Applying To Hong Kong Banks? Results After Visiting 20 in 2 days (As an American Entrepreneur)

Michael MicheliniBanking, Blog, Corporate58 Comments

What is the most important part of opening a new company – in Hong Kong or anywhere?

Getting a bank account opened up.

Having trouble getting a business bank account open in Hong Kong? Or other parts of the world?

You’re not alone.

I’m hearing it more and more from everyone. More and more rejection letters.

Have you been following international business trends over the years? Then you have seen quite a tightening up on new business account openings. Hong Kong is a financial center of the world, yet the past couple years has been getting so much more of a hassle to get an account opened.

As I have been working with so many clients with their bank account opening headaches. This sparked my interest to re-experience this tedious process for myself.

It is much more difficult than “back in the day”!

I spent 2 days visiting as many banks in Hong Kong as I could. There are so many banks in Hong Kong! I estimate there to be over 50, depending on your criteria for a bank – commercial or retail or investment. I was able to cover about 20 of them. That is – depending if you consider walking into a branch and getting an immediate rejection as a bank visit or not!

Alternative: Cross-Border Payments

As banking in Hong Kong is near impossible for non-HKID holders, we have started to see more and more business owners leveraging cross border payments, check out our full guide and comparison.

Download The Checklist

A reader, Ben, sent me this amazing email and I want to share it with all of you:

Hi Michael,

We spoke online a while back regarding a HK bank account, we also met at the DC BKK conference where we spoke about the requirements and struggles of a HK bank account.

The last time I went to HK I came into a few difficulties this time I’m going with a rental month contract for my Bangkok residency (don’t laugh!!), and will explain I’m growing the business in Asia etc and don’t have utility bills etc.

I guess my chances are pretty slim, so I decided to hit a few banks while I’m there. This lead me to creating a spreadsheet with lots of useful info which I think I would be useful for your listeners / site visitors. I used your post as a base and then worked through.

It includes which banks / phone numbers / branches etc. So if anyone is in a similar situation to me (with slim chances) then they can organise multiple interviews as I have.

PS
Do you have any tips as to how to handle the interview at the bank? From our last conversation I understood I have to say I’m starting operations in HK / Asia, plan to grow the business there, hence the bank account…Ben

To get this bank appointment checklist, please Click Me!

Now, back to the normal banker guide!

What I told the Bank When I Visited

I’m sure depending on the day and the client services rep I talked to at the bank I would get different results. For this exercise, here is what I disclosed to the bank tellers and client account managers when I walked in:

  • A new business owner
  • American
  • Passport only, no Hong Kong ID card
  • Business is new, under 1 year old.
  • I’m a White Male, mid thirties
  • Clothing – button down short sleeve shirt, khaki shorts, shoes
  • Business Type Import Export and Marketing Consulting
  • I only speak English

I did this to represent most of the clients I am working with. Though the American nationality was an extra negative in this process. We’ll will dig going through these various banks below.

What have your own experiences been in applying for bank accounts in Hong Kong? Please note, this is for business (corporate) accounts, and not personal. I believe personal accounts are still easy and straightforward for you to get in HK, but didn’t attempt that in today’s post.

Now, in no particular order, let’s dig into each of the banks I went to:

Updates September 2016

We are still getting tons of emails from readers, such as the below:

Curious if it’s still possible to get a bank account for HK company. We’ve been looking to do this for a while but keep getting jerked around. Recently we were about to head out a couple weeks ago to file applications, but we were told we needed approval from Mainland China to do so. So we didn’t end up going. What do you believe is feasible these days? We’re an e-commerce business and source/ship apparel products from Thailand. But because banking system isn’t great out here we need an entity outside of TH to link up with stripe, Braintree and such. Also I’m curious if it’s possible to sidestep the process by purchasing an existing HK company with bank account and transfer it into our names. Curious to hear from you what is possible these days.

Cheers, Jordan

We have been discussing and updating people in our newsletter (such as this one 2 weeks ago about HKMA urging banks to loosen up) that the HK government and regulators don’t want the banks to be so strict.

But the banks don’t want to open up. Some say it is because they prefer dealing with only bigger clients anyway and use this as an excuse, while others say it really is because they want to be extra careful to avoid fines from US regulators.

HSBC

HSBC SME centers are all over Hong Kong. I went with my friend Mike “The Greek” as he doesn’t currently have an HSBC account. We went to the Jordan branch on Nathan road without an appointment.

Entering the retail bank location on the ground floor, the greeter asked how to help us. She was friendly and when we said a business account, sent us to the SME center on the 18th floor.

The secretary greeted us and then had a small business banking client rep meet us in a conference room within about 5 minutes. He asked us to confirm it was a business account for a Hong Kong limited company. He also asked if it was for a new company or a company that was older than one year.

