian bank LHV offers a chance for e-residents to apply online and receive pre-approval before travelling to Estonia to complete the account opening process. Please do not book travel to Estonia without receiving pre-approval or working closely with a service provider.
Banking service provider news: e-Residency welcomes Transferwise, Stripe, Paysera and farewells Holvi
The e-Residency Marketplace is a great resource for e-residents when looking for banking service providers and solutions for their business.
We are constantly working to grow this list of service providers and are proud to announce the recent arrival of Transferwise, Stripe and Paysera to our existing list of banking providers, which already includes Payoneer and LHV.
We are however sad to report that long term partner Holvi will no longer take on new e-resident clients from 1 January 2020. Holvi was our first partner to provide online banking services for e-residents and has since served thousands of you around the world. At this time however, Holvi has decided to focus its core strategy on microbusinesses in Europe and move away from providing services to new customers outside of the EU.
For all existing e-resident customers of Holvi, nothing will change for you. Your client status and account will remain unchanged, and nothing needs to be done from your side.
We admit that Holvi’s exit is unfortunate news for the e-Residency team as we value our partnership with Holvi and know that it has been a great option for many e-resident businesses. However, we are not worried given the growing number of financial solutions on offer to e-residents, as shown by these new members in the e-Residency Marketplace:
Stripe offers a global payments and treasury network to businesses of all sizes, from start-ups to multinational companies. Stripe can support e-residents and their Estonian-registered businesses. At this time however, it is only available for e-residents who are located in one of the 34 countries currently supported by Stripe.
TransferWise provides individuals and their businesses with an online account that allows them to send money, get paid, and spend money internationally. Transferwise is already used by many e-residents in relation to their companies. It is useful for freelancers, small-to-medium enterprises, as well as larger companies. Transferwise for business is available to customers in eligible countries, including the United Kingdom, USA, all European countries, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and India.
Paysera provides payment solutions to a large community of online businesses, including those of many e-residents, and is best suited for micro and small companies, e-commerce, startups, and freelancers. E-residents with a private limited company registered in Estonia are eligible to apply for a Paysera account (with some location and activity restrictions).
Find out more at the e-Residency Marketplace.
Business banking challenges remain for some e-residents
Of course we understand that despite the growing number of options, many e-residents still find it difficult to find a solution for their individual and business circumstances. Banking and payment institutions make their own decisions when it comes to taking on new customers or retaining existing clients, based on criteria they have developed in the interest of their own businesses. Such criteria generally includes restrictions based on a person’s location or business activities.
Many banks and fintechs will not provide a business banking account to people who are unable to obtain international financial services because they are residents of a jurisdiction categorised as ‘high risk and non-cooperative’ or are otherwise monitored by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). At present, these are North Korea, Iran, The Bahamas, Botswana, Cambodia, Ghana, Iceland, Mongolia, Pakistan, Panama, Syria, Trinidad and Tobago, Yemen, and Zimbabwe (but please note that the countries on this list change regularly so please refer to the FATF website for the most up-to-date information). Also note that this list is based on your location, not nationality, so if you hold one of these passports but live in a non-listed country, you may still receive benefits from e-Residency and be able to open an account with a bank or fintech.
Banks and other payment institutions also place restrictions on certain business activities, such as cryptocurrency. E-residents should note though that recent new laws in Estonia limit your ability anyway to trade virtual currencies through your company if you are not physically located in Estonia.
Further, as covered above already the general banking environment globally has in recent years been the subject of intense regulatory scrutiny over cross-border money flows. Banks and fintechs alike therefore take a cautious approach when onboarding business clie
nts that operate across borders, which has affected some e-residents.
For this group, we here at e-Residency want you to know: WE SEE YOU AND WE HEAR YOU. And we are working all the time with our existing partners and potential new service providers to increase the coverage of banking and finance solutions to support more e-residents around the world.
It is in our interest as much as the interests of our e-residents to see this community thrive and not be roadblocked by technical issues like banking. Ultimately, a thriving, profitable, and innovative community will ensure the success and longevity of e-Residency.
Comment below any business banking challenges you have faced as an e-resident given your personal or business circumstances, both relevant to those we have raised here or otherwise. We will use your experiences to update this article and our knowledge base accordingly, and where possible offer guidance to help overcome these challenges.
Clearly, choosing the right banking solution for your business is a hugely important decision. There will never be a single banking provider best-suited for every company, or available to every company, so it’s important you understand your range of choices.
The e-Residency team is committed to helping e-residents access a broad range of business banking and other financial solutions. We work continuously to identify the best solutions in the private sector and encourage e-residents to provide feedback on services that work for them.
However, we want to be very clear upfront that as a government organisation, e-Residency can only give you an overview of the regulatory landscape and suggest potentially useful service providers and resources. e-Residency cannot provide advice about banking in response to your own personal and business situations.
Whatever you decide as your business banking solution or structure and whether you enter into a relationship with a bank or fintech (or not) are up to you and at the discretion of the service provider. We recommend doing thorough research and due diligence and consulting with banking experts when making banking and financial decisions for your business.
You can find many such solutions and experts at the e-Residency Marketplace but please note, you are not limited to using the institutions listed! We are welcoming new members to the Marketplace all the time and encourage your suggestions for future partnerships.
In fact, if you are using a provider not listed on our website and you believe other e-residents could benefit, please comment in this blog below.