Part 2. Banking without Borders: Financial Services as an E-Resident
Undoubtedly, one of the most convincing reasons to become an Estonian e-resident is the international banking options, particularly in conjunction with operating a remote Estonian business. The latest changes resulting from the partnership with the Finnish company Holvi make it easier than ever before to “bank without borders.”
But what are the advantages, what can you expect, and are you even eligible? Here, we clear up everything you need to know about banking through the Estonian e-residency program.
The Advantages of a Digital Bank Account in Estonia
Businesses set up through the Estonian e-residency program benefit most from the digital bank account options, although there are still a few advantages for personal accounts. Before we get into the details about the main banks that operate with the e-residency program, let’s talk about some reasons Estonian digital banking is worth it in the first place:
- Accounts in Multiple Currencies (Especially Euros). International companies (as well as digital nomads) who deal in more than one currency may prefer to open a single account in multiple currencies for the sake of simplicity. Such accounts offer better protection against exchange rate fluctuations and third-party exchange fees. Likewise, digital companies operating in companies with weak or unstable currencies can benefit from using the relatively stable euro — the legal tender of Estonia — as their base currency.
- Digital Banking Features. With both Estonia, Finland, and Sweden at the forefront of the tech industry, their financial institutions feature state-of-the-art digital banking options, such as paperless bookkeeping and streamlined invoicing, which local banks may not offer.
- International Diversification. Some companies’s strategies involve diversifying assets across multiple countries and/or accounts, for which Estonian e-residency banks are among the best options due to their remote capabilities. Moreover, for residents of countries with large deficits, diversifying in an overseas digital bank account offers more security.
- Ties with Estonia. If you spend a lot of time in the country of Estonia, if you have friends and family there, or if you do a lot of business with the nation, an Estonian bank account will remove a lot of obstacles in exchanging money.
Of course, many of these advantages are dependent on which bank you chose, to say nothing of which ones you’re eligible for. As of the time of this writing, the Estonian e-residency program relies on three main banks, although more are planning to come aboard.
Chief among them is Holvi, the only institution that allows you to sign up and manage your account without actually setting foot in Estonia. The others, LHV and Swedbank, still remain relevant options if you don’t mind the trek.
The May 24 announcement of the Estonian e-residency partnership with Holvi changed the game for the world’s first borderless residency program. Founded in 2011, this Finnish financial hub has roots in Helsinki, but is dedicated to servicing the world at large under its banner “accessible from anywhere, to anyone.” Dedicated to facilitating the lives of entrepreneurs and international business people, they cite one of their main motivations as circumventing “the time and effort that money management and business bureaucracy took up.”
Holvi holds the honor of being the world’s first financial hub with its own Payment Institution Licence authorized by the Financial Supervisory Authority of Finland (FIN-FSA) for use across Europe.
Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the greatest advantage of Holvi is that Estonian e-residents can set up and manage their business banking accounts 100% remotely — prior to May 2017, e-residents had to physically travel to Estonia to open accounts. However, all that glitters is not gold; despite how it’s advertised, not everyone is eligible for a Holvi account, including:
- U.S. Citizens. Following the partnership announcement, the biggest backlash the e-residency program received was that U.S. citizens cannot apply for Holvi accounts, nor can institutions under the FATCA. This means American citizens still need to travel to Estonia to open bank accounts. While the Holvi site claims they “are working on it,” no definitive dates or timelines have even been mentioned.
- Citizens of Countries Blacklisted by FATF. Countries deemed “high-risk and non-cooperative jurisdictions” by the Financial Action Task Force are also ineligible for Holvi accounts. These include Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, Laos, North Korea, Syria, Uganda, Vanuatu, and Yemen.
Furthermore, citizens and organizations from countries outside of the European Economic Area are put on a waiting list for review of their application.
Companies must be registered in Estonia prior to signing up for Holvi accounts.
Through the e-residency program, Holvi accounts cost €35.00 per month to maintain. In addition to traditional banking services — fund security, legitimate transfers, online interfaces — account holders also receive a complimentary Business Mastercard® and an IBAN authorized by the EU for their account.
The biggest complaint to e-residency in the past has been the necessity to travel to Estonia in order to establish a business and account, which the partnership with Holvi negated. However, if traveling to Estonia is not an issue for you, there are a couple of other banking options within the e-residency program.
Let’s take a look at the two most popular banks supported by the program since its beginning:
Estonia’s own LHV is the largest financial group in the country, and as such played a large role in the early onset of the e-residency program. Founded in 1999 with roots as an investment firm, today’s LHV is as modern as they come. It’s actually the bank used by Holvi rival Transferwise for SEPA transactions in Euros.
All of your day-to-day banking can be done remotely with LHV, so you don’t need on-site interactions aside from the initial one to set up the account — and perhaps a second one to pick up a debit card, available a week or so after the account has been processed. LHV has only two branches, one in Tallinn and the other in Tartu, so those cities would be your destination to open an account.
The advantage of LHV is the comparatively lower fees. Unlike the Swedbank, LHV does not charge a fee for people outside the EEA/EU. Moreover, their requirements for opening an account are reportedly more relaxed than their Swedish counterpart.
Although native to Sweden, Swedbank runs large-scale operations within nearby Estonia, making it a prime contributor to the e-residency program. Swedbank is a world-class bank with 7.2 million private accounts and 574,000 corporate clients — Sweden’s largest bank by customers.
Swedbank offers the benefits of large-scale banking for already established companies, but for everyone else may be problematic. For starters, there’s the fee for non-Europeans mentioned above.
But more detrimental are the strict application requirements: to open an account, you must prove some ties to Estonia beyond e-residency. These could be along the lines of physical residency, family lineage, employment by an Estonian company, land ownership in Estonia, or some such connection. Other e-residents have reported so much difficulty opening Swedbank accounts, it drove them straight into the arms of LHV.
Many e-residents cannot meet these criteria — after all, so many applicants for e-residency have no such relation to Europe, and are applying specifically to receive some EU privileges. Unless you’re operating a large enterprise already, the other banking options are probably better suited for you.
As we stated at the beginning, so much of your e-residency banking decisions are linked with opening a business. The benefits of opening only a personal bank account don’t often justify applying for e-residency; however the opening a business account does.
In the next chapter, we dive into the hows and whys of starting and managing a business through the e-residency program. What we’ll discuss next greatly relates to the topics of this chapter, so keep in mind your different banking options as we explain running an Estonian business through the e-residency program.
This post is Part 2 of our 5 part “Complete Guide to Estonian e-Residency.” We will release a new chapter every 2 weeks. Subscribe to our email list to get updates when we release new posts!
- What Is Estonian e-Residency… and What Isn’t It?
- Banking without Borders: Financial Services as an E-Resident
- The True International Company: Opening a Business as an E-Resident
- How to Apply
- E-Residency and the World of Tomorrow