He then gave us a checklist, which I’ll type out here:

Account Opening in Hong Kong – Limited Company Established in Hong Kong

* True copy Certification of Incorporation

* CPA / lawyer / banker / notary public in a Financial Action Task Force (FATC) member comparable jurisdiction acceptable to HSBC or

* Hong Kong Institute of Chartered Secretaries (HKICS) member, or

* HSBC branch officer

Recommended format: Certified must sign and date the copy document (printing his/her name clearly in capitals underneath) and clearly indicate his/her position on it. Certifier must state that it is a true copy of the original (or words to similar effect) and the number of pages to be recorded

Number of directors needed to form a quorum / beneficial owners to be present for the account opening.

* For the sample of the required documents please refer to the website www.commercia.hsbc.com.hk/1/2/sampledoc_e

A. Company Registration Documents
1. Certificate of Incorporation (CI) and change of name (if applicable)
2. Valid Business Registration Certificate (BRC)
3. Memorandum and Articles of Association (M&A) / Articles of association and any amending resolutions.
4. Latest notification of change of secretary and director (appointment/cessation) (form D2A/ND2A), return of allotments (form SC1/NSC1) and/or Instrument of Transfer, if applicable.
5. (For newly established company)
5a) Company Search report / company particulars search issued within 6 months and
5b) Incorporation form (NC1 /NNC1) or (NC1G/NNC1G) / Notification of First Secretary and Director (form D1) and
5c) Director / Shareholder / Beneficial owner declaration (DD),sample available upon request, issued within 6 months.
6) For company established over 1 year
6a) Company search report / company particulars search issued within 6 months and
6b) Latest Annual Return (form AR1/NAR1)

B. Documents Required from 2 Directors, All Authorized Signatories, All beneficial owners, and 2 key Controllers
– Identification document and nationality proof

C. Documents Required from 2 Directors, All Authorized Signatories, All beneficial owners, and 2 key Controllers
C1: Residential Address proof
C2: Permanent Address proof (if different from residential address)

D. Documents Required from 2 Directors, All Authorized Signatories, All beneficial owners, All key Controllers, and ALL direct appointees
D1: Full name, ID type, number, and date of birth.

E. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) Documents
Applicable HSBC declaration form and/or IRS W form to establish your tax status under FATCA. For document templates and more information about FATCA, please refer to the HSBC website at www.faca.hsbc.com/en/emb/hongkong or IRS website at www.irs.gov/FATCA

F. Payments and Forms for Account Opening
F1. HKD check of 10,000 HKD for initial deposit, company search, and special company account opening charges, where applicable. (Please refer to the latest commercial tariff – http://www.commercial.hsbc.com.hk/1/2/commercial)
F2. Mandate, account opening form, and signature cards

G. Additional Documents Required for Special Companies
G1. Corporate Shareholders
Ownership structure chart showing company name, % shareholding, the country of incorporation, the country of business address in each Intermediate Owner up to the Beneficial Owners of the company and specifying the issuance of bearer shares in the chain of ownership (including the company, all Intermediate Owners and Beneficial Owners), certified by director. Indicate if there are family members amount the Beneficial Owners and the family’s total collective % shareholding, if applicable.
G2. If Beneficial Owners in your Company is a Trust
Trust deed, identification proof and residential address proof, and identification proof of trustee.

HSBC Bank Charges

Minimum balance is 50,000 HKD, else a 100 HKD/mo service charge.

The process was so fast it amazed me. The SME center was empty. We went at 10:30am on a Thursday so maybe that was a good time to go. Maybe I should come to this branch more often, the TST and Central branches are so overloaded whenever I visit there.

DBS Bank

I went to three different locations for this bank. It was a rainy day in Central (i.e. typhoon) and I stepped into 1 DBS branch. They were nice to service me right away. I said business bank account, and they immediately told me they only helped with retail clients. Pointing me down the road to the DBS headquarters in “The Center” (A massive business complex) I proceeded to walk down Des Vouex Road. Not able to find it after asking a few guards, I figured I would find another branch later.

The next day on Kowloon side I went to one down the road from my friend’s apartment. They were also nice and told me to go to one at Mira Mall on Nathan road, on the 11th floor, for business banking. I didn’t have time to get there this visit. I’ll update this post with news from that branch.

The client services rep at the front office also gave me the number 2290 8345 to make an SME (small to medium sized enterprise) banking application appointment.

Update: So I went back with a client at the end of Oct, 2015. At their SME center at Miramall in Kowloon. After waiting in the customer service room for about 20 minutes, they spoke to us.

They said the account opening fee is $10,000 HKD (about $1,250 USD) and then the yearly fee to keep the account open is another $10,000 HKD (same as account opening fee). Totally crazy. My client wasn’t willing to pay (I understand completely) and we left.

Here is the account requirement form we snagged before leaving:

Chong Hing Bank

This was a bank I had not yet heard about until doing this exploration. I found their Jordan branch (again thanks to Mike the Greek for pointing it out to me!) and walked in.

Such a small bank, and there was two tellers and a line of about five people. I walked to the back and there were a few bankers on the phone. They seemed to be discussing the stock market with clients.

