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Microsoft word - tc037_keep_banking_secrecy.doc


KEEP BANKING SECRECY AND PRESERVE
GLOBALIZATION

Avoid undermining democracy and competition IMD Chemin de Bellerive 23 PO Box 915, CH-1001 Lausanne Switzerland Tel: +41 21 618 01 11 Fax: +41 21 618 07 07 [email protected] http://www.imd.ch KEEP BANKING SECRECY | Avoid undermining democracy and competition Keep banking secrecy and preserve globalization Global leaders at the G20 Summit in London earlier this year made one of the most ardent defenses of globalization we have recently seen. But by declaring that "the era of banking secrecy is over", they paradoxically engaged in a battle that can ultimately undermine democracy and competition, two of the key drivers of globalization. Since the G20 Summit, banking secrecy has continued to be a hot topic in the media. Obviously, banking secrecy may be considered unethical, unfair, and anti-competitive - but it is legal. It is as legal as feeding meat-producing animals with steroids, or refusing the nationality to a child born within a country's borders. Countries differ in their regulations, and these differences are good for the world, because they spur competition. Indeed, regulatory competition has been one of the core ingredients of globalization in the last decades. Companies have grown internationally through mergers and acquisitions in which benefits come very often from differences in taxation, corporate governance rules and industry regulations. By relaxing incorporation rules, some legal systems have made it possible for a company to operate in one (or several) countries, headquarter in another country, and incorporate in a third one. Stock exchanges in the 1990s started a race to attract companies by offering more advantageous listing rules and trading mechanisms. Without freedom of establishment and free movement of capital, the global market does not exist. The statement against banking secrecy and the subsequent actions taken by governments must be taken as declarations of intent for internal consumption only. The first red flags against banking secrecy were raised in October 2008, with the argument that offshore centers contributed to the financial crisis by allowing some banks such as Northern Rock and Bear Stearns to conceal their losses through off-shore special purpose vehicles. The regulatory failures, however, reflected the inability of domestic supervisory agencies to detect misbehavior on the part of their financial institutions. It was very easy to blame someone else for the mistakes at home. And banking secrecy has been the perfect alibi to launch a political campaign, gain votes or declare a war on targeted financial markets. Earlier this year, Jean-Claude Junker, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, criticized the existence of tax havens in the U.K. Out of the 30 jurisdictions listed by the OECD as jurisdictions that have "committed to the internationally agreed tax standard, but have not yet substantially implemented", seven of them belong administratively to the U.K. Brazil, another G20 member, has included the US state of Delaware in its list of tax havens. A recent legal reform in Spain makes foreign investment into treasury securities fiscally opaque, thus IMD - www.imd.ch KEEP BANK SECRECY AND PRESERVE GLOBALIZATION KEEP BANKING SECRECY | Avoid undermining democracy and competition spurring capital flows from tax havens into Spain. Yet there are some examples that globalization, in particular globalization of banking secrecy, is prescribed in some situations, but not in others. Notice how even the wording—banking secrecy—conveys a pejorative connotation, in contrast to the term trust, which most G20 countries’ taxpayers use to avoid (not evade) taxes. In Switzerland, setting up a trust requires transparency on the names of the people involved, in contrast to the U.K. or the U.S. Switzerland displays the third lowest level of tax evasion, according to the 2009 IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook rankings. The countries making the most noise about secrecy fare significantly worse than Switzerland in how tax evasion hampers business activity. This is the real problem: banking secrecy is not the cause of tax evasion, but the effect. Governments and regulators should worry more about tax offenders who evade capital from their own countries than about the countries that rightfully accept foreign capital. In any case, banking secrecy does not cover tax criminals under its umbrella, provided that material evidence is produced. By the same token, the Swiss government could take action against the U.S. for not penalizing American retailers which sell hormone-treated meat to Swiss customers. Likewise, Luxembourg could take action against the French government for not granting the French passport to children born in France of Luxembourgian parents. As we know from history, criminals will always find new ways to circumvent the law. The economics of crime, a field that was pioneered by Nobel Laureate Gary Becker, shows that prohibitions are ineffective insofar as not all violators are prosecuted. The campaign against banking secrecy, if successful, will just impose an additional cost on tax offenders. Ultimately, tax evasion will increase, not decrease. Economists have already shown that alcohol consumption increased during the prohibition years (1917-1933). The reason is that crime interdiction, by imposing a tax on suppliers, shifts the supply curve for criminal activity and therefore raises its price. Coincidentally most of the countries with banking secrecy laws are well-established democracies, so the danger is that, by making it more difficult, capital will flow to less scrupulous countries and indeed tax evasion will become more -not less - profitable. IMD - www.imd.ch KEEP BANK SECRECY AND PRESERVE GLOBALIZATION KEEP BANKING SECRECY | Avoid undermining democracy and competition The fight against tax havens can be in any case a huge positive step for Switzerland, Luxembourg and the like, if the actions against "non-cooperative jurisdictions, including tax havens", tackle the loopholes provided by British and U.S. trusts. Hopefully trusts in these countries become as transparent and regulated as they are in Switzerland now. If the era of banking secrecy is over, the era of globalization will be in jeopardy. Professor Arturo Bris is the Program Director for Strategic Finance. He also teaches on the Advanced Strategic Management, Building on Talent and Orchestrating Winning Performance IMD - www.imd.ch KEEP BANK SECRECY AND PRESERVE GLOBALIZATION KEEP BANKING SECRECY | Avoid undermining democracy and competition ORCHESTRATING WINNING PERFORMANCE - http://www.imd.ch/owp
The 6-day global business program
Program Director Bettina Buechel
− A unique energizer: boost your performance, broaden your perspectives and
STRATEGIC FINANCE - http://www.imd.ch/sf
Creating value through financial excellence
Program Director Arturo Bris
− Complete a strategic review of your financial capabilities and share best − Benchmark your financial capabilities and apply new tools to create value IMD - www.imd.ch KEEP BANK SECRECY AND PRESERVE GLOBALIZATION

Source: http://m.imd.ch/research/challenges/upload/TC037_KEEP_BANKING_SECRECY.pdf

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