the official launching of Fsharp Ltd., a unit of Bank of Ireland housed on the Isle of Man.
The low-tax jurisdiction in the Irish Sea is a port of call for increasing numbers of investors seeking to reduce their tax burdens. Bank of Ireland wants to ease the chore of setting up offshore accounts there by offering advice, information, and service on-line.
"A lot of expatriates use the Internet, and they want a high level of service and access to their bank 24 hours a day," said Ian Montgomery, managing director of Fsharp. "This takes the hassle out of offshore banking."
Bank of Ireland has identified a market of 1.7 million people. By the end of the year, Mr. Montgomery said, he expects Fsharp will have 10,000 accounts.
"We believe we're the first bank to offer these services on a worldwide basis," said Mr. Montgomery, 39, who joined Bank of Ireland (Isle of Man) Ltd. from the National Australia Bank Group in the Isle of Man.
Working with Mercer Management Consulting, the bank found that 60% of English-speaking expatriates would prefer to use the Internet for offshore banking. Sixty-three percent of this target market had no offshore account, primarily due to a lack of information. Of the 37% who did, half were dissatisfied with the service.
Fsharp has been accepting applications and has registered 250 customers from more than 50 countries since June 28. "We are averaging 15 registrations a day," said Mr. Montgomery.
English-speaking expatriates the world over are eligible -- except those who live in the United States, Australia, Canada, France, the United Kingdom, or Ireland. "We excluded these countries because of their complex regulatory regimes," Mr. Montgomery said. "We hope to understand their regulations and launch services there later."
A particular benefit of Fsharp is that the Isle of Man does not withhold tax on investments -- either on income or capital gains, Mr. Montgomery said. Customers "can invest outside of their home jurisdictions and avoid paying tax," he explained.
Fsharp, which employs 45, offers treasury deposits, a Visa debit card from the Standard Bank of Jersey, a Bank of Ireland credit card, the buying and selling of offshore investment funds through Mercury Asset Management, tax advice from KPMG, foreign exchange services, and accounts in multiple currencies. It also has a "contact center" whose staff of 25 helps customers with banking and technical queries seven days a week by telephone and e-mail.
In the next six to 12 months, Mr. Montgomery said, he expects Fsharp to offer electronic bill payment, fast-approval mortgages, and brokerage services.
Prospective customers can complete applications on-line. The bank then requires one form of identification and one form of address verification before it mails a paper version back to the customer for a physical signature.
Fsharp plans print advertising as well as banner advertisements on the Internet with the tagline, "The first bank of the 21st century."