After one hung up, I mentioned that I am interested to open a business bank account. Being the only foreigner they may have seen in a while at the bank, he was wondering why I am interested in their bank?

I explained I want to have a few bank accounts in my company here in Hong Kong, so that if I had a client who wanted to pay me in one bank account or the other, they could choose to do so. Seriously, what is wrong with applying for bank accounts at multiple banks? I did explain I already have an HSBC bank account, thinking that would be a good thing. Not sure if it was or not.

He asked me more questions about my company. Where my clients have their headquarters? What is my company operation’s base. He checked my passport and looked for my visa. He saw that I am a visitor in Hong Kong, and I explained that I am under my Chinese company’s work permit in Shenzhen.

Seemed to cause more confusion. He was polite though, and then asked for me to wait while he asked his manager.

I sat. Such a different look and feel from HSBC. They were not catering to the foreign market here. Everything in Chinese language. Computers at the waiting lobby with stock trading platforms ready for clients to login and trade on.

When he came back, I could tell it wasn’t going to be positive. After at least 10 minutes discussing with his manager in the back room, he explained I need a HK ID card. I told him I already have an HSBC HK business bank account and that wasn’t needed. But then he explained I got that years ago and times are much more difficult now.

Guy was nice though. He gave me his business card and said if I get a HKID then it would be much more helpful for him to assist in opening a business account at Chong Hing Bank.

Bank of China (Hong Kong)

Down in Central I walked into one of the many Bank of China branches. It is worth noting that I do have a bank account with Bank of China – but it is in Mainland China – not in Hong Kong. This is a completely separate entity and there is no connection between client accounts.

So I walked into the bank and pulled a number from the waiting machine. Just a few ahead of me, I saw with a nice woman who asked how she could help me at the bank today. I explained I have a business in Hong Kong and want to open a business bank account. She asked if it was for a limited or unlimited account. I explained it was a limited company. She was going to seat me down with a client service rep but I explained I wasn’t ready to apply today. I was collecting what information I needed to bring.

She walked to the back of the bank and got me a sheet of paper with a long checklist. I’ll type it out below to help you out. Seems like most of the other banks.

It also had a brochure of the account details and terms. Most interesting to you is that you need to hold 50,000 HKD to avoid monthly fee of 120 HKD.

I thanked her for her time and said I would come back to apply later. She gave me the customer hotline – 3988 2288 to call ahead and arrange an account opening interview.

Documents Required for Account Opening Bank of China (Hong Kong) – Limited Company Incorporated in Hong Kong

After making an appointment, please bring the following documents to the designated branch of Bank of China (Hong Kong) Limited (the “bank”) to open an account.

A. Company Registration Documents
– Certification of Incorporation (CI) and subsequent Certificate of change of name, if any.
– Valid Business Registration Certificate (BRC)
– Memorandum and Articles of Association (including all up-to-date amendments)
– Forms of Hong Kong Companies Registry
– Certified form D2B (if applicable)
– Certified form D2A (if applicable)
– Certified form D4 (if applicable)
– Certified form AR1 (if applicable)

Business address proof (if different from the registered office address
– Applicable to the “company by Guarantee Company”) Director’s certificate

B. Documents of at least two directors (the sole director of the company only has 1 director), principal shareholders (those who can exercise control the exercise of 10% of the voting rights of the company or its parent company) and all authorized signatories

– Identification document
– Proof of the former / other names (if any)
– Proof of nationality (if a person is not holding a Hong Kong permanent identity card)
– Current residential address proof (e.g. Documents with name and address issued by government authorities within 3 months. Utility bill bill issued within 3 months or statement issued by financial institutions within 3 months

C. Documents of company’s corporate directors / corporate shareholders (if applicable)
– Corporate director
Its Board resolution appointing a representative or representative to act for the corporate director and present at the bank for account opening
Its company registration documents (please refer to A above)
– Corporate principal shareholders
Its principal shareholders / beneficial owners (the private individuals must present at the bank for account opening and provide the documents listed in part B)

Note: Apart from documents listed above, we may further request you to provide other information and documents required for account opening, if necessary.

Bank of Bangkok

This one was going to be fun! Seeing a Thailand bank in Hong Kong intrigued me and I have walked by this branch many times during my years commuting around Hong Kong. Today was “all you can eat buffet” of banking visits, so I walked inside.

An exotic and expensive interior. Felt like a temple, with high ceilings and brass metal trimmings and a green hue. I walked to a teller and explained I was looking to open a business account for my Hong Kong company. She said that it needs a referral, but I can wait for the manager to discuss.

She pointed me to a corner desk in the front right of the bank and I walked over. The manager was a professional woman, and was dealing with a client. My Cantonese language skill isn’t so good, but they were having quite a nice conversation. I wondered if she was a big client for the bank, trying to determine how bankers may decide who to treat well and who to pass by.

