Mailbox bank

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Mailbox bank (also bank shell company or offshore bank ; English Shell bank ) is the name for credit institutions that have a banking license in their country of domicile , but do not conduct any business there and do not belong to a financial services group that is subject to effective banking supervision . Not belong to the shell banks thus regulated subsidiaries ( english regulated affiliates ) a supervised bank. The counterparts for the non-banks are the letterbox companies .


Mailbox banks are part of the shadow banking system and are characterized by the fact that they have their legal seat in offshore financial centers . To this end, the legal system of an offshore state must, through liberal or non-existent banking law , allow banks to be set up with low equity capital , banking transactions without proof of business premises , without actually exercising management and without adequate business activities or means of communication . In terms of banking supervisory law , there is no or insufficient monitoring, compliance with money laundering laws is also not or insufficiently checked. Mailbox banks can exist in this legal environment. Due to a lack of business activity, they are satisfied with a post office box or mailbox , where their name comes from. Incoming mail is forwarded to regular banks for processing by agents or straw men .


The mailbox banks have the task of parking customer money or smuggling it through by means of money laundering or receiving and investing profits from illegal transactions or tax evasion . Typical of shell banks is at transactions , the use of flow accounts ( english payable through accounts ). The particular risk of this type of account is that a customer may have such accounts as his own account and payments to or for the account of these customers cannot be correctly assigned by those involved in the payment chain and therefore remain anonymous . In the absence of own business activity , the booking and administration is carried out worldwide by regular banks. Since mailbox banks are undercapitalized , their leverage ratio is relatively high, which increases the systemic risks of bank failure. Creditors of these banks are therefore exposed to higher risks, especially since there is no deposit guarantee .

Legal issues

Since a mailbox bank is not affiliated with a regulated financial group, the licensing authority is solely responsible for its supervision. But if substantial parts of the actual management ( English mind and management ) are in another country, the supervisory authority is not able to supervise the bank according to the principles for effective banking supervision. According to the legal definition in Art. 3 No. 10 of Directive 2005/60 / EC of October 2005, a letterbox bank (called “bank shell company” under EU law) is a credit institution “or an institution that carries out equivalent activities that is part of a Country was founded in which it is not physically present so that real management and administration could take place and which is not affiliated with any regulated financial group ”. The law defines “physical presence” as the maintenance of business premises and their appropriate equipment with staff and office material . Article 17 No. 1 of Directive 2007/64 / EC of November 2007 requires that the identification of the agent, the control mechanisms and the management are reported to the competent authorities when payment services are provided via an agent . The FATF calls for mailbox banks not to be allowed and not to work with banks that are related to mailbox banks.

In Germany, credit institutions have to observe special duties of care when choosing their correspondent banks so that they do not work with “bank shell companies”. After § 25k KWG they have sufficient publicly available information , seek means of the correspondent institution and its business and management structure both before and during such a business relationship understand the nature of business of the correspondent institution in full and on its reputation and its controls to combat To assess money laundering and terrorist financing as well as the quality of banking supervision. In addition, it must be ensured that they do not establish or continue a business relationship with a credit institution whose accounts are known to be used by a mailbox bank, and it must be ensured that the correspondent institution does not permit transactions via transit accounts. In § 25m KWG prohibited transactions are listed, which are associated with shell banks, in particular the creation or maintenance of accounts in the name of shell banks. Since these provisions are based on the above EU directive , they apply in all EU member states .

History and meaning

Four centers of offshore banking can be located. These include the Caribbean and Central American region, European continent enclaves ( Andorra , Monaco or San Marino ) and islands with special status ( Guernsey , Jersey or Isle of Man ), certain states on the Persian Gulf ( Bahrain or Dubai ) as well as Hong Kong , Singapore and Nauru . In 1969, the United States allowed foreign mailbox banks to be established, making the Bahamas a center for mailbox banks. Montserrat , which is also located in the Caribbean, has allowed private offshore banks since 1973 , which were supervised by law firms and increasingly turned out to be instruments of money laundering, fraud and forms of corruption internationally . In 1989 there were 347 offshore banks on Montserrat that could not dispel the suspicion. Therefore, on March 7, 1991, the Montserrat government ordered the cancellation of more than 300 banking licenses. According to the Trust Act of 1989, mailbox banks registered in the Bahamas must also be “traceable” and, since 2001, also have to be able to demonstrate “adequate business activity”. In October 1990 Labuan was declared an offshore financial center. Most offshore banks are located in the Bahamas, Cayman Islands , Bahrain, Singapore, Luxembourg , Panama and the Netherlands Antilles . The Patriot Act of October 2001 made mailbox banks impossible to have direct and indirect access to correspondent banks in the USA.

According to estimates by the OECD in 2007, around 6-8% of global assets were managed in offshore locations, which is around 5% of global gross national product , according to the IMF .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Hans-Lothar Merten, Steuerflucht: The billion dollar business with black money , 2012, p. 91
  2. BT-Drucksache 16/9038 of 5 May 2008, draft Anti-Money Laundering Supplementary Act , p. 54
  3. Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, Mailbox Banks and Booking Centers , January 2003, p. 5 (PDF; 40 kB)
  4. FATF Recommendation 18, p. 8 (PDF; 421 kB)
  5. ^ John Eatwell / Murray Milgate / Peter Newman (Eds.), The New Palgrave Dictionary of Money and Finance , Volume 3, 1992, pp. 63 ff.
  6. ^ Howard A. Fergus, Gallery Montserrat , 1996, p. 149
  7. ^ The Economist (2007) Places in the sun