Advantages of offshore banking
Offshore banks provide access to politically and economically stable jurisdictions. This may be an advantage for those resident in areas where there is a risk of political turmoil who fear their assets may be frozen, seized or disappear. However, developed countries with regulated banking systems offer the same advantages in terms of stability.
Some offshore banks may operate with a lower cost base and can provide higher interest rates than the legal rate in the home country due to lower overheads and a lack of governement intervention. Advocates of offshore banking often characterise government regulation as a form of tax on domestic banks, reducing interest rates on deposits.
Offshore finance is one of the few industries, along with tourism, that geographically remote island nations can competitively engage in. It can help developing countries source investment and create growth in their economies, and can help redistribute world finance from the developed to the developing world.
Interest is generally paid by offshore banks without tax deducted. This is an advantage to individuals who do not pay tax on worldwide income, or who do not pay tax until the tax return is agreed, or who feel that they can illegally evade tax by hiding the interest income.
Some offshore banks offer banking services that may not be available from domestic banks such as anonymous bank accounts, higher or lower rate loans based on risk and investment opportunities not available elsewhere.
Offshore banking is often linked to other services, such as offshore companies, trusts or foundations, which may have specific tax advantages for some individuals.
Many advocates of Offshore banking also assert that the creation of tax and banking competition is an advantage of the industry, arguing with Charles Tiebout that tax competition allows people to choose an appropriate balance of services and taxes. Critics of the industry, however, claim this competition as a disadvantage, arguing that it encourages a "race to the bottom" in which governments in developed countries are pressured to deregulate their own banking systems in an attempt to prevent the offshoring of capital.
Disadvantages of offshore banking
- Offshore banking has been associated with the underground economy and organized crime, through money laundering. Following September 11, 2001, offshore banks and tax havens, along with clearing houses, have been accused of helping various organized crime gangs, terrorist groups, and other state or non-state actors.
- The existence of Offshore banking encourages tax evasion, by providing tax evaders with an attractive place to deposit their hidden income.
- Offshore jurisdictions are often remote, so physical access and access to information can be difficult. Yet in a world with global telecommunications this is rarely a problem. Accounts can be set up online, by phone or by mail.
- Developing countries can suffer due to the speed at which money can be transferred in and out of their economy as "hot money". This "Hot money" is aided by offshore accounts, and can increase problems in financial disturbance.
- Offshore banking is usually more accessible to those on higher incomes, because of the costs of establishing and maintaining offshore accounts. The tax burden in developed countries thus falls disproportionately on middle-income groups. Historically, tax cuts have tended to result in a higher proportion of the tax take being paid by high-income groups, as previously sheltered income is brought back into the mainstream economy.