After about 10 minutes their conversation was over and she invited me to sit at the desk. I explained I’m a new business in Hong Kong and want to open a bank account. She said:

“You need a referral.”

So that was it, I said is there any other way. She said no, need a referral. She was polite about it, but I was still amazed they would turn me down down flat out without any questions about me and my business.

So that was 15 minutes or so of a waste. Time to head to the next bank.

Public Bank Hong Kong

Next door to Bank of Bangkok is a bank called “Public Bank Hong Kong” (pretty generic right?). Walking in, there was a client services rep available at the desk to the right and he asked how he could help.

I explained I’m looking to open a business account for my Hong Kong company.

He said interjected:

Need a referral.

I said no other way, he said, no. He apologized and wished me well. That was a quick one!

ICBC

Walking into ICBC I went to the second floor of their branch to the business department – this was in TST, Kowloon district. Waiting at the teller line they pointed me to a desk for client services.

It was a nice woman who greeted me and invited me to sit down right away. I explained I wanted to open a business bank account.

She asked if I knew anyone in the bank who had an account.

I needed a referral. But she worded it as knowing someone else who had an bank account there and if they introduced me to the bank.

For the sake of this blog post and assuming I am a foreigner visiting Hong Kong to do business for the first time I said, no I didn’t have anyone I knew there who had an ICBC bank account. She apologized and said I needed to know someone who had a bank account there for at least 1 year (I believe it was 1 year).

Knowing I wouldn’t be able to find another way, I asked her if I could at least get a brochure of the banking account options or other checklists. She said they didn’t have that and to check the website.

Thanking me for my time, she said goodbye. I walked downstairs.

Going to the MTR I saw massive billboards advertising ICBC. I wondered, as a marketer myself, what the cost was for that and then to turn away potential clients right off the bat when they walk in the door.

China Construction Bank (CCB)

Here is another bank that is more seen inside Mainland China, and they have a separate banking entity here in Hong Kong. I walked in to one of the many I saw and asked about a business account. The first time I went in they gave me a phone number to call, but during my day I passed so many I walked into another.

This branch was pretty friendly and brought out a piece of paper with a list of all their branches. The teller then highlighted 3 of the banking branches where you could apply for, and get client service for, your business bank account.

Here are the 3 locations to apply for the business bank account. I’ll have to stop by one of them and update this post.

Wanchai Hennessy Road
Unit C, 20th floor, China Overseas building, 139 Hennessy Road
Wan Chai, Hong Kong
3918 6708

Kowloon Bay CCB Centre
SME Center
Ground Floor,
Kwun Tong, Hong Kong
3718 3422

Sheung Shui
SME Center
Units 1103A-06, 11th floor, Landmark North
39 Lung Sum Avenue
3918 6722
Sheung Shui, New Territories

They were pretty nice and kept pushing me to their website: Www.Asia.ccb.com.

Citibank

At first I wasn’t even going to bother going into Citibank. I have just heard because they are a USA bank they won’t help Americans open bank accounts in Hong Kong anymore and tell you to apply to Citibank USA.

But what the heck, let’s swing on in.

A nice guard greeted me at the Jordan branch on Nathan Road. He pointed me to the small business division of the bank and there were 3 tellers all ready to talk and available. I picked one. She was nice and immediately pulled out a checklist of what I needed to provide. To get a business bank account with them, as I typed out below:

Principal or Directors Information
HKID or Passport of directors
Residential proof of Principals

Company Information:
Valid Business Registration Certificate (BRC)
Certificate of Incorporation (CI)
Memorandum And Articles of Association (with customer’s signature)
Business address proof
Extra documents for BVI company (certificate of incumbency)
Mines of Meeting / Board Resolution
Business Operating proof – examples – sales invoice, purchase order, sales agreement, tenancy agreement (for retail shop), etc.
Citibank Accounts & Services Opening Form (CitiBusiness)
If American – W-8BEN or W-9 (US tax related)

I also explained I am American and if it was a problem. She didn’t seem to make me feel like it would be a problem, and just pointed to the bottom of the checklist for the American requirement part.

The whole ordeal took just ten minutes or less. But again, who knows how hard it would be to get accepted after applying. Yet it was still nice to know I could just apply, and not deal with this long inquisition about who I am, or require me to “know people”.

Update, November 2015 A reader, Doug, shared his email correspondence from Citibank:

I contacted Citi through their online form, this is the response I got back.

Dear Mr Doug,

Thank you for your interest in account opening in Hong Kong.

Attached please find the basic document requirement for account opening and the five Citibank Citibusiness branches address.

Kindly bring all the original copies when visiting our branch cause there is no pre-approval arrangement before arrival.

Please note that both the Director and the Shareholder (over 10%)/Authorize Signer need to be in person in Hong Kong for account opening.

For your information, company should be registered in Hong Kong and with an operating office in Hong Kong.

Please be reminded that all account opening will be subject to the final approval of the bank.

Once again, thank you for choosing Citibank.

