CASTRIES, St. Lucia, June 15, CMC – Regional banking institutions have expressed concern over the likely consequences for banking in the region over US legislation that could lead to capital flight, loss of customers and the possible revocation of visas.
Representatives of Caribbean Banks and other institutions were meeting here Thursday to discuss the implications of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), which seeks to discourage, deter and detect offshore tax evasion by US citizens who hold assets abroad, either in foreign financial institutions or foreign entities such as companies.
Regional Financial Consultant Berkley Greenidge told representatives of the Caribbean Association of Banks (CAB) that just the process of setting up and attending to the reporting mechanisms can place a high cost on financial institutions in the region.
“Non-compliance with reporting regulations by officers of financial institutions may have personal consequences like revocation of US visas.
“The real monster is where a financial institution has to provide details of a client’s transaction, an activity normally considered confidential by Caribbean Banks,” said Greenidge, a Director at Price Waterhouse, Eastern Caribbean.
It is estimated that tax evasion costs the US economy $100 billion annually he said, adding that the legislation was formulated in 2000 to discourage tax evasion by US citizens and residents.
The regulations take effect from January 2014 – whatever the outcome of the US Presidential elections in November – and all provisions should be enforced by January 2017.
The provisions include withholding amounts on income and gross proceeds.
According to the regulations FATCA would not apply to non-US citizens, or to citizens with accounts of US$50,000 or less, and with companies with US$250,000 or less in foreign bank accounts, including accounts in the offshore banking business, an activity crucial to the economic development of some Caribbean governments.
Potentially however the law may have a long reach as US Green Card holders and non-US foreign financial institutions serving US citizens fall within the range of FATCA.
However Greenidge said that given the scope of FATCA regulations, persons with US telephone numbers, addresses, or who regularly transfer US funds to the US are likely to come under the radar of the Inland Revenue Service (IRS).
He said that just the process of sorting out who is a “US person” would create a “significant burden” for regional financial institutions and for the customers who are to prove they are not “US persons.”
“And just the ownership of a Magic Jack or skybox can make you begin to look like a US person,” said Greenidge drawing some laughter from his audience.
Compliance with FATCA would represent a significant shift in the way banks make money, Greenidge warned, adding that “cost of compliance may be passed on as service charges to ordinary customers or financial institutions in the region who may not be US persons.”