In 2020, a mere wish to open a business account is not enough. One needs to convince the bank that they can trust them.
A lot of variables affect the banks’ decisions, so it is hard to predict who will succeed and who will not. However, our experts managed to gather some universal insights from practicing lawyers, explained the procedure, and outlined the questions you are likely to be asked.
Spoiler alert: the banks may want to take a look at your books. If you want them neat and tidy, but don't want to go through all the hassle of yourself, Osome provides accounting services too. Just saying.
This article cannot substitute the bank account opening assistance that Osome provides. But it will give you an idea of the process and of how to improve your chances. Check out our remote company registration service that includes setting up a business bank account for you.
What new companies should do
The current bank situation
Until recently, Hong Kong banks had a reputation of offshore banks, where accounts could be opened in one hour even without the companies’ representatives showing up to the bank. Over the last ten years, the transactions from Hong Kong accounts had been becoming more and more suspicious.
Being part of the global anti-money laundering (AML) system, the authorities asked the banks to tighten up the banking AML policies. They chose the European way of banking development and started to bolt out suspicious companies to avoid compromising transactions.
The new order seems justified — but now opening an account is hard. For newly registered companies, it can seem impossible. This is why there is a huge amount of agencies providing the account opening service with this or that bank. And for a startup business, it is reasonable to get this service.
Any bank will insist on meeting you in person. Even if the bank provides an e-form and a possibility to “apply online” — the bank will only consider the documents and give the general approval or disapproval ahead of the meeting. You will need to attend an interview anyway.
Sometimes they request that not only the official signatories show up but also the beneficiaries or the main shareholders.
Hong Kong banks decide on their own discretion whether to accept or deny an account opening application. In other words, if they turn down your application, they are not obliged to either explain their decision or give you a chance to reinvestigate the procedure.
The bank account opening process normally takes no less than two weeks. However, there are cases when our clients got their account applications approved within 2 business days and then the accounts were activated within a week.
Here is a list of documents for Limited Companies that any bank will ask for:
- Certificate of incorporation (CI)
- Articles of Association and any protocols amending them if you have any (if your Hong Kong company was incorporated before 3 March 2014, submit Memorandum & Articles of Association)
- Documents proving the shareholding structure, e.g. Organizational Chart signed by the director or company secretary, transfers of shares and/or return of allotments
- Incorporation form NNC1 (for the newly registered companies)
- Company search reports
- The latest Annual return (Form NAR1)
- Identification documents from all signatories, all shareholders\partners, all beneficial owners and all official appointees
- Any documents relating to the Appointments of key persons, especially board resolutions on appointment of the Directors.
The bank wants to be sure you are a real company. Also, the banks do not want to be involved with money laundering and tax evasion. Consequently, what they will focus on during the interview is the nature of your business. They are doing risk management, so your primary goal is to show them that you pose no threat.
Let us go through the most common questions. They are not extremely hard, but the interview certainly requires some preparation, so be ready to invest some time in that.
The nature of your business
Where is the operating office located? Banks do not welcome paper presence in their country.
What is the nature of your business? Provide some information but do not go into technical detail — the bank employee is not an expert in your field, they just want to understand what you do.
Could you tell us about your business model and the nature of your operations? When describing your business model, be as precise as possible. Remember that your goal is to prove that your business is feasible.
Explain how you make profits. Tell them about your product. Elaborate on the customer journey. Prepare the information on your business partners. If you work with some major suppliers and buyers, be sure to elaborate on it — it inspires trust.
They will also want to hear about the current company size and the countries you operate in. Expect questions about general types of transactions and operations and the average amount of one contract.
Your company and Hong Kong
Why do you want an account relationship in Hong Kong? If the business operations do not seem to have any clear connection to Hong Kong and the directors/authorised signatories/beneficial owners do not reside here, be alert. You need serious business reasons to present. Here are some tips how to prove you have them:
- Provide the website/information for the suppliers/buyers/counterparties in Hong Kong if you have them.
- If your operations are overseas, prepare to explain how a Hong Kong bank account could facilitate the business.
- They are likely to ask why you choose not to use an account set up in your country of operation.
Do you consult any tax advisor? The only correct answer here is “yes”, and be ready to present the service provider’s details and documents as evidence.
The bank account
What accounts do you want to open? They need to know which currencies you need (HSBC and OCBC both offer multi-currency account options), and the type of the account: savings/current/fixed deposit.
What are the primary sources of funds? Be ready to talk both about the funds’ nature and country of origin.
What are the major destinations of funds? Elaborate on the funds’ nature and country of origin.
What is the pattern of transactions? Put simply, they want to know how much money will be going where and how often.
What new companies should do
It is hard to prove that you are “a real business” if you are a newly registered company. This is a huge problem for startups: you cannot even sign contracts without a bank account — so what can you provide to the bank as a business proof?
Look for anything that can prove that the business has already been started and that the future business partners are real companies. Here are some examples of that might work:
- a Lease of office Contract
- A detailed business plan
- Confirmed orders
- Lease of storage house contracts if you will be selling something offline
- Pre-ordering agreements
If you do not have anything of the above, provide the bank with the business proof of the beneficial owner(s). Naturally, experienced entrepreneurs with an excellent track record have better chances.
- To open an account, you will need to pass an offline interview. The main thing you will have to demonstrate is that you are a real company with a feasible business plan.
- Things are more complicated for new companies.
- Hong Kong banks are eager to welcome real companies whose business is trended to the Asia market.
- The banks will expect you to comply with the due diligence and their anti-money laundering procedures, especially in the very beginning of your cooperation.