Chiyu Bank

This was another small bank I had noticed in the past walking around the city but never paid attention. It has a pinkish / purple banner logo that now will forever be in my memory.

Walking into a branch on (or near) Temple Street, the guard opened the door for me with a smile. He directed me to a row of desks for new account applications. I may have been one of the first foreigners to enter the bank for quite some time, they were all a bit shy to service me. Finally a woman bank teller invited me to sit at her desk.

She asked me how she could help. I explained I opened a new business and needed a bank account. She asked me a few more questions, one of which was my nationality.

I answered I was an American.

After collecting the information, she then went to speak to her manager about it.

A few minutes later she sat back down and apologized. The bank cannot accept new bank account applications from US Citizens. She explained there is a lot of paperwork and regulations for Americans now and they are not able to help.

I thanked her for her time and the guard opened the door for me as I left the bank. Again, with a smile.

I guess now I know how it is to be discriminated against. Flat out told you can’t do something based on your nationality.

Next bank…

Dah Sing Bank

This is a local bank whose logo has stuck out to me over the years. I walked in to a branch across the street from my Nathan Road office address in Kowloon. It was a small corner unit branch with 2 floors. The teller on the first floor told me I needed to go upstairs for the business banking.

There were only tellers on the 2nd floor, behind glass. I waited my turn in the queue and went to my assigned teller. She was shy to speak English to me and blushed a bit. She leaned over to the teller next to her and they switched his customer with me. A quick flip of the customers and I talked to the male teller now.

He asked me a range of questions, who I am, where is my business registered, what is my ID, do I have a HKID. After a bit, he went to the back to get me more information.

After coming back, he then explained I needed a 3 year old client referral. That means, a client who has had a current account with them for three consecutive years. Maybe I can find someone I explained. I asked for his name card, but he didn’t have one and gave me the VP of the branch’s instead.

I complimented his English skills and left the branch.

OCBC Wing Hang Bank

Down the street on Nanthan Road I saw OCBC Wing Hang Bank. They have a bright red logo that has always caught my eye. Time to step in and see what is up.

Waiting for the tellers in the back, I was up next. The teller made a call to the account rep in the front and Kelly came to get me.

I sat at her desk. She asked if I had any other banks, I explained I do have HSBC. She then wondered why I would want any other banks in HK. I explained I wanted to have a few options for different customers.

She pulled out the form and marketing brochure, and here is the summary.

Need 50,000 HKD minimum to avoid bank fees
Else 80 hkd/mo

Checklist:
Business Registration Certificate (BRC)
Certificate of Incorporation (CI)
Proof of residential address of all directors and shareholders with more than 10% holding, 3 months
Signature of bank signers
Completed Account form
Certified copy of resolutions
Memorandum and Articles of Association

Seems I could have applied right then and there, but I said I would need to gather all the information and come back.

Wing Lung Bank (China Merchant Bank Member)

In Central I swung up to Wing Lung Bank. This merged with China Merchants Bank (CMB) a few years back as I remember. Before it didn’t have the CMB logo. Out of nowhere throughout the branch network I saw the logo updated – so the recent merger is my own assumption.

It was a massive branch, with escalators taking all visitors to the second floor. I waited at the teller line and then they directed me to the client services department.

I saw 2 available agents and asked if they could help me. One volunteered and asked me to sit down.

He was a nice guy and gave me the checklist and bank account brochure. Here is the information he provided:

Documents below for the purpose of account opening should be certified true copies by Directors / CPA / Solicitors

1. Copy of Certificate of Incorporation (CI)
2. Copy of Business Registration Certificate (BRC)
3. Copy of Memorandum & Articles of Incorporation (M&A) and any amending resolutions
4.
A- (For newly established companies)
– Copy of Notification of First secretary and director (form D1) / Incorporation form (company Limited by Shared) (form NC1)
– Return of Allotments (form SC1) and/or Instrument of transfer (if any)
B- (for company established over 1 year)
– Copy of Latest Annual Return (form AR1)
– Copy of Notification of Change of Secretary and director (Appointment / Cessation) (form D2A) / Return of allotments (form SC1) and/or instrument of Transfer (if any)

5. For directors / Authorized signatories / Shareholders with 10% or more shares (but not corporate shareholders), please provide the following documents
– Identification document
– Residential information (within 3 months)

6. For directors / authorized signatories or shareholders which are local / BVI corporate entities, please consult our staff for documents required

Here is the big news! So I said I am interested to apply soon. I was expecting that to be good news, but he said there is a backlog. It would take 3 months before the bank could review my account application. He explained that once I apply, it would be set in a waiting line now and that the backlog was at least three months.

Jeez, three months! I guess if this is just a secondary bank account or I have no other choice I would go ahead and apply. Unbelievable.

He gave me his name card and said he could help me if I had any questions.

Fubon Bank

A few friends recommended I try this bank out. Walking in to the branch in Sheung Wan, I wanted to see what the fuss was about. I couldn’t find an area for business banking, so approached the investment division. A professional man invited me to sit down and discuss my situation. I explained I wanted a business bank account. Again, asked me about my company, is it a local HK company, is it a limited company, and other things.

He wasn’t a business banker, but he had a good grasp of what was up. I’m not sure if I could have applied on the spot, but I told him that I was gathering information today and would come back. He went to the back to get me the checklist and brochure. Here are the highlights:

5000 HKD min, else 50 HKD/mo fee
ATM card depends how many signers on the bank, need a 50HKD annual fee
Need introduction.
Online banking – yes

Memorandum of Association and Articles of Association (and any amendment resolutions). As company incorporated on or after March 3, 2014, only Articles of Association (and any amendment resolutions) is required.

Copy of Certificate of Incorporation and Certificate of Name Change (if applicable)

Copy of Business Registration certificate

Copy of Incorporation form (Form NNC1 or NNC1G) (or last annual return (form NAR1)) plus all subsequent Note of Change of Company Secretary and Director (form ND2A or ND2B), Return of allotments (Form NSC1), Instrument of transfer detailing the particulars of the current directors and principal shareholders.

Company search (as an alternative to document item 4 above)

Copy of Hong Kong ID card or exit-entry permit for traveling to and from Hong Kong and Macau. Or passports of a minimum of 2 directors, including the managing director (unless company has one directory only, or more than 2 directors are required to form a quorum), all authorized signatories, all principal shareholders, and all Ultimate Beneficial Owners.

Residential address proof. Such as bank statements and utility bills (issued within the last 3 months)

Details of ownership structure and control of the company, e.g. An ownership chart.

If directors or shareholders are corporate entities, document 1 to 5 should also be provided for these companies.

If directors are corporate entities, copy of directors’ board resolution of corporate directors resolving to appoint authorized representatives to handle banking business of other companies.

Global Application for Accounts and services- for corporate / entity and self certification on U.S. Person.

Important Note:
Copies of all documents submitted should be true copies certified by suitable certifier. If original documents are not in English or Chinese language, an English translation of the same should be provided.

Apart from documents listed above, we may further request you to provide more account opening details and documents when necessary.

The bank reserves the right to decline any account opening request without providing any reason.

Remarks:
A copy of passport must be provided if the individual does not hold a permanent Hong Kong ID card. (I.e. A letter “A” will be shown on a Permanent Hong Kong ID Identity card)

A copy of deep poll must be provided if the individual has changed his/her name in Hong Kong Identity Card (I.e. A letter “N” will be shown on a Hong Kong Identity card).

If the individual is Taiwanese person, copy of National Identification Card of the Repblic of China should be provided.

Suitable certifier definition:
– A solider, an accountant, a notary public, an auditor, a tax advisor, or a member of the judiciary in an equivalent jurisdiction.
– An officer of a regulated financial institution incorporated in, or operating from, and equivalent jurisdiction
– A member of the Hong Kong Institute of Chartered Secretaries (HKICS)
– An officer of Fubon Bank.
– An officer of an embassy, consulate, or high commission of the country of issues documentary verification of identity
– A Justice of the Peace

Instead of providing copies of documents certified true by suitable certifier, you can also present the original documents to any of our branches for certification by a bank officer.

In the event of any inconsistency between the English and Chinese versions of this document, the English version shall prevail.

Update: October 2015. I went back to this bank with another client. They saw that the company was just opened a week ago and didn’t like that.

They took copies of all the documents we had and said they will call us. They seem to want to meet in person a few times before opening the account.

Shanghai Commercial Bank

Another local bank I walked past a ton of times in Kowloon and never paid attention to. Entering the branch, the guard was super nice with the door and a big smile. On the left there was a corner area for clients to do stock trading. About six terminals with stock tickers passing, it was a full house. Chatting and socializing, while also trading stocks and reading the newspaper. Seemed like a mix between a coffee shop and a casino.

Anyway.

I walked to a desk on the right, and he was in the investment division. The man was nice and brought me to a desk in the back left side of the branch and asked me to wait. Another client service rep walked in from the back office. He asked me a few questions about my business and why I was picking his bank.

I explained a friend recommended the bank to me. He wanted to know who, and I gave him the company name and person’s name. That seemed to help out a lot. He was much nicer to me it seems after he came from checking out the company that introduced me.

Most likely I could have applied right then and there, so I had to explain I wasn’t ready to apply now and wanted more information. He gave me a brochure. For the checklist he wrote on a sticky note:

CI
BRC
M&A

Here is the account info:

  • Monthly minimum requirement: 5,000 HKD
  • Else 60 HKD/mo fee
  • Has online banking
  • Has ATM card

I felt pretty good about this bank, and will apply for it once I get all my information ready.

Update: October 2015. Went here with a client. They really kept asking if the account holder would do business locally in Hong Kong. They said they focus on local businesses, not overseas companies.

He took all the documents and will email us.

NCB Bank

This bank is a Member of Bank of China (BOCHK) group. What does that mean? I’m not too sure either, but when walking in, the teller gave me the exact same checklist and brochure as Bank of China. Even on the bottom of the checklist pages (in the footer) was the Bank of China signature text.

The fees and everything else was exactly the same.

The banker asked me why I wanted to apply. I told her I have HSBC already but looking to have a second bank account to give clients different banking options to pay me with. She had a look of confusion on why I would want another bank account if I already have an HSBC. She didn’t say it, but I felt that she was saying I should just be happy I have an HSBC account and skip applying there.

I thanked her for her time and the information and left the bank.

Svenska Handelsbanken AB

This is a Swedish bank with operations in Hong Kong. I didn’t go to their branch office, but instead made a phone call.

The contact my friend gave me was out for the day, and they took down my name and number to give me a call back.

Within 20 minutes they called back (awesome!) and asked me a few questions about what I was looking for.

After answering (based on the criteria in this guide), she said they can’t help me. They are a branch office for companies with accounts in Sweden, Norway, Finland, and other Norwegian locations.

She gave me a contact to an agency who could potentially help me get introduced to the right banks in HK, and followed up with an email.

Nice, but as they say, no cigar!

Bank of America (HK)

After a lot of feedback from this article, as well as our newer FATCA problems infographic, I’ve had some USA CPAs tell me to go to an American bank in Hong Kong, specifically Bank of America.

They only do commercial banking here, which could work for us in the small business department. Called up their HK contact us hotline at 2847 6111 and asked for commercial banking. Was transferred through – no hold time!

The woman was nice but said they don’t do new accounts in Hong Kong. That I need a commercial account in USA. I told her I don’t have a commercial account in USA for this HK limited, but I have a personal account in USA. She said it has to be a commercial account. She called it a referral, by having an account in another country where Bank of America is.

Seems back in 2010 they had a branch here, but when China Construction deal happened they moved everything to them.

So a dead end.

Banks I Still Have Yet To Visit

I wanted to get this guide online as soon as possible. It took me two full days to gather the banks I have already covered above, way more time than I expected. Over time I will visit these banks below and gather more details and information.

On top of adding more information on the banks below, I’ll also try to maintain the banks above information. Still, just a quick disclaimer. I’m doing this guide to help you out – but please do your own homework and due diligence before applying!

ICICI Bank

I have no idea how to pronounce this bank name – luckily this is a text guide and not an audio podcast! I’ll ask them when I visit.

BEA (Bank of East Asia)

Friends have told me this is a tough one to get approved for. And if you’re approved, the minimum balance requirements are quite high.

Update Nov 17, 2015: So I made it to BEA finally! I’m exhausted with all these banks so took some time to get energy to visit a new one!

Walked into one in Kowloon side. It was rather quiet (as opposed to the normal insanity). Only about 5 – 6 customers in queue instead of the normal mania at most banks here these days.

They had me wait in the business banking section, and only had 1 person in line ahead of me. After about 10 minutes, the banker invited me into his office. I explained I wanted a business bank account, he asked me if it was for a Hong Kong domestic limited company, I said yes. He printed out a few pages for me. I’ll type them out here:

BEA (Bank of East Asia) Documents Required to Open Corporate Account

Limited company, Incorporated in Hong Kong
1. Valid Business Registration Certificate
2. Certificate of Incorporation
3. Memorandum and Articles of Association
4. Minutes and Resolution of the Board of Directors to open an account (they have a template)
5. Latest Annual return Form (NAR1) if company is over 1 year old.
6. Organization chart (if applicable)
7. Banker’s reference (required!) from a Hong Kong bank – business or personal account.
8. Documents from directors (at least 2 directors including managing director):
8a: Identification documents
8b: Residential proof (utility, phone, government form within 3 months)
8c: Nationality proof (passport (for non HK Permanent ID card holders)
8d: Permanent address proof (if different from residential address)
8e: Banker’s reference
9: All director’s identification information (name, ID number, and type)

He asked me if I was a new registered company, which he assumed right away (I do look pretty young). So by having a company less than a year old I can skip some of the required documents like annual return.

I mentioned I am American, and he said oh, they are not accepting American clients now. He said that the US regulators talked to them and said they have to do a lot of paperwork. This guy was nice and open to me – he explained that there are some US clients who have been waiting 6 months for an account and it is still pending.

I was a bit disappointed, so he said that if I’d like to try, I can bring my W-9 form in filled out already. But he just said it would be a lot of work.

I don’t want him to get in trouble so I won’t share his name – but he was nice! He explained there is a list of high risk countries that the bank doesn’t do business with because of political reasons. It was a bit funny he mentioned that after he said they don’t accept Americans anymore. USA wasn’t on the list – but I am starting to imagine it being on the list soon.

I asked how can I get a bank letter of reference from a Hong Kong bank if I am a new business and I’m new to Hong Kong. He said this is what his management makes him do. That it is getting harder and harder. He asked me if I can find other banks that are easy. He was asking me which banks I think are the easiest now – that other clients tell him all the banks in Hong Kong are getting harder.

Since he was more open with me, I opened up with him. I explained that I have visited over 15 banks in the past few weeks and am doing research. Then he asked me what my business was. When I mentioned accounting, he said that is a high risk business and this bank won’t accept accountant firms. Wow! He said they verify the business by looking at transactions in the business, not just the invoices.

While I wasn’t too happy with the results, he was open to me trying to apply. The bank account minimum balance is one of the lowest I have found with 10,000 HKD minimum to avoid the 100 HKD monthly fee.

Another thing to note! During the conversation, he said new bank accounts cannot receive T/Ts (telegraphic transfers!). At least not for the first 3 months the account. So for those reading – this is for the most part not useable if you live outside of Hong Kong. The account is only useful for domestic HK business until 3 months pass.

Bank of Communication

On my list. Almost walked into one during my trip but just too tight for time.

Hang Seng

Have gone to this bank a few times with clients I’m working with. I have to confirm, but a couple months ago they asked for a non-refundable application fee of 1,000 HKD! The client had no interest in giving them this fee without the slightest hint he would have a chance to get the account approved.

The banker explained they charge this non-refundable fee because the heavy amount of paperwork they are now required to fill out. That it costs the bank a high administration fee. She also explained she couldn’t give idea if they could approve his application as the process in the back office. Further she said that the bank no longer tells people what to prepare. This is because there have been cases of applicants fabricating documents to pass these requirements.

Crazy right?

Obviously this left a bad taste in our mouth and has given me hesitation to apply.

Standard Charter

I have worked with a client to apply here back in the early summer. They were professional and helpful. No application fee. But the minimum monthly requirements was 300,000 HKD else a 200 HKD fee. Quite high and the client said even if approved for this bank he may not keep it open too long.

ANZ: Australia and New Zealand Banking

A few people have told me to check out ANZ. It is on my shortlist and I will check out this bank. I just worry that if its headquarters is in Australia they may not help local companies in Hong Kong.

Told to check out their website anz.com/hongkong. Stay tuned, or if you’re awesome enough you can check up and let us know! 🙂

Common Trends When Visiting These Banks

So there you have it. Did I miss any banks? Let me know!

What common trends did you see?

Some things that definitely help for some banks and are:

  • Connector.

    Introductions / Referrals

    Knowing an existing client at the bank seems to get certain bankers to “perk up their ears” and pay more attention to you. Others require this referral. And some banks seem to don’t care at all (HSBC).

  • Connector.

    HKID (Hong Kong ID)

    Having a Hong Kong Identification Card, with permanent status (there are various levels of a HKID) is definitely a help when applying. Maybe this is because they see the applicant as more legitimate. Some banks stated it was due to new regulations. Others didn’t seem to ask and just had a policy for passport holders as well.

  • Connector.

    Company Age

    There was some different requirements needed if your company was over a year old. Not sure if it is more helpful if your bank is older or not. Some of my friends tell me they had the bank tell them their company should be 2 years old before applying (HSBC told him). Nevertheless, there are some differences in applying depending on your company being over or under 1 year old.

Basic Checklist For Opening A Business Bank Account in Hong Kong

So you’re probably overwhelmed with this extensive guide, right? Well, from my writing it up, I have found there to be a few basic trends in the company bank account checklist:

  • CI – Company Incorporation – this is the key identification for your company in Hong Kong
  • BRC – Business Registration Certificate – the second most important identification, this is related to your taxes at the IRD (internal revenue department)
  • M&A – Memorandum and Articles of Associations.
  • Identification of Directors – Passport or HKID of all owners of over 10% share (there are some differences here between banks)
  • Proof of Residence – a 3 month old or newer proof of your residential address, in English or Chinese. Government or utility bill.
  • Are You American – Different policies now for Americans versus non Americans

Which Banks Did I Like?

After all this, the 2 jam packed days hustling between banks, which ones stood out? Well, I’m not sure if it’s fair to be honest. It also depends on the luck of the draw with the customer service rep and also how I acted in each situation.

But to not be a cop-out, here are a few that stuck out to me:

HSBC – while I know the bank account applications are hard to get approved now, it is so professional and high class.
Citibank – wasn’t expecting to put this one here, but they were so nice at the branch. Others have also said they have great customer service.
Shanghai Commercial – they were nice, well, after I told them I knew someone that already had an account.

Maybe if I told all the banks I knew someone who had an account they would treat me nicer. This is another reason I feel it’s not fair to pick my favorites. I based the three above more their customer service and clear documentation than anything else.

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What Are Your Experiences?

Now it’s your turn! Please leave a comment below and share with us your own experiences. I hope this guide is full of amazing experiences and tips and warnings. Let’s all work together to make it easier to get a business bank account in Hong Kong!

Doing business with a HK company is great, let’s try our best to let more and more new business owners get the same experience.

Cheers, and good luck to